Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Romania

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Author Centre for Documentation and Research
Publication Date 1 November 1994
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Romania, 1 November 1994, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
Comments This information paper was prepared in the Country Research and Analysis Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, in collaboration with Regional Bureau Responsible for Somalia and the UNHCR Statistical Unit. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Romania has been an important source country of refugees and asylum-seekers in the past few years. This paper seeks to define the scope, destination, and causes of their movement.

In the first part, the paper provides a statistical overview of Romanian refugees and asylum-seekers in Western European States, describing current trends in the number and origin of asylum requests as well as the results of their status determination. The data are derived from government statistics made available to UNHCR and compiled by its Statistical Unit.

The second part of the paper contains information regarding the conditions in the country of origin, which are often invoked by asylum-seekers when submitting their claim for refugee status. The Country Information Unit of the UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research (CDR) conducts its research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, with all sources cited and available in full.

1.   Asylum Seekers in Europe

1.1   Introduction

This Section seeks to provide a statistical analysis of Romanian refugees and asylum seekers in Europe. National asylum seeker and asylum adjudication statistics pose a number of problems. Firstly, there are no common standards for the recording, compilation and dissemination of such statistics. As a result, their frequency, coverage and format differ significantly between countries. For example, a number of countries, including Denmark and France, include resettlement arrivals in the asylum statistics, which influences both the number of asylum applications and the percentage of positive decisions. Secondly, it is often not clear who is counted and who is not. The statistics may refer to adults, principal applicants ("cases"), or all persons.

In some countries, asylum seekers are not admitted to the normal eligibility procedures because they come from, or have transited through a country which is considered "safe". Others are denied entry at the border as undocumented migrants or are denied from travelling to the country as a result of pre-boarding checks arising from carrier sanctions. It is in most cases unclear whether asylum seekers who are denied access to status determination procedures on these and similar grounds are included in the asylum statistics.

As the pace of country statistical reporting varies, the 1994 data have been made comparable with 1993 data by using average monthly figures. That is, the total cumulative number of asylum seekers since 1 January 1994 has been divided by the number of months for which the data were reported. Through extrapolation, an estimate for the year 1994 was obtained. However, as the 1994 statistics from a few countries had not been received at the time this report was prepared, the observations made for 1994 are provisional.

With regard to refugee status determination statistics, comparing national data becomes an even more daunting task. As refugee status determination procedures are based on national law and practice, the scope for comparison of these statistics is limited. For instance, whereas in Sweden, asylum applications from citizens of the former Yugoslavia are individually screened, some other European countries grant these persons temporary protection on a group basis. As a result, ex-Yugoslavs, one of the largest groups of asylum seekers in the last few years, are included in the Swedish asylum and adjudication statistics, but mostly excluded from the statistics of other countries.

Recognition rates have, therefore, been calculated by dividing the number of Convention status recognitions ("Accepted") by the total of Convention status recognitions and negative decisions ("Rejections"). Humanitarian and comparable statuses have been grouped together under one heading ("Allowed to stay").

1.2   Overall Trends in Asylum Applications

During the period 1987-1993, the total number of asylum seekers in Europe increased from 179,000 to 549,000. A peak was reached in 1992 when 684,000 persons applied for asylum. In 1994 to date, the number of asylum seekers has been some 40 per cent smaller than in 1993: the average monthly number of asylum seekers currently stands at some 26,300, down from 45,700 in 1993. If the current trend continues until the end of the year, the total number of asylum seekers may reach 316,000 persons in 1994.

As in previous years, Germany has received the largest number of asylum seekers in 1994. However, the country's share in the total number of asylum seekers has fallen sharply since 1992, when it received 64 per cent of all asylum seekers in Europe (438,000 out of a total of 684,000). Germany's current share, at 41 per cent, is close to that of the 1988-1991 period and significantly lower than in 1993 (59 per cent).

The Netherlands continues to receive the second largest number of asylum seekers in Europe in 1994. Some 17 per cent of all persons seeking asylum in Europe during this year have been hosted by the Netherlands (4,400 out of a total monthly average of 26,300), three times as much as in 1993 (six per cent).

The United Kingdom, France and Sweden have, to date, received between seven and nine per cent of the average monthly number of asylum seekers in 1994. It should be borne in mind, however, that the figures for the United Kingdom are based on the number of cases: the number of persons is about 1.5 times higher.

Major changes in the number of asylum applications submitted in 1994, compared to 1993, can be summarized as follows:

•           Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden have experienced a decline in the number of persons seeking asylum to date, (minus 42 per cent) although that number is greater than average;

•           Austria, France and Spain have also experienced a decline in the number of asylum seekers, but less than the average; and

•           Italy, and the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have experienced an increase in the average monthly number of asylum seekers.

1.3   Overall Trends in Asylum Adjudication

During the 1989-1993 period, some 171,000 asylum seekers were recognized as refugees under the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The annual number of Convention recognitions increased from 27,500 in 1989-1990 to 47,000 in 1993. France granted refugee status to the largest number of persons (some 59,000 or 35 per cent of all refugee recognitions in Europe), followed by Germany (50,000 or 29 per cent) and the Netherlands (18,000 or 10 per cent). Other European countries granted Convention status to less than 10,000 refugees each.

During the same period, some 1.4 million asylum applications were rejected in Europe. Of these, some 59 per cent were rejected by Germany, 15 per cent by France, 7 per cent by Switzerland and 5 per cent by Austria and the Netherlands.

Convention refugee status was granted to 11 per cent of all asylum seekers whose applications were adjudicated in Europe during the 1989-1993 period. While the overall recognition rate of asylum applications was around 15 per cent in 1989, it fell to 10 per cent in 1990-1993.

