Covering events from January-December 2001

Head of state: Ion Iliescu
Head of government: Adrian Nastase
Capital: Bucharest
Population: 22.5 million
Official language: Romanian
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Optional Protocol to the UN Children's Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict

Police ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, was widespread. There were numerous reports of police shootings in disputed circumstances. Provisions in the Penal Code criminalizing homosexuality were abolished, but a long-delayed comprehensive reform of the Penal Code and of the laws concerning the police force was again postponed. Conscientious objectors to military service were threatened with imprisonment.


The ruling Party of Social Democracy of Romania, which changed its name during the year to the Party of Social Democracy, showed little respect for the rule of law. It instructed judges how to rule in certain cases and made partisan dismissals from and appointments to the judiciary. New parliamentary procedures, particularly the provision to keep committee meetings closed to the public, restricted the ability of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to influence the debate on new legislation.

Corruption continued to be widespread and to undermine the legal system, the economy and public confidence in government. In May, for example, an unpublished report of the European Parliament alleged that not only did the government fail to resolve the problem of abandoned children but its officials were implicated in irregularities in international adoptions which placed children at risk of trafficking and other forms of abuse. In June the authorities suspended for at least a year the registration of new foreign families requesting international adoption.

Torture and ill-treatment

The number of reported incidents of police ill-treatment, in certain cases amounting to torture, increased. Some of the police officers involved had not been disciplined following earlier complaints of ill-treatment.

At least two people died in custody, reportedly as a result of torture or ill-treatment. A criminal investigation into one death in custody was initiated almost four months after the event, after public protests and repeated appeals from NGOs. The lack of adequate medical treatment in police lock-ups apparently contributed to the death in February of a man who was reportedly suffering from drug dependency. One reported victim of police torture, a 20-year-old man, committed suicide in January on the eve of a second interrogation.

Safeguards to prevent torture and ill-treatment were routinely ignored. Police often questioned suspects in the absence of a lawyer. Minors were questioned without their parents or a representative of an authority responsible for the social welfare of children being present. Most of those who alleged they were ill-treated were not allowed to contact their family and were denied medical treatment while in custody.

As in previous years, some of the victims who complained of police ill-treatment were subsequently charged with "assaulting a public official" and, in at least one case, detained. These charges appeared to be fabricated in order to put pressure on the victims to withdraw their complaints. In October, a representative of the General Police Inspectorate stated that in the first nine months of 2001, 137 people who were charged with "assaulting a public official" had allegedly made "insults, threats or affronts", which apparently did not involve any physical violence.

  • In October, 350 gendarmes and special police officers reportedly attacked a village of around 1,300 inhabitants, apparently in reprisal for an alleged attack earlier that day on guards working for an oil pipeline company by a group of villagers. Dozens of villagers were indiscriminately beaten and their property was damaged or destroyed.
  • In July Dumitru Grigoras, a 35-year-old father of four children, was arrested by two police officers, following a complaint that he had been violent to his wife. A man living opposite the police station alleged that later that evening he heard screams from the police station and one of the officers shouting, "Tell me! By morning I will have killed you anyway". Early the next morning the body of Dumitru Grigoras was taken to a local doctor's surgery. Police claimed that he had become ill while making a statement. Two days later Dumitru Grigoras's wife and father were allowed to see the body. They refused to take the body for burial because it was covered in bruises and other injuries and demanded a second autopsy. In October it was reported that two police officers were detained pending an investigation into Dumitru Grigoras's death; the result of the investigation was not known at the end of the year.
  • In March, 14-year-old Vasile Danut Moise was taken to the local police station in Vladesti for questioning by two police officers and a farmer whose cow had allegedly been stolen. Vasile Danut Moise later described how the police officers beat him on the palms of his hands and on the back with a "shepherd's staff" (a wooden rod about one metre long) and with a truncheon. A third officer hit him on the head with a lever-arch file, making him fall against a stove. That evening Vasile Danut Moise was taken to a paediatric hospital suffering from psychological trauma and injuries to his head, eye and back.
Investigations into complaints of torture or ill-treatment were rarely thorough and impartial. Some preliminary investigations were apparently prolonged in order to impede complainants from seeking redress.

