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Title: Romania Human Rights Practices, 1995

Author: U.S. Department of State

Date: March 1996

ROMANIA


CONTENTS

  • Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person
  • Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties
  • Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
  • Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
  • Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
  • Section 6 Worker Rights


ROMANIA

Romania is a constitutional republic with a multiparty system and a directly elected president as chief of state. In the 1992 presidential election, Ion Iliescu was reelected President with 61 percent of the popular vote. The majority government coalition led by the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR) and headed by Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu held power from the 1992 parliamentary elections until October 1995 when the PDSR severed links with two extremist parliamentary allies and became a minority Government. The Government has withstood four no confidence votes since 1992, despite the fact that the PDSR holds just 34 percent of the parliamentary seats.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the police. The national police have primary responsibility for internal security, but in times of internal disorder the Government may call on the army and the border guard to assist the police with security. The police have become increasingly cognizant of human rights, although reports of abuse were not uncommon.

Romania is a middle-income developing country that is making a gradual transition from socialism to a market economy. In 1995 the private sector accounted for about 45 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and employed more than half of the country's work force, primarily in agriculture and services. Government ownership remains dominant in industry, where 86 percent of output is produced by state-owned enterprises. Growth continues to accelerate and in 1995 reached 6.9 percent. GDP was about $35 billion in 1995 (or about $1,550 per capita). Implementation of a tough stabilization plan has reduced inflation from 290 percent in 1993 to 62 percent in 1994 and to 27.5 percent in 1995. To continue the momentum, the Government has instituted a mass privatization program which will privatize 3,900 state enterprises through a modified voucher system. Although unemployment was a relatively low 8.8 percent in November, it is expected to rise somewhat as privatization-induced restructuring begins to take effect.

The Government generally respected the rights of its citizens, although several serious problems remain. The police continued to beat detainees frequently without effective action by the Government to punish abusers. Prison conditions remained poor. The judicial system was subject to executive branch influence. Government appointed prefects dismissed democratically elected mayors without due process. Discrimination and societal violence against Roma continued, generally with impunity for those responsible, and and violence against women remained a serious problem.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

On January 23 in Satu-Mare, three policemen arrested Istvan Kiss in his house. They told him that he had to witness a trial, but instead took him to a police station. Two hours later Kiss was found severely injured in a street and died on the way to a hospital. The case was still under investigation by the military prosecutor at year's end. The case of a railway police officer charged in 1993 with abuse leading to the death of a beggar is still not resolved. The prison sentence of two police officers charged with torture and murder in a 1992 case was reduced to 10 years on appeal. The trial of two secret service officers accused of murdering three citizens in 1991 continued at year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, and these prohibitions were generally respected in practice. However, police frequently used excessive force during arrest and beat detainees. The military prosecutor's office is charged with legal oversight of the police, an arrangement that human rights organizations believe inhibits prosecution or discipline of police misconduct (see Section 1.e.).

Prison conditions are poor, facilities are overcrowded and unhealthy, and medical assistance is meager. Credible reports indicated that beatings have occurred. Prisons continued to use the "cell boss" system in which some prisoners are designated to be in semiofficial charge of others.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law forbids detention for more than 24 hours without an arrest order from a prosecutor, who may order an extension for up to 30 more days. The law requires the authorities to inform a detainee of the charges and of the right to an attorney at all stages of the legal process; police must notify the defendant of this right in a language the defendant understands before obtaining any statement. Detainees have the right to apply for bail and may ask for a hearing before a judge, and this must be granted within 24 hours of such a request. In the absence of a request, the authorities may hold a person for up to 65 days without a court order. However, police often do not inform citizens of their rights. Moreover, the prosecutor's office may delay action on a request for a lawyer for up to 5 days from the date of arrest. In practice, the local bar association provides attorneys to indigents and is compensated by the Ministry of Justice.

Exile was not used as a means of punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the terms of a 1992 law, the judicial branch is independent of other government branches. However, 5 of the 15 members of the Superior Council of the Magistrature, which controls the selection, promotion, transfer, and sanctioning of judges, are prosecutors subordinate to a presidentially appointed Prosecutor General, and