There are significant differences in recognition rates between asylum countries. These differences should be interpreted with care, as noted earlier. Recognition rates during the 1989-1993 period were higher than average in Belgium (32 per cent), Sweden (29 per cent), France (22 per cent), the Netherlands (20 per cent), Portugal and the United Kingdom (16 per cent) and Norway (12 per cent). They were lower than average in Italy (8 per cent), Switzerland (7 per cent), Germany and Greece (6 per cent), Spain (2 per cent) and Finland (1 per cent). In Austria, the proportion of positive decisions was around the European average, while the number of negative decisions is not available for Denmark.

Some 183,000 persons were allowed to stay in Europe for humanitarian or similar reasons during the 1989-1993 period. The largest number was admitted by Sweden (82,000 persons or 45 per cent of all persons allowed to stay for these reasons in Europe), followed by the United Kingdom (35,000 or 19 per cent), Switzerland (25,000 or 14 per cent), the Netherlands (15,000 or 8 per cent), Norway (6 per cent) and Denmark (5 per cent).

1.4   Romanian Asylum Applications and Adjudication: Summary of Main Findings

•           During 1988-1993, some 350,000 Romanians applied for asylum in Western Europe, constituting some 13 per cent of all applications submitted in the area. As can be noted in Table 3, the annual number of asylum applications increased from 8,000 in 1988 to 116,000 in 1992, while it fell to some 87,000 in 1993.

•           Romanian asylum-seekers are highly concentrated in Germany: 74 per cent of all claims during 1988-1993 were submitted in Germany, followed by Austria (9 per cent). In 1992 and 1993, 85 to 90 per cent of all Romanian asylum applications were submitted in Germany.

•           During 1988-1993, some 8,600 Romanians asylum-seekers were admitted as Convention refugees, mostly by Austria (4,800 or 56 per cent) and France (27 per cent). -Recognition rates of Romanian asylum applications (the number granted Convention refugee status divided by the total number of decisions taken during a year) have fallen rapidly: over 30 per cent in 1988-1989, eight in 1990 and zero in 1993. During 1988-1993, the overall recognition rate was 3 per cent. Higher than average recognition rates for Romanian refugees were recorded in Belgium (23 per cent) and Austria (17), while in Germany this was zero.

2.   The Internal Situation in Romania

2.1   Overview of Recent Developments

The situation in Romania since the fall of Communism in the country in 1989 has been characterized by "political, economic, and social pressures produced by [the] transition from a totalitarian state with a centralized economy to a democratic system of government with a free market economy. These pressures contributed to ethnic tensions, social unrest ... and an increase in crime" (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, 1994). Specifically, 1994 has been marked by a number of key trends:

·         the continuation in power (since autumn 1992) of the government of Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroui and the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PSDR) which successfully defeated five attempts by the opposition to replace the government by means of a vote of no confidence. The PSDR is the political base of President Ion Iliescu (Europe Yearbook 1994, 1993; Eastern Europe Newsletter, 1 September 1994);

·         a split in the ranks of the opposition, with the main opposition group, the Democratic Convention, divided by personality and policy conflicts, that account for its faltering attacks on the government (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2nd quarter 1994, 8);

·         foreign policy successes that have seen Romania become a member of the Council of Europe (October 1994), the granting by the United States Congress of most favoured nation trading status to Romania (October 1993), and an International Monetary Fund agreement (May 1994) to support the country's 1994-95 reform and stabilization programme. Romania was first among the former Warsaw Pact countries to sign the NATO "Partnership for Peace" programme (Ibid., The Economist, 9 July 1994);

These latter apparent achievements should not conceal the volatile nature of politics in Romania (see, for example, Keesing's 1994, 39929, 39973, 40074; RFE/RL, 22 July 1994). The government coalition in parliament is a fragile grouping of parties and the PSDR depends on support of its allies. Some of the latter have recently deserted and joined the ranks of the opposition. The PSDR itself remains split and pressures will increase as deeper economic reforms are attempted. The government may no longer be able to count on the support of the peasantry and has to rely now on the support of the nationalist Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR) (Ibid., Eastern European Newsletter, 5 August 1994; Le Monde, 23 August 1994). Major problems persist as a result of tolerated practices of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and related human rights violations (Human Rights Watch, 1993, 229-31; International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR), April 1994). Foreign policy questions, especially relations with Hungary, Moldova, and Russia, remain on top of the agenda for Romania.

The country's economic performance improved during 1994. Inflation was reported to have reached 300% per year at the end of 1993, but the monthly rate for the first half of 1994 was on average 6.2%, and predictions for the year give an estimate of an annual rate of 160% (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 3rd quarter 1994, 24). Unemployment has been reported at around 11% so far this year, and since March 1994 the number of officially registered unemployed has been dropping (Ibid.). Tight macroeconomic policies and increasing central bank reserves have contributed to a stabilization in the value of the national currency, the Leu.

On 20 June 1994, the Senate of the Romanian Parliament approved a controversial law on restoring rights to former owners of around 250,000 properties confiscated after 1945. Former owners will, however, only be able to reclaim residential properties in which the are tenants. In other cases limited cash compensation, to be financed from the proceeds of sales of state properties, will be available. Only those Romanians resident in the country will be eligible for restitution under the law (non-resident Romanians will have six months in which to return and apply). The opposition rejected the bill and boycotted parliamentary debate claiming that the law violates the rights to private property (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 3rd quarter, 19-20). A mass privatization plan was also announced (Liberation, 4 August 1994).

