Human Rights Developments

Despite pressure from the international community and assurances from the Romanian government, in 1995 ethnic minorities, and especially the Roma minority, continued to face severe discrimination and mistreatment without adequate legal redress. This situation was exacerbated during the year by local officials who exploited and manipulated ethnic tensions for their own political gains. Frequent attacks on Roma were not only tolerated by law enforcement officials, but were often actually perpetrated by police officers.

On March 21, 1995, during a police raid in the Roma neighborhood of Ilfov, Emilian Niculae and his brother, whose house had been burned down in 1991 during mob violence against Roma in Bolentin Deal, were brutally assaulted by a policeman. When a police officer entered the brothers' home, they asked to see a search warrant. The policeman then beat them and took them half dressed to the Jilava police station. They were released several hours later without an explanation. No charges were filed against them. Similarly, in April, Viorel Constantin was viciously beaten by several police officers in a bar in Tandarei, Ialomita county. He was then taken to the police station, where he was released later that night without charges or explanation.

Mob violence against Roma and impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes continued to be among the most severe human rights abuses in Romania during 1995. In the aftermath of a fight between a group of young Roma and a local Romanian family, two Roma, Maria Savu and Marinache Meclescu, were shot on January 7, 1995, in the town of Bacu. Maria Savu was taken to a nearby hospital where her leg was amputated. The following day, after villagers were called together by the tolling of church bells, a small group attacked the Roma neighborhood, burning down three Roma houses and completely destroying a fourth. The Roma whose houses were destroyed had not been involved in the incident during the previous night. Although authorities were in a position to prevent the violence and to identify the perpetrators, they did not take adequate measures to prevent the attack. As of November 1995, no one had been charged with crimes related to the violence.

During 1995, local authorities continued to provoke ethnic tensions and hostility between the Romanian majority and the ethnic Hungarian minority; among other things, the authorities attempted to remove all traces of Hungarian history and culture from several Transylvanian towns. Gheorghe Funar, the nationalist mayor of Cluj, publicly announced a series of anti-Hungarian measures in April. In 1994, Funar had sought to remove a statue of King Mathias, long a cultural symbol for the Hungarian minority. In mid-April 1995, he announced that he would place a Romanian and English-language inscription at King Mathias's birthplace, explaining that the greatest Hungarian king was Romanian. In addition, he threatened to transfer use of St. Michael's church in Cluj from the Hungarian minority to the German community.

Several laws were adopted during 1995 that severely restricted freedom of expression and also fueled ethnic tensions. For example, on September 22, the Romanian parliament approved a law that criminalized hoisting the flag, using symbols or singing the national anthem of another country in a public place. Although neutrally-worded, this law was clearly directed against the large Hungarian minority.

Furthermore, a controversial new education law that was adopted on June 29 significantly limits mother-language education. Ethnic German and Hungarian minorities criticized the law, insisting that education in the mother tongue is fundamental to preserving the identity of national minorities. The education law also made religious study compulsory for primary school children between the ages of six and ten, even if their parents do not share these religious beliefs and oppose having their children receive religious instruction.

On September 18, the Chamber of Deputies adopted Articles 205 and 206 of the penal code, which provides criminal penalties for journalists who offend public officials and will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and the press.

Criminal sanctions against homosexual acts were eased somewhat during 1995. Amid protests by human rights and minority rights groups, on September 12 the Chamber of Deputies voted to amend the penal code to prohibit homosexual acts only if committed in public, in cases of rape, in incidents involving those under the age of consent, or if such conduct produces a public scandal. Although this language was an improvement over earlier drafts, by preserving criminal prosecution for same-sex relations that "produce a public scandal," the Chamber of Deputies adopted dangerously vague language that invites arbitrary enforcement. The law has not yet been promulgated by President Iliescu.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was unaware of any instance in which the Romanian government hindered the work of human rights monitors during the year.

U.S. Policy

On May 19, the Clinton administration determined that Romania was in full compliance with the immigration criteria of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby approving Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for Romania without the need for a waiver. Romania is now one step from being granted permanent MFN status, which is not subject to annual review. On September 26, 1995, during a meeting at the White House, Romanian President Ion Iliescu and President Clinton discussed the granting of permanent MFN status to Romania. In an improvement over 1994, the Clinton administration took this important opportunity to emphasize that permanent MFN status would be conditional on Romania's continued progress in several areas, including the treatment of the Hungarian minority. However, President Clinton failed to elicit specific human rights commitments from the Romanian government. The administration also minimized the severity of human rights abuses in Romania, especially against the Roma minority, in the U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

During 1995, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued to focus its efforts on raising public awareness of violence against Roma and the pattern of impunity for such violence, as well as of the government's continued effort to downplay the ethnic tensions that fuel such violence. In late 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki raised these concerns with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

This report covers events of 1995

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