Human Rights Developments

Romania strove to meet the requirements for accession to the European Union, making slow but steady progress in human rights. However, discrimination against Roma continued, and many sought refuge outside the country. Police brutality remained a problem. Freedom of press and thought and the right to a fair trial remained threatened. Fallout from the NATO-Yugoslav conflict, including restriction of access to shipping on the Danube, created economic hardship in its already shaky economy, driving some Romanians into the hands of traffickers and forced labor abroad. The pattern of blaming or prosecuting the victims of crimes, particularly Roma and trafficked women, continued. Minority religious groups continued to experience discrimination with limits placed on the licensing of groups and the building of places of worship.

Romania hosted the twenty-second annual International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) European Conference in October 2000. ACCEPT, the local organizing NGO for ILGA's conference, monitored progress in legislative efforts to decriminalize same-sex relations. In June the lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, repealed article 200, but article 201, proscribing "sexual perversions," remained. At this writing, only the Chamber of Deputies has voted to decriminalize gay sex; the upper Senate has yet to vote the bill into law. On August 31, the Romanian government passed an ordinance on "Preventing and Punishing all forms of Discrimination," which explicitly included sexual orientation as a protected state of identity, to take effect within sixty days of publication. Local NGOs hailed this decision as further incentive to the Senate to modify the penal code. After the October conference, ILGA released a statement urging the repeal of article 200 as a precondition for Romania's E.U. accession.

Roma continued to be subjected to ethnic and racial discrimination. On March 12, 2000, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) lodged applications against Romania with the European Court of Human Rights regarding cases of violence and destruction of property in Casinul Nou, 1990, and in Plaiesii de Sus, 1991, which had been ultimately denied in Romanian courts in part because the statute of limitations had expired before they could initiate final appeals, due to the slowness of the court system. Police in both cases failed to conduct on-site investigations, and in both cases the Romanian courts found that the offenses in which Roma were beaten and their homes destroyed had been committed "due to serious provocative acts of the victims."

The number of inmates of Romanian penitentiaries and police lockups who were in pretrial detention dropped in 2000 from one-third in 1997 to one-fifth. Amnesty International documented several cases of the use of excessive force, some of them including minors, and also reported that Romanian law currently allows police officers to use firearms in circumstances prohibited by international standards, such as allowing them to shoot when apprehending a suspect. APADOR-CH, the Romanian Helsinki Committee, received numerous complaints from individuals claiming that they had been tortured or ill-treated by the police. By law, such accusations were investigated by the Military Prosecutor's Office, which also decided whether an investigation was warranted, with the burden of proof on the victim.

Freedom of the press continued to be threatened under 1996 modifications to the penal code, which provided harsh sentences for critical reporting on state bodies or state-owned businesses. The Chamber of Deputies voted to eliminate or reduce the punishments under several articles of the penal code that restricted the freedom of expression. However, these revisions had not been passed by the Senate, and journalists continued to be harassed by the police. On May 26, Valentin Dragan of the newspaper Cugetul liber was severely beaten while attempting to recover a colleague's camera. Since August 30, 2000, a draft of a Law on Free Access to Information of Public Interest in Romania has been circulating. Several claims arising from libel cases involving public officials were brought to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) observed that while Romania made progress toward protecting and equalizing women's rights, few women held leadership positions in their field, and placed high priority on the adoption of proposed legislation on equal opportunities, domestic violence, and trafficking in women. Women who dared to press charges against their traffickers faced prosecution themselves for evading border controls and for engaging in prostitution. According to Romanian NGOs working on trafficking, police corruption only exacerbated the danger to trafficking victims and facilitated impunity for traffickers. Moreover, they wereoften coerced by police into becoming informers. In August, Cambodian police and U.N. human rights officers rescued seven women from Romania and Moldova who had been trafficked and forced into prostitution there.

The National Agency for Child Protection was created in order to accelerate efforts to reform the child welfare system in Romania. Romania signed the optional protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, concerning the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Defending Human Rights

Human Rights Watch was not aware of any attempts to hinder the work of rights groups in 2000.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

UNHCR reported that Romania had become a country of asylum for many refugees from around the world, and remained in the process of bringing its national refugee legislation into line with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which it acceded in 1991.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Romania was to assume the year-long chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2001. In a report released in April on the situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area, the high commissioner on national minorities emphasized the need for educational reform in Romania, particularly for ethnic minorities.

Council of Europe

In June 2000 a delegation of the Advisory Committee on the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities visited Bucharest. The committee expected to publish its views early in 2001.

European Union

Formal negotiations for Romania's E.U. accession began in February. Romania proposed 2007 as the date of its accession. In its October 1999 progress report, the E.U. reaffirmed that Romania met the Copenhagen political criteria for membership, but cautioned that "this position will need to be re-examined if the authorities do not continue to give priority to dealing with the crisis in their child care institutions." The report also said that "much still remains to be done in rooting out corruption, improving the working of the courts and protecting individual liberties and the rights of the Roma. Priority should also be given to reform of the public administration."

United States

The U.S. continued to cultivate close ties with Romania, including through military assistance, to prepare the country for NATO membership. In May, Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu pledged to continue the strategic partnership between Romania and the U.S. Romania was to receive U.S. $14 million in assistance from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for development programs.

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.