Despite improvements in the economy, the Economist questions the government's ability or overall desire to see reforms go much further (9 July 1994). Opposition parties doubt whether the PSDR-led government will close down loss-making firms, speed up privatization or do enough to attract foreign investment as promised to the IMF. Such reforms, in the opposition's view, would threaten the jobs of state factory managers and other members of the ex-communist nomenklatura who form the bulk of the PSDR's political base (Ibid.).

Recurrent attempts of the opposition to undermine the government, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, "underline the polarization of Romania's polity, which in turn, continues to feed concern about its fundamental stability" (3rd quarter 1994, 8). The fact that the government has survived five "no-confidence" votes confirms this polarization, due to the inability of the opposition to unite its ranks. Lack of stability is confirmed by a continued shifting of allegiances by smaller, but nevertheless, key political parties.

2.2   The International and National Legal Framework

Romania has acceded to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CSR51) (7 August 1991) and the 1967 Protocol (7 August 1991); ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (18 December 1990); the Convention on Discrimination Against Women (7 January 1982); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (28 September 1990); the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide (2 November 1950); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (9 December 1974); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (3 January 1976); the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (20 June 1994); acceded to the Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (15 September 1970) and signed the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture (4 November 1993).

The Constitution

The Constitution of Romania was adopted by a referendum on 8 December 1991 (The Europa World Year Book 1994, 1993, 2473). Under the provisions of the Constitution, power in Romania belongs to the people and is exercised according to the principles of democracy, freedom and human dignity, of inviolability and inalienability of basic human rights. Article 20 states in this respect that

Constitutional provisions concerning the rights and liberties of citizens shall be interpreted and applied in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the pacts and other treaties Romania is a party to, and the internal laws.

In case of any inconsistencies between the pacts and treaties relating to fundamental human rights Romania is a party to and the internal laws, international laws shall have priority (IHFHR, April 1994, 3).

The 1991 Constitution prohibits the death penalty and forbids torture, inhuman or degrading punishment. Article 23 prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, further stating that "a person may be arrested under a warrant issued by a magistrate for a maximum of 30 days". Freedom of movement is guaranteed by Article 25 and in practice no visa is required to leave the country (U.S. Department of State, 31 May 1994). The freedom of expression and conscience are guaranteed by a subsequent article (Article 30).

Minority rights are constitutionally ensured in Article 6 which provides that

The state recognizes and guarantees to any person belonging to a national minority the right to the preservation, development and expression of one's ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity.

The protective measures taken by the state for the preservation, development and expression of identity of the national minorities shall conform to the principles of equality and non-discrimination in relation to the other Romanian citizens (Centre for Documentation and Research, La Constitution de la Roumanie, 1991).

The provisions of the Constitution concerning human rights have been considered by human rights monitors as "a great political and legal step forward from the provisions of the former Constitution of 1965" (IHFHR, April 1994, 3). According to the IHFHR, however, "certain further improvements may be desirable" (Ibid.). Among them the organization mentions, among others, the need for the recognition of the right to defence during the entire judicial proceedings (not only in court as stipulated by the Constitution), and the need to expand the rights of minorities with a guarantee to the right to learn and be educated in the mother tongue (Ibid., 4-5). An article in the CSCE Bulletin points to a provision of the Constitution that says a law may prohibit defamation of the country and the nation; provocation to war or aggression; and to ethnic, racial, class, or religious hatred; incitement to discrimination, territorial separatism, or public violence; obscene acts, contrary to morals [Article 30 (7)], and goes on to question "whether an ethnic Hungarian, inclined to complain about conditions in Transylvania, would rely on his "inviolable" right to speak freely [Article 30 (1)] when the Constitution itself declares such sweeping and malleable exceptions" (Winter 1994, 4). Indeed, on 2 February 1994 the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill introduced by the PUNR, under which "defamation in public of Romania and the Romanian nation" would be punishable by one to five years in prison. Opposition senators expressed concern that the bill, if eventually passed by the Chamber of Deputies, could be used to repress political opponents or members of ethnic minorities (Keesing's 1994, 39873).

A July 1993 report by the Council of Europe expressed concerns with the application in practice of the Romanian Constitution by noting that "the rights and liberties recognized by the Constitution do not seem to be universally guaranteed in a clear manner" (19 July 1993, 8). An Amnesty International statement of March 1994 confirmed this concern, reporting that "[s]ome of the provisions of the Penal Code still in force . . . impose arbitrary and excessive restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association with others and are contrary to international treaties ratified or signed by Romania" (March 1994, 1).

The Judiciary

The functions of the judiciary in Romania are defined by the Constitution and the Law on the Reorganization of the Judiciary (Law No. 92/1992), which came into force in July 1993. It removes some of the more disputed aspects of the communist legal system but maintains the traditional power of the procuracy (IHRLG, August 1993). Some of the provisions of Law No.92 have been criticized with respect to judicial independence (Council of Europe, 20 September 1993; United Nations International Covenant, 5 November 1993). For instance, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that the "powers of the Ministry of Justice over judicial decisions and the power to remove judges creates a situation which greatly undermines the independence of the judiciary" (Ibid.). In one example, the Minister of Justice apparently went beyond his powers when he summarily dismissed the president of the Bucharest Municipal Court in mid-July 1993 without convening the Superior Council of the Magistrature (IHRLG, August 1993).

Amnesty International in its Annual Report for 1993 was critical of the Law on the Reorganization of the Judiciary, stressing that the independence of the judiciary was compromised by this law's criteria for the appointment and grading of judges. Furthermore, Amnesty International was concerned that under this law the Ministry of Justice and presidents of courts have excessive power to potentially interfere with the work of judges. The human rights organization also criticized the fact that the new law maintains the powerful role of the prosecutors and retains military courts as a parallel system of justice (1994, 247).