Unlawful use of firearms by the police

At least one person was shot dead and several others were injured by police officers who used firearms in breach of international human rights standards. Victims were often shot during attempted thefts or while running away, when they did not pose an immediate threat to either the officers or passers-by. The vast majority of the shootings were perpetrated by officers of the Public Order Services. Investigations into such cases were not thorough and impartial. In March the Ministry of Justice stated in a letter to AI that the investigation into the killing of Radu Marian in October 1999 established that although warning shots had been fired by the police officer, the suspect "kept running zigzag, on an uneven field, so that although the police officer aimed at the feet, the bullet entered the back of Radu Marian's head and he died".
  • In April, Alexandru Mihai Dombi was stopped by the traffic police on the outskirts of Oradea. When he failed to present his driving licence he was asked to leave his identity card with the officers. He and his two companions then continued the journey into town. However, their car broke down and they then walked to the nearby railway station. At the crowded station, Alexandru Mihai Dombi started to run after spotting a large number of police officers. One of the officers reportedly ordered him to stop and then shot at Alexandru Mihai Dombi, hitting him in the head. According to reports, other officers also fired shots in the station which had been surrounded by the police. According to the police, after their first encounter with Alexandru Mihai Dombi they had discovered that he was wanted to serve a four-year sentence for fraud.
Reform of the Penal Code and police

In June the government adopted an emergency ordinance which abolished Article 200, which dealt with, among other things, homosexual consensual relations and under which prisoners of conscience had been held. The Article had also made it an offence punishable by between one and five years' imprisonment "to entice or seduce a person to practise same-sex acts, as well as to form propaganda associations, or to engage in other forms of proselytizing with the same aim".

However, the government apparently abandoned a draft which attempted to revise the Penal Code comprehensively. The draft had been adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in June 2000. The government introduced a new proposal to the Senate which retained excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

Attempts to reform the police force also faltered. Two draft laws were before parliament, under emergency procedures, which were intended to demilitarize the police and introduce limited monitoring of police by the local community. There was concern that these laws contained provisions on the use of firearms which were in breach of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. However, on 12 September, the Ministry of the Interior reportedly asked the Senate to postpone its debate as the drafts had to be reconsidered in light of "new security requirements".

In November the European Commission in its 2001 report on Romania's progress towards accession to the European Union made extensive recommendations to the government, including further reform of the Penal Code, particularly of the provisions relating to freedom of expression, and increasing the accountability of police officers.

Conscientious objectors

Conscientious objectors were threatened with imprisonment.

In March the Military Court of Appeal reviewed court decisions in the cases of 16 conscientious objectors sentenced in 1999 and 2000. The 16 were Jehovah's Witnesses and had refused to carry out alternative service because they had reservations about its length and nature, and on the grounds that the law exempts from military service ordained ministers of recognized churches. In 13 cases the Court overturned their convictions and acquitted them of all charges. In the remaining three cases, the Court confirmed their earlier acquittal by the Bucharest Military Tribunal.

Fourteen conscientious objectors, who were convicted in 2000 and given suspended sentences, appealed to the Prosecutor General of Romania to file on their behalf an extraordinary appeal to annul their convictions. However, the Prosecutor General filed a different type of appeal, asking the Supreme Court to establish that the Military Court of Appeals interpreted the law correctly when it sentenced the 14. In October 2001 the Supreme Court rejected the Prosecutor General's appeal. An appeal by the 14 was before the European Court of Human Rights at the end of the year.

The civilian alternative to military service remained punitive in length; the grounds on which it was granted continued to be limited and the restrictions on when applications for alternative service may be submitted were unchanged.

AI country reports/visits

  • Romania: Alleged torture of a 14-year-old boy by police (AI Index: EUR 39/005/2001)
  • Romania: Penal Code reform – a step back (AI Index: EUR 39/008/2001)
  • Romania: Alleged ill-treatment of a 15-year-old girl by a police officer (AI Index: EUR 39/009/2001)
  • Romania: Alleged police ill-treatment of youths in Sighisoara (AI Index: EUR 39/011/2001)

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