WORLD REPORT 1999 - Romania

Human Rights Developments

In 1998 political instability and infighting among partners in the governing coalition slowed the pace of democratic and economic reform and inhibited progress on human rights in Romania. Romania’s non-communist President, Emil Constantinescu, elected in 1996 in the first truly democratic presidential election since the overthrow of the dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu in 1989,forged a coalition government headed by Victor Ciorbea of the National Peasants/Christian Democratic Party. As a result of the Democratic Party’s threat to withdraw from the coalition, and in order to avoid early elections, Prime Minister Ciorbea resigned on March 30, 1998, and was replaced by Radu Vasile, secretary general of the National Peasants’ Party, on April 2. In late September, the Union of Democratic Magyars (UDMR) of Romania also threatened to withdraw from the coalition government in protest against the government’s refusal to establish a Hungarian-language university, a longstanding demand of the Hungarian minority. The UDMR and the government reached a compromise: a multicultural university with instruction in Romanian, Hungarian, and German is to be established, and the UDMR will remain in government.

Despite the government’s promises and pressure from NGOs and the international community, Vasile’s shaky coalition government—composed of numerous political parties with conflicting agendas—made no noticeable progress in resolving long-entrenched human rights problems such as discrimination and other ill-treatment directed at ethnic and sexual minorities. In addition, the government prosecuted critical journalists under its libel statutes, and there continued to be nearly complete impunity for police brutality, especially when the victims were unpopular minorities.

On June 25, the Chamber of Deputies voted against a government-sponsored amendment to the penal code that would have decriminalized consensual homosexual acts. Under article 200 of the penal code, consensual homosexual acts that are “committed in public or which cause a public scandal” may be punished with imprisonment of one to five years. Article 200 also punishes conduct that “incit[es] or encourag[es] . . . sexual relations between persons of the same sex, as well as propaganda or association or any other act of proselytism committed in the same scope, . . . by imprisonment of one to five years.” Expressions of homosexual identity or solidarity, as well as the establishment of gay and lesbian organizations and the dissemination of information are also punishable under this law.

The Chamber of Deputies also failed to amend the criminal code provision prohibiting “defamation of the nation and/or state authorities.” During 1998, these provisions were used to punish journalists who exposed corruption among public officials. On March 13, three journalists from the Buzau newspaper Opinia received one year in prison for printing accusations that a former prosecutor’s mother rented her house for use by those involved in an illegal pyramid scheme. In Bistrita on May 25, Cornel Sabou, editor-in-chief of Trans-Press agency, received a sentence of ten months for publishing protests against a judge accused of using his influence for personal pecuniary gain. On July 23, a court in Iasi sentenced Ovidiu Scultelnicu and Dragos Stangu to one year of imprisonment, a fine of 1.5 billion lei (U.S.$175,000), and deprivation of some civil rights, as well as the right to practice journalism for twelve months, for criticizing police colonel Petru Susanu’s policing methods and questioning the origin of his personal fortune. On August 29, in Botosani, Florentin Florescu, and Radu Burlacu were fined 100 million lei ($11,250) for reporting a local politician’s efforts to influence the magistrates assigned to his son’s trial. Scultelnicu, Stangu, Florescu, and Burlacu all worked for Monitorul , a regional independent daily operating in northeastern Romania.

The Romanian Helsinki Committee (RHC) also received and investigated numerous reports from individuals who claimed to have been tortured or abused by the police. The RHC also reports numerous instances of the unlawful use of firearms by police. The military prosecutor has jurisdiction over such complaints, but was reluctant to indict police officers for such abuses. Romanian law provides no other remedy for victims of police abuse. Roma are disproportionately the victims of police misconduct. Conditions in detention facilities continued to fall well below international standards in 1998.

Women also faced police harassment and discrimination in Romania. In May, police in Braila summoned women suspected of traveling to Turkey to engage in sex work to the police station and threatened them with arrest and public exposure of their activities in Turkey if they refused to surrender their passports. Police then confiscated their passports, preventing the women from leaving the country. On a positive note, the Romanian parliament adopted a law on May 29 defining and punishing sexual harassment in the workplace and prohibiting discrimination against married or pregnant women in employment.

Defending Human Rights

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Romanian Helsinki Committee (RHC) urged Romanian authorities to investigate police abuses against Roma and to prosecute those who are accused of abusing the rights of Roma, as well as to investigate incidents of anti-Roma violence and to prosecute those suspected of committing racially motivated crimes. The government frequently ignored their requests for information, or responded only after considerable delay and with incomplete or inaccurate information.

Human rights organizations waged an intense campaign in 1998 to abolish the provisions of article 200 that criminalize homosexual conduct and limit expression and association. During a meeting in January 1998 with Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC;, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu promised to give individual pardons to all people sentenced under paragraphs 1 and 5 of article 200. Mariana Cetiner, arrested in 1994 for asking another woman to have sex with her, was released in March. Human Rights Watch has no information about the status of other prisoners, and the Ministry of Justice has ignoredignored all requests for additional information. Despite the effortsof human rights activists, led by the increasingly prominent Bucharest-based ACCEPT, the parliament once again voted down amendments to article 200 during 1998.

The Role of the International Community

Council of Europe

On January 18, 1998, the Romanian government agreed to make public the Report to the Romanian Government by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). The report detailed the findings of a group of international experts who visited Romania from September 24 to October 6, 1995, and concluded that persons in police custody “face a not inconsiderable risk of being subjected to police mistreatment, which is sometimes severe mistreatment, even torture.” The CPT recommended increased human rights training for police officers, that the general prosecutor issue a directive on the methods of processing and investigating claims of police mistreatment, and the adoption of a code of practice for police interrogations.

On April 25, 1997, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe suspended its monitoring of Romania’s human rights record for one year. On June 25, 1998, the assembly officially removed Romania from the list, with the understanding that Romania would amend article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code, a condition of Romania’s initial admission into the council. Romania, however, failed to amend the legislation during 1998.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities engaged Romanian government officials on minority issues, including education and language rights and the rights of ethnic Roma.

European Union

Romania was not among the first five countries approved for ultimate E.U. accession, but participated in pre-accession talks in March. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in September criticizing Romania for its continued discrimination against gays and lesbians.

United States

The development of a market economy is the primary U.S. policy goal. The U.S. focused little attention on the human rights situation, missing opportunities to influence the strengthening of human rights in Romania. President Constantinescu visited the United States in July. He focused on the process of NATO expansion and democratic and economic reforms. Without mentioning human rights practices directly, President Clinton indicated that Romania had to make significant changes before it would be accepted for membership in NATO, and urged Romanians to “stay the course” of reform.

Relevant Human Rights Watch report:

Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania , in cooperation with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 2/98.