The IHFHR noted that problems within the judiciary still remain despite improvements in the Code of Criminal Procedure that have been made: "There is a lack of expertise and familiarity with international standards for human rights and the rule of law. Many judges and lawyers in Romania undertook most of their professional life in the Ceausescu era. Their training and professional experience are insufficient for an independent judiciary" (April 1994, 5).

In addition, the Romanian Helsinki Committee (RHC) noted that the draft modification of the Criminal Code included provisions which would, if adopted, virtually reestablish censorship in Romania (IHFHR, Annual Report 1993/1994, 1994, 79). Human Rights Watch/Helsinki considered some of the draft amendments to the Penal Code as a "serious threat to freedom of expression generally, and to freedom of the press specifically" (June 1994, 7).

In its general comments concerning the draft law on the amendment and completion of the Criminal and Criminal Procedures Codes, the RHC stressed that the "current tendency was to increase the penalties, although the Romanian legislation [was] already one of the most severe in Europe". According to the organization, the maximum penalties were increased by 5-10 years (United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 6 January 1994).

The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI)

From its inception in March 1990, the SRI has been tainted by links to its predecessor, the Securitate. One of the reasons for this has been that the SRI employed several thousand members of the Securitate, although the precise figure remains unclear. In September 1993, the agency's director, Virgil Magureanu, put the number at about 6,000 (The New York Times, 13 June 1993; IHRLG, August 1993). The law on the SRI, which came into effect in February 1992, prohibits the hiring of most members of the former Securitate, although it remains unclear whether those currently working for the SRI have been employed in contravention of this law (Country Reports for 1992, 1993). The wording of the SRI law, as well as that of the Law on National Security of July 1991, has been criticized for enabling the agency to conduct otherwise illegal activities under the broad rubric of "national security" (IHRLG, August 1993, 9-10; LCHR, July 1993, 314; Country Reports for 1992, 1993).

The February 1992 Law on the SRI establishes a special parliamentary commission to scrutinize the activities of the SRI. It also provides for parliamentary oversight of the agency's budget and sets out a confirmation process for its director (Council of Europe, 20 septembre 1993, 3). According to a number of reports, these safeguards have not been functioning adequately in practice (IHRLG, August 1993, 9-10; Human Rights Law Journal, 1993, 138; Council of Europe 20 septembre 1993, 3; Country Reports for 1992, 1993).

The special parliamentary commission to oversee the SRI was not established until June 1993. It consists of nine members: five from parties supporting the government and four from opposition parties. Vasile Vacaru of the ruling party was appointed chairman of the commission (Radio Romania Network 24 June 1993; Evenimentul Zilei, 24 June 1993). In was in October 1993 that Magureanu was confirmed by parliament in his position as director (Radio Romania Network, 12 October 1993; IHRLG, August 1993, 10; RFE/RL, 4 October 1993).

In June 1993, the government created the "Special Telecommunications Service," and reportedly provided it with electronic surveillance equipment. The move was immediately criticized by the Romanian Helsinki Committee as an attempt to further remove potentially illegal state activities from the scrutiny of parliamentary control (IHRLG, August 1993, 10). In late August, the head of the parliamentary commission stated that the SRI had tapped telephones "a few hundred" times but always within the bounds of the law (Romania Libera, 31 August 1993). A long overdue report by the SRI on its activities, presented to parliament in September 1993, was criticized for being too general and providing substantial information only on what the agency perceived as continuing threats from foreign intelligence services operating in Romania (IHRLG, August 1993, 10-11; Romania Libera, 15 September 1993).

Parliament can exercise a measure of control over the SRI through the budgetary approval process. However, a number of observers have indicated that it has thus far chosen not to do so (Country Reports, 1992, 1993; IHRLG, August 1993, 9-10; Council of Europe, 20 septembre 1993, 3). In April 1993, former prime minister P. Roman confirmed in parliament that the SRI owned a farm. The statement raised concerns that, with an independent source of income, the agency's accountability to parliament was further reduced (Adevarul, 8 April 1993).

3.   The Human Rights Situation

3.1   General Respect for Human Rights

Romania has "continued efforts to move from its authoritarian past to a democratic system" (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, 1994). Nevertheless, despite improvements in the human rights situation in Romania, reports of abuses, especially concerning the country's ethnic minorities, continue. According to a Council of Europe report published in Bucharest in May 1994, Romania has made slow progress in democratic reform. The "list of unresolved issues is still long and the ruling majority in parliament is slowing reforms", according to the report (Reuters, 19 May 1994). Concern about the rights of Romania's large ethnic Hungarian minority topped the list of concerns, which also included grievances from gypsies and religious minorities. The report singled out the Justice Ministry for criticism because it blocked a Presidential pardon of eight ethnic Hungarians jailed for their part in attacking security forces during the 1989 revolution (Ibid.). The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights accused the Government of Romania of allowing discrimination against the country's Gypsy population. The Committee found that there has been no appreciable improvement in the treatment of gypsies since the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaucescu in 1989 (Reuters, 25 May 1994).These conclusions were supported by subsequent reports of attacks on Gypsies (Associated Press, 31 May 1994), and controversial archaeological excavations in the city of Cluj, involving the statue of the King of Hungary Mathias, an object of pride for the local Hungarian community (Reuters, 21 July 1994; Hungarian Radio, 20 July 1994). Overall, the respect of rights of minorities in Romania "remained an elusive goal" (Human Rights Watch, 1993, 229).

