Human Rights Developments
Although Romania has made significant progress in its human rights record since the 1989 revolution, serious abuses remain, particularly against minority groups such as the Hungarians and the Roma (Gypsies). The Romanian government has at time attempted to exploit and manipulate ethnic tensions for its own political gains. This has been especially true since the 1992 parliamentary elections when the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR)failed to obtain an absolute majority. Since that time the PDSR has had to depend on support from the political parties of the far-right and far-left, entering into a coalition with these parties in late 1993, and giving members of the ultranationalist Party of Romanian National Unity portfolios in the government in 1994.
Mob violence against Roma and their inability to obtain adequate redress for such violence continued to be among the most severe human rights abuses in Romania during 1994. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received frequent reports of attacks by villagers on their Roma neighbors in 1994. For example, despite the arrest of two Roma teenagers who had murdered an ethnic Romanian shepherd on May 26 during a robbery in the village of Racsa in Satu Mare county, an estimated 800 to 1,000 villagers in Racsa went to the Roma quarters on May 28, ransacked all nine houses and then set them on fire. Although three police officers arrived in the village before the last houses were torched, they did not stop the villagers.
In dramatic contrast to most cases, the Racsa authorities conducted a prompt and thorough investigation of the events, resulting in charges against thirty-eight people for a number of crimes, including destruction, theft, and illegal entry into a residence. However, although all nine houses were burned down, no one was charged with the more serious crime of arson, which requires the authorities to prosecute the case even if there are no complaints from the victims. Romanian authorities have often refused to bring arson charges even when warranted by the facts, intentionally leaving open the possibility that the victims can be pressured to settle or that with enough delay they will lose interest in seeking a legal remedy for their suffering.
The speedy investigations and indictments in the Racsa case were exceptions to the general practices of the police and prosecutorial bodies, which ignore, delay and downplay cases of violence against Roma. Despite pressure from the international community and some assurances from the Romanian government, very few individuals have been prosecuted for the numerous violent crimes against Roma since 1990.
Foot-dragging in such cases has often been blatant. For example, after 170 Roma were forced to flee a violent attack and arson in the town of Hadareni, local prosecutors reported in November 1993 that the criminal investigation had produced sufficient evidence to warrant the arrest and indictment of at least twelve individuals. The investigation was apparently ongoing with regard to others who may have also committed crimes. In May 1994, local prosecutors reiterated that the investigation was near completion and that there was ample evidence to bring charges against fifteen to seventeen individuals. Despite this evidence, no arrests have been made.
Local officials, especially in the Transylvanian town of Cluj, continued to try to provoke ethnic tensions and hostility between the ethnic Hungarian minority and the Romanian majority. In June 1994 the ultranationalist mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar, announced the excavation of the center square, which would have required the removal of a statue of King Mathias that had long been a cultural symbol for the Hungarian minority. The excavation attempt was only one of several efforts by Funar to remove all traces of Hungarian history and culture from the city and as such it provoked both fear and a sense of insecurity among the Hungarian minority.
On November 11, 1993, the Romanian Senate approved amendments to the penal code that, if they become law, could seriously restrict freedom of speech and the press. Of particular concern was Article 239, which aimed to protect public officials while exercising their official duties. Under Article 239, the punishment for defamation of a public official would be "a prison term from six months to four years," compared to "one month to one year or a fine" if the victim were a private person. If the victim were the president, or another senior government official, or if the defamatory statements were made by the print or broadcast media, the law would provide for even heavier prison terms. These amendments, which will be considered as part of a revision of the penal code, are expected to be voted on by the Romanian parliament in late 1994 or early 1995.
Several individuals charged under Article 200 of the Romanian penal code for homosexual relations challenged the constitutionality of the law, which provided that "same sex relationships shall be punished by prison from one to five years." In July, following an intense lobbying effort by Romanian and international groups, Romania's constitutional court ruled that the law was unconstitutional to the extent that it "applies to sexual relations between adults of the same sex, freely consummated, not committed in public or not causing public scandal." The court's decision was an improvement for the rights of gay men and lesbians in Romania. However, by preserving criminal prosecution for same-sex relations that "produce a public scandal" the court maintained dangerously vague language that invited arbitrary enforcement. Subsequently, on October 25, the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies voted to maintain the present law's provision that consensual homosexual relations, even if conducted in private, are prohibited. Punishment is imprisonment from one to five years.
On March 24 the government issued Decree no. 120, which pardoned all the members of the former executive committee of the Romanian Communist Party who had been sentenced for abuses committed during the revolution in December 1989. By early November, only one person remained imprisoned for crimes related to the shooting of demonstrators during the 1989 revolution. Some Romanian observers believed that this pardon reflected the government's lack of commitment to prosecute any abuses of the communist era. The decree also reduced the sentences for several ethnic Hungarians who had been convicted of crimes against Romanian police officers during the revolution.
The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was unaware of any instance in which the Romanian government had hindered human rights monitors in their work during the year.
Several high-level meetings between representatives of the United States and Romanian governments took place during 1994. For example, in June, the two governments agreed on future cooperation on defense and military issues. However, there were no significant public comments on human rights developments in Romania during 1994 and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has no specific information regarding the Clinton administration's effort to raise human rights concerns during such meetings.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has been especially troubled that the Clinton administration did not publicly denounce the Romanian government for its continued failure to address the serious problem of violence against Roma and the government's continued effort to downplay the ethnic tensions that fuel such violence. What is more, the Clinton administration did not use the important opportunity of reviewing Romania's Most Favored Nation trade status, which had been restored in October 1993, to elicit specific commitments from the government regarding human rights concerns.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
During 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki devoted most of its efforts to raising international awareness about the failure of the Romanian authorities to protect Roma and their property from ethnic violence, and the pattern of state tolerance for and acquiescence in the violence, as well as to provide the victims of ethnic violence with an adequate legal remedy. In May 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives traveled throughout Romania interviewing not only Roma victims of violence but also local prosecutors and national government representatives responsible for investigating and prosecuting the numerous cases of violence against Roma since 1990. A report based on the mission, including specific recommendations to the Council of Europe, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Romanian government, was released at a press conference in Budapest during the CSCE Review Conference in November. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives also met with many government delegates attending the Budapest conference to urge the international community to demand specific remedial steps from the Romanian government.
We continued to raise our concerns regarding human rights issues in Romania with the Council of Europe and in a series of communications with representatives of the Romanian government. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki campaigned actively against, among other issues, restrictive amendments to the Romanian penal code that would have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in Romania. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki criticized these amendments in a protest letter that was addressed to members of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, as well as the government. We also informed representatives of the Council of Europe about our concerns and encouraged them to address these matters during official meetings with the Romanian government in late March. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki monitored issues of freedom of the press and issued a report in April documenting a number of serious violations of international law.