Head of state: Emil Constantinescu
Head of government: Mugur Isarescu (replaced Radu Vasile in December)
Population: 22.6 million
Official language: Romanian
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police continued, and at least one man died after he was shot by police. Inadequate and slow investigations into these allegations, resulting in few prosecutions, continued to provide relative impunity for police officers. A broad package of legal reforms proposed by the authorities in September had not been implemented by the end of the year. It included proposals to repeal the discriminatory legislation that criminalized homosexuals.
The government's attempts to restructure the economy exacerbated hardship in an already fragile situation, as support for large-scale commercial and industrial enterprises ceased. Coal miners marched on Bucharest in January, threatening their fifth violent invasion (mineriada) since 1989. It was averted when the authorities negotiated an agreement with the miners' leader Miron Cozma; he was subsequently sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for his role in a 1991 mineriada . Mass strikes and demonstrations by workers in many sectors of the economy took place through the year.
Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police officers continued. Detainees were frequently denied access to a doctor or a lawyer, which facilitated ill-treatment. Police officers were sometimes reported to use torture to force suspects to sign "confessions".
- Petrie Ilie, Gheorghe Nedelcu and Victor Gheorghe voluntarily went to Buftea police station in March to give statements denying their involvement in the theft of a coffee consignment. Officers from Ilfov County Police Inspectorate arrived and reportedly beat the three men, breaking some of their teeth. The officers reportedly tore up the original statements and dictated new statements, in which the men confessed to the robbery.
Investigations into these complaints were rarely prompt or impartial. The authorities frequently failed to account for injuries suffered by the complainant, even when they were documented by forensic medical experts, and some official explanations strained credulity. Police officers sometimes responded to complaints of ill-treatment with a counter-charge.
- In May AI received information from the authorities that injuries sustained by Adrian Matei when he was arrested in January 1997 were self-inflicted. He supposedly hit himself against a police car several times and threw himself to the ground intentionally, despite being restrained by six police officers and two civilian guards.
Roma continued to face ill-treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials. They were reportedly targeted because of their ethnic identity, rather than solely on the basis of reported crimes of which they were suspected.
Shootings by police
Domestic legislation continued to permit police officers to shoot criminal suspects even if they did not present any immediate danger. This was incompatible with international standards, such as the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which allow the use of firearms only in self-defence, or the defence of those facing imminent threat of death or serious injury.
- Police officers seeking to arrest a group of suspected cigarette smugglers in Bucharest shot and killed Radu Marian, a 40-year-old Roma, and wounded two of his companions, as they attempted to flee.
Freedom of expression
Journalists continued to face imprisonment or heavy fines, on charges of insult, libel, and "offence to authority", for reporting alleged corruption involving public officials.
- Prisoner of conscience Cornel Sabou was released from prison in February under a presidential pardon. He had been imprisoned in 1998 on a charge of libel initiated by a judge in Baia Mare county for having reported allegations that the judge and her mother had dishonestly obtained title to land rightfully belonging to a group of local villagers.
In September the government proposed a broad package of legal reforms to the Penal Code, the Penal Procedure Code, and other laws regulating the police and prisons, but it had not been implemented by the end of the year. Although welcome, the package went only some way towards meeting recommendations from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
The proposed reforms included the abolition of a Penal Code article stipulating prison sentences for those convicted of verbal "outrage" against public officials, which had sometimes been used to harass those complaining of ill-treatment in police custody, and the complete de-militarization of the police. The package also included the abolition of Article 200 of the Penal Code, which prohibited homosexual relations between consenting adults "if the act was committed in public or has produced public scandal"and condemned anyone enticing or seducing a person to practise same-sex acts, or anyone who publicly promoted homosexuality or formed associations for that purpose, to a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Proposed changes to Penal Code Articles 205, 206 and 238 governing freedom of expression were half-hearted. The crime of "offence to authority" would be abolished and the penalty for "insult" would be reduced from a prison sentence to a fine. The penalty of a fine or a prison sentence, albeit reduced from the previous maximum of three years, would be retained for libel offences. The UN Human Rights Committee had called for the repeal or modification of all three articles.
Proposed amendments to legislation governing arrest and detention procedures failed to address concerns about the practice of obtaining forced "confessions". The amendments did not meet the UN Human Rights Committee's recommendations that the authorities should assume the burden of proving that confessions obtained in police custody were made voluntarily, and invalidating those obtained by unlawful means. However, the proposals did attempt to bring the system of authorizing pre-trial detention into accord with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates that a judge or judicial officer should perform this role. The existing function of prosecutors in ordering pre-trial detention of up to 30 days would be assumed by examining magistrates.
Suggested reforms to the regulations governing police use of firearms failed to bring domestic law into line with international standards, despite the UN Human Rights Committee's concern that police officers were reportedly over-using firearms, particularly against children involved in petty offences, and its call for police use of firearms to be closely regulated.
The UN Human Rights Committee considered Romania's fourth periodic report on its fulfilment of obligations under the ICCPR in July. The Committee expressed concern about the plight of street children and abandoned children, the discrimination faced by Roma and women, the lack of accountability of the security forces, and excessive powers of the executive which posed a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discussed Romania's 12th to 15th periodic reports in August. The Committee noted the establishment of a National Office for Roma in 1997, but expressed concern about the continuing disadvantaged situation of Roma. It also expressed concern about the inadequate nature of legislation used to punish and prohibit racial discrimination, the act of forming or belonging to racist organizations, and continuing expressions of xenophobic attitudes and racial prejudice in the mass media, which have been directed against the Roma minority in particular.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released the report of its 1998 visit to investigate the situation of immigrants and asylum-seekers held in prolonged administrative detention. The report expressed serious reservations about both domestic law and official practice which affected the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, and the decision to grant asylum. It described the conditions in Giurgiu detention centre as "degrading".
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture published a report in November on his April visit to Romania to inspect police lock-ups and prisons. He concluded that there were "persistent, albeit sporadic, cases of police abuse", that ill-treatment by police was a more serious problem in rural communities, and that Roma were at a higher risk than others. He noted that most reported ill-treatment occurred in the first 24 hours in detention and proposed additional controls to protect detainees during this period. He called for urgent measures to reduce "gross overcrowding" in prisons and commented that "no State has the right to subject persons to these conditions".
In its annual progress report on countries seeking accession to the European Union (EU), issued in October, the European Commission urged Romania to end discrimination against Roma and to establish better protection for the estimated 100,000 children in institutional care. Increased budgetary provision to meet the second aim and the establishment of a central child protection agency were set as preconditions for accession negotiations. In December Romania was invited to begin negotiations for EU accession.
AI country reports
- Romania: Alleged ill-treatment by police officers in Teleorman County (AI Index: EUR 39/001/99)
- Romania: Deaths in suspicious circumstances of Toader Elinoiu and Ion Putoi (AI Index: EUR 39/005/99)
- Romania: The reported ill-treatment of Danut Iordache (AI Index: EUR 39/008/99)
- Romania: The reported ill-treatment and shooting of Nicu Olteanu (AI Index: EUR 39/010/99)
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