Among some other issues of concern, "societal discrimination and violence against women remain[ed] a problem" and "there was concern about the independence of the state-owned television, the primary broadcast medium" (Country Reports for 1993). A Council of Europe mission sent to Romania to monitor human rights performance in March 1994 said "there are still many areas of great concern to the Council" (United Press International, 30 March 1994). Among these were the treatment of homosexuals and ethnic and religious minorities in Romania.

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings in 1993. Also, no instances of disappearance were reported during the same year. There were no political prisoners reported in the country (Country Reports for 1993, 1994).

At the same time, Amnesty International has repeatedly voiced its concern over reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, often in order to force a confession. In some cases, victims who complained were later intimidated (1994, 247). Helsinki Watch also received reports of "police brutality against detainees in 1993, including one case of death in suspicious circumstances" (1993, 230). The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights concurs that "according to human rights lawyers, systematic and brutal ill-treatment of arrestees immediately following their arrests often occurs in police stations in Romania. The ways in which arrestees are treated in police station and lock-ups while awaiting trial are in many cases in contradiction to international standards and also to the Romanian Constitution" (April 1994, 22).

Since the Interior Ministry which controls the police, is considered to be a military organization, only the Military Prosecutors' Office is empowered to register, investigate and bring to trial complaints of ill-treatment by the police (IHRLG, August 1993; Helsinki Watch, January 1993, 12; Human Rights Law Journal, 1993; Amnesty International, September 1993, 14). Police officers convicted of such physical abuse face a maximum penalty of seven-years imprisonment; however, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that "the number of charges and convictions are extremely few compared with the number of complaints received or abuses reported" and "penalties prescribed by law are not commensurate with the gravity of the crimes committed" (United Nations International Covenant, 5 November 1993, 2-4). A number of reports suggest that the system of investigating abuse by the police is far from effective, and some observers have not recorded a single case of conviction of police officers for abuse (Amnesty International, May 1993 and September 1993; IHRLG, August 1993). According to the U.S. Department of State, "the number of instances in which policemen were fined or imprisoned for misconduct was minimal in 1993, in part due to the failure of military prosecutors to conduct thorough investigations" (1994). Conditions in prisons have also been deplored (IHFHR, 1994, 24).

In another apparent encroachment of liberties, according to information obtained by the IHRLG, "unauthorized monitoring of telephone communications persisted as a remnant of the former regime (cited in U.N. Commission on Human Rights, 6 January 1994). This information is corroborated by the U.S. Department of State's Report that "several NGO's claim to have had their mail opened or their phones tapped. They attributed these alleged actions to current or former employees of Romanian Intelligence Services" (1994).

Serious questions have been raised over the freedom of the mass media and independence of the state-owned television. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued a special report on this subject. In it the organization asserted that despite the progress that has been made to ensure an independent press both in practice and in law there is troubling evidence of official harassment of journalists whose views are critical of the ruling powers, ranging from effective denial of press credentials to the imprisonment of a journalist who wrote an allegory that was considered defamatory of the President of Romania. Legislation is also in Parliament that would increase criminal sanctions to up to seven years of imprisonment for defamation of a public official by a journalist (June 1994, 2).

There were repeated allegations that the Romanian State Television has been used by its director, appointed by the President of the country, "to support the government and its programme" (Country Reports for 1993, 1994).

Difficulties with access to information where noted by representatives of the Council of Europe (FDOC6901, 19 juillet 1993). These difficulties were considered to be a result of some of the draft provisions in the Penal Code that violate the right to freedom of expression and contravene international human rights treaties ratified or signed by Romania (Amnesty International, March 1994, 3). Amnesty International criticized in particular Articles 238 and 239 of the Penal Code which criminalize defamation of "a person engaged in an important state or public activity" (Ibid.). The Romanian Helsinki Committee noted that in addition to positive and necessary amendments, the draft law for the modification and completion of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code included a series of provisions which were so vaguely defined that they could be subject to very subjective interpretations and reflected persisting totalitarian mentalities. This formed the basis of the conclusion made by the Committee:

It is obvious that it is not the individual and his rights that are at the centre of the penal policy the government wishes to promote, but the tendency is to continue a repressive penal policy stressing the punish- ment and the concentration of force in the hands of the state and of the authorities representing it (cited in IHFHR, 1994, 79-80).

3.2   The Situation of Specific Groups

The Constitution of Romania stipulates that the state recognizes and guarantees to any person belonging to a national minority the right to the preservation, development and expression of one's ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. In practice, however, the situation of ethnic minorities in Romania has remained the focus of attention of human rights organizations due to continued reports of ethnic tension and apparent acts of discrimination against the Roma and Hungarian communities. According to RFE/RL, "the Hungarian ethnic minority is undoubtedly the most serious minority problem facing Romania's post-communist rulers", while also referring to the other minority issues - the Roma, Jews, and Germans (11 June 1993).

Romania has a historical legacy of ethnic tensions. After the change of government in 1989 there was hope that this tragic history would be altered. The new government was initially open to concerns of minorities, and enjoyed their support. Unfortunately, the government's openness very soon "gave way to resistance and hostility from some segments of the public" (Helsinki Watch, September 1993). In practice this found its manifestation in escalating tensions between Hungarian and Romanian communities in Transylvania that culminated in the violent confrontation at Tirgu Mures (Marosvasarhely) in March 1990. The Roma have similarly been subjected to abuse by the Government of Romania which "clearly fail[ed] in its duty to protect the Roma against attacks" (IHFHR, 1994, 31).

In April 1993, the Government of Romania set up a Council for National Minorities to serve as a forum for the discussion of minority issues and problems and to make recommendations to the Government. The Council is supposed to be composed of representatives of all 17 recognized minorities and 14 representatives of the government (Council of Europe, FDOC6901, 19 juillet 1994).

The Council's tasks include consideration of the specific problems, and formulation of recommendations, concerning the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. The Council is also empowered to prepare drafts of normative or legislative instruments relating to the rights of persons belonging to the minorities and to submit them to the Government for approval and subsequent submission to Parliament. The powers of the Council include that of arranging for contacts and exchanges of information and documentation with other governmental or non-governmental, national or international bodies concerned with the field of human rights, and in particular the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, as well as participation in international meetings on the subject (response by the Romanian Government in United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 13 December 1993).

Suspicions were voiced upon the announcement of the Council's establishment that this forum was created for propaganda purposes and the timing of its creation was linked to deliberations on Romania's admission to the Council of Europe (Die Presse, 26 April 1993). Despite these considerations the RFE/RL wrote in this respect that "whatever the government's original motivation for setting up the Council, subsequent developments have demonstrated that its capacity for political manipulation has been substantially reduced by the changing domestic and international environment" (11 June 1993). Nevertheless, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania in September 1993 issued a statement about its decision to withdraw from the Council because of the government's lack of 'political will' to implement Council recommendations that had been adopted in accordance with federation recommendations (Human Rights Watch, September 1993, 108). In late September 1993, Roma representatives also withdrew from the Council after ethnic violence in Hdreni (RFE/RL, 7 January 1994).

The Roma (Gypsies)

Estimates of the Roma community in Romania suggest a population of around two million (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1993, 12). Most reports agree that the Roma have been suffering from what amounts to systematic discrimination in Romanian society (Country Reports for 1992, 1993; Braham, M., 1993, 15, 17). The Romanian Helsinki Committee described the plight of the Roma thus

The Roma minority . . . faced a myriad of problems. The deteriorating economic situation and emerging nationalism made Roma the first victims of ethnic hatred. In addition to general discrimination, e.g. in employment, housing and education, the Roma minority continued to face violent attacks by majority groups. In the last four years, Roma communities were attacked, the residents forced to leave some 30 villages and their houses set on fire. At least 300 Roma houses throughout the country have been destroyed (in IHFHR, 1994, 83).

Human Rights Watch confirms that "the Roma (Gypsy) minority continued to face severe discrimination and mistreatment in Romania, and was often unable to obtain effective remedy for abuses" (1993, 229). Their particular report points out that in the case of one attack on the Roma on 20 September 1993 there were indications that "the police [were] slow to arrive on the scene of the violence and did little or nothing to protect the Romas who were being attacked" (Ibid.). In response to this incident, the government issued a statement condemning all such "antisocial" acts, warning that vigilantism was intolerable. It acknowledged that Roma faced special problems, promised to develop adequate social integration programmes, and pledged to use government funds to rebuild destroyed homes and care for the displaced children in the meantime (Country Reports for 1993, 1994). Despite the allocation of 25 million lei toward rebuilding homes, no such action has apparently been forthcoming, nor has the rebuilding begun. The Roma continued to protest the Government's lack of responsiveness (Ibid.). Overall, the Roma are described by Amnesty International as living in "desperate social and economic conditions" (May 1993, 2). The organization also noted the failure of the police to protect Roma from public lynching (4 October 1993).

Complicating the life of the Roma is the fact that there is a "general perception that their social status is lower than any other in Romania" (IHFHR, April 1994, 37). According to a survey by the Romanian newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei, 77 per cent of respondents said they have resentments against Gypsies. The journalist who reported these results wrote that he was told that "the average person thinks that every Gypsy is a criminal, low-life scoundrel and a potential threat to the security of his or her life and property. And these sentiments were expressed by people who are at least university graduates, some of them closely associated with the academic world" (The Ottawa Citizen, 13 July 1994).

This contributes to a situation where "[s]ocial deprivation, poverty and despair constitute a growing problem among Roma communities. Unemployment is highest among the Roma who, because of their generally low level of education, are among the first to lose jobs during times of economic crisis" (IHFHR, April 1994, 31). There is little evidence to suggest that the situation has improved in 1994. In fact, the recent appearance of a new Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report on Romania suggests that the Roma continue to face hardships and discrimination. The report criticizes the Romanian Government for failure to combat racial violence against the Roma and charges that despite its professed commitment to dealing with attacks against the Roma minority, local and national officials lack the political will to identify and prosecute those responsible. Because of this recurring failure to respond to the violence, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki called on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe to require a rigorous and regular report from Romanian authorities on their efforts to end these assaults and prosecute those responsible (7 November 1994). The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 1994 also has accused Romania of allowing discrimination against the country's Gypsy population (Reuters, 25 May 1994).

Those Roma "who flee the poverty and discrimination face a hostile reception in the West" according to a March 1993 article by Newsweek: "Germany has been convulsed by anti-foreigner violence, much directed against Romanian Gypsies who have applied for political asylum" (1 March 1993). The magazine quoted an aide to Chancellor Kohl of Germany as saying that "these people can't be integrated", referring to the estimated 60,000 Gypsies who have arrived in Germany in the past two years seeking asylum. In November 1992 the Government of Germany began deporting rejected Romanian asylum-seekers after signing a treaty with Bucharest (Ibid.).

It is interesting to note that there are also apparent tensions between ethnic Hungarians and Gypsies in Transylvania. According to a Reuters report, ethnic Hungarians took part in the September 1993 attacks on Gypsies in that region (25 October 1993). The Independent indicates that in Transylvania, where tensions between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians are reputedly high, both communities share the same hatred of the Roma (19 October 1993). Another report by the BBC also pointed towards existing mistrust between the Hungarian and Roma communities (28 January 1994). Incidents of violence against the Roma in Transylvania were again reported in May 1994 (Associated Press, 31 May 1994).

Ethnic Hungarians

According to a 1993 Human Rights Watch report, the "Hungarian minority continued to face obstacles in equal treatment in education and culture, and were underrepresented in both local and national government administration. The most serious abuses against Hungarians occurred at the local level, where local officials placed restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and speech" (1993, 230).

Ethnic Hungarians make up 7.1% of the population (7.9% in 1977) and are Romania's largest minority group. The decrease of ethnic Hungarians between the 1977 and 1992 census to 1.6 million from the 2 million (figure often cited by Hungarian spokesmen) "has raised questions about the accuracy of the census, and has fuelled recent Hungarian accusations that a form of 'ethnic cleansing' was being conducted" (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1993, 12).

Relations between the Romanians and the Hungarian community, which resides mainly in Transylvania, have reportedly always been troubled (Minority Rights Group, 1978, 5). During the years of the Ceaucescu regime, ethnic Hungarians claimed that they were singled out for especially harsh treatment such as restriction and elimination of Hungarian-language education, banishment of the Hungarian language from public life, liquidation of cultural institutions and the harassment of minority churches (IHFHR, April 1994, 39). According to Helsinki Watch there have been "significant improvements in many areas of concern to the Hungarian minority of Romania, [yet] tensions have remained high, resulting in an increasing sense of insecurity among the population" (Helsinki Watch, September 1993, 3).

A 1990 report by the Minority Rights Group provided the following assessment, that placed the situation in Transylvania into a broader context:

[N]either Romanian nor Hungarian nationalists can accept that Transylvania should be part of the other state's territory and both accept a nationalist imperative that it should belong to them. In this kind of emotionally charged atmosphere, the rights of minorities are easily ignored and their articulation may be treated as evidence of irredentism (April 1990, 10).

Indeed, many Romanians apparently "continue to believe that a large minority population presents a security risk to the Romanian state, and that greater rights for minorities will result in demands for territorial autonomy and, ultimately, a secessionist movement. These fears have been easily manipulated by nationalist elements in Romania" (Helsinki Watch, September 1993, 3).

Exacerbating these tensions is the fact that, as noted by the RFE/RL noted, "the successive postcommunist governments in Bucharest have all - to a greater or lesser degree - been prone to amateurism, ill-will, and a propensity to seek short-term political advantage by exploiting the mutual suspicion, mutual ignorance, and mutual oversensitivity that have traditionally marred the interethnic relations in Romania" (11 June 1993). The leaders of the Hungarian community seem to have contributed to general anxieties by failing to clearly commmunicate and explain their position of defending their collective rights and reducing fears that they are working towards secession from Romania.

The main grievances of the Hungarian population concern education in the national language, cultural rights, access to employment and participation in politics and administration (Minority Rights Group, 1991, 112-113). Specifically, "ethnic Hungarians, who were unhappy with the constitutional text declaring Romania a "unitary state", fear a gradual process of cultural assimilation and seek additional Hungarian- language postsecondary instruction and use of Hungarian (rather than Romanian with interpretation, as is currently provided by law) in the courts" (Country Reports for 1993, 1994).

This has in a large part been confirmed by Human Rights Watch which found that

the Hungarian minority continues to face obstacles in equal access to education in the mother language, that there are an insufficient number of trained Hungarian-language teachers, and an insufficient number of classes in the Hungarian language compared to the demand for such classes. What is more, Hungarian schools are subjected to harassment by local school inspectors and local government officials who have created a sense of insecurity as to the status of minority-language schools (Helsinki Watch, September 1993, 4).

In contrast, a Council of Europe report stated that

[n]ot all of the claims of the Hungarians and of other minorities are justified, but one can understand that they are concerned about some recent developments such as loss of a university and high schools that once used to be purely Hungarian (20 September 1993, 7).

The deterioration of relations between the two communities can be linked to the behaviour of the ultranationalist mayor of Cluj, G. Funar, "who has cracked down on the Hungarian population through a series of measures that may be regarded as unconstitutional" (RFE/RL, 26 February 1993). One of these measures was the removal of Hungarian-language street signs in the city. The central Government attempted to calm down the situation by appointing 'parallel' prefects of ethnic Hungarian background, but further controversy was caused by the removal of the only ethnic Hungarian State Secretary in the Government in September 1993 (Europe Yearbook 1994, 1993, 2467). The often demonstrated reticence by the central Government to Funars' actions may have stemmed from the fact that it needed the votes of the PUNR parliamentary deputies to stay in office (RFE/RL, 26 February 1993). This dependency apparently has increased in 1994, when the government felt obliged to appoint two PUNR members to its ranks as ministers (Eastern European Newsletter, 1 September 1994).

In July 1993 agreement was reached between the Government and the Hungarian community on Hungarian minority rights. According to the terms of the agreement, over 300 teachers would be trained; there would be more teaching of history and geography in minority languages; and bilingual street signs would be introduced in areas where minority population is at least 30 per cent (Keesing's 1993, 39566). Nevertheless, reports in 1994 suggested that "discrimination against ethnic Hungarians was continuing to be openly pursued in many parts of Romania, and tensions were increasing between Romania and Hungary over the former's treatment of the Hungarian minority" (Europe Yearbook 1994, 1993, 2467). The Romanian Parliament has still failed to adopt legislation on national minorities and education that would be satisfactory to the Hungarian community.



"Parliament Discusses SRI Budget", 8 April 1993 (FBIS-EEU-93-071, 15 April 1993, 31)

Agence France Presse,

"Ultra-nationalist cabinet posts spark fears of ethnic unrest", 19 August 1994

Amnesty International,

Report 1994, London, 1994


"Romania: Update on revision of article 200 of the penal code", 26 May 1994


"Romania: Criminal law reform on the wrong track", March 1994


"Romania: Amnesty International concerned by proposed revisions to penal code", 1 March 1994


"Romania: Police fail to protect three Roma from public lynching", 4 October 1993


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Associated Press,

31 May 1994

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"Party of Hungarian minority in Romania in treaty talks", 1 August 1994


"Gypsy demonstration against Laszlo Toekes banned by local police", 28 January 1994

Braham, M.,

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Rapport sur la demande d'adhesion de la Roumanie au Couseil de l'Europe, FDOC6918, 20 septembre 1993


FDOC6914, 16 septembre 1993


FDOC6901, 19 juillet 1993

CSCE Bulletin,

"Constitutions and constitutionalism in Central and Eastern Europe", Winter 1994

Die Presse,

26 April 1993

Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1994,

Europa publications, London, 1994

Eastern Europe Newsletter,

Romania, 21 September 1994


Romania, 1 September 1994


Romania, 5 August 1994


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The Economist,

"Isarescued", 15 July 1994

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London, 1993

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"Threats to Press Freedoms", November 1993


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___, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1992, Washington D.C., 1993



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30 March 1994 (in Writenet, Central Europe, Bi-weekly review of events, 15-30 March 1994)

ANNEX 1 - Principal Political Parties

Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR)

Formerly the National Salvation Front (NSF), the party emerged "within hours after the toppling of the Ceaucescu regime as a provisional government [in the form of] an alliance of all patriotic and democratic forces opposing dictatorship in Romania" (New Political Parties of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1991, 239). Later known as the Democratic National Salvation Front after several NSF members left in 1992 to back President Iliescu's reelection, it is composed mostly of ex- communists turned "democrats" (EEN, 14 December 1992). The party's main goal is incapsulated in a plea for "tolerable reforms", which has been interpreted as a means of preserving the power and privileges of "the old guard" (Ibid.). According to the RFE/RL, "the party has been dominated by antireform trends that can be traced back to the personal, second-generation nomenklatura background of many leading members" (22 April 1994).

Democratic Convention (DC)

An alliance of 18 centre-right parties and other organizations, including the Christian Democratic National Peasants Party (pres. Cornelius Coposu), the Party of the Civic Alliance (pres. Nicolae Manolescu), the Liberal Party 1993 (pres. Dinu Patriciu), the Romanian Social Democratic Party, the Romanian Ecological Party, etc.

Democratic Party - National Salvation Front

Formerly the National Salvation Front, it split in 1992 (see PSDR above), and changed its name in 1993. The party is a centre-left movement, that advocates a free-market economy, privatization of state property, encouragement of foreign investment, reorganization of education, freedom of the national minorities. The President of this party is Petre Roman (former prime minister) (Europa Yearbook 1994, 1993, 2:2474).

Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (HDUR)

The HDUR represents the interests and supports the rights of some two million ethnic Hungarians. Founded in 1989 the party's agenda has been to respect the territorial integrity of Romania, but it stressed the right of the minorities to self-determination within Romania and proposed the enactment of a law that would guarantee proportional representation in the legislature as well as equal educational opportunities in the native languages of the minorities (Helsinki Watch, September 1993, 91).

The HDUR has continued to ally itself with the opposition parties in Romania, although tensions with the DC were evident when the HDUR called in 1992 for the autonomy of Hungarian-dominated areas (EEN, 14 December 1992).

Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR)

This is the political wing of the Nationalist Romanian movement, Vatra Romaneasca. The movement was set up as a "so-called cultural organization soon after the ouster of Ceaucescu, in response to demands by members of the Hungarian national minority for the restoration of the cultural and collective rights that had been forcibly taken away from them beginning in 1959" (RFE/RL, 22 April 1994). Together with the Greater Romania Party (GRP), the PUNR "favor[s] the subjugation of the Hungarian minority and quick unification with Moldova. The PUNR's main personality is the mayor of [the city of] Cluj Gheorghe Funar. His popularity among Romanians largely accounts for the 44 seats the party won in parliament (8% of the vote)" (EEN, 14 December 1992). [In comparison, the HDUR won 39 seats].

The PUNR is the largest of Romania' ultranationalist parties which sees attempts by the HDUR to obtain collective rights for the Hungarian minority as "attempts to undermine the Romanian character of Transylvania prior to detaching the province from Romania completely" (RFE/RL, 26 February 1993).

The party supports President Iliescu and the PSDR. Recently (August 1994) two representatives of the PUNR have been named ministers to the government of N.Vacaroiu, ostensibly to "add dynamism to the activities in the relevant sectors [communications and agriculture]". Observers noted that the move was designed to strengthen the minority government and the ruling coalition (Le Monde, 23 August 1994). The opposition denounced the entry into government of what they called a "chauvinistic, anti-reform and anti-Western" political formation (Ibid.). Great Britain and the United States were reported to have subsequently issued warnings that the drawing of hardliners into the government "would jeopardize Romania's international standing" (Reuters, 6 November 1994). PUNR leader G. Funar refuted all criticism by saying that "without any justification and without any grounds, we have been gratuitously labelled as an 'extremist, chauvinistic, ultra-nationalist' and even a fascist party - this is totally untrue" (Reuters, 6 November 1994 [separate dispatch]).


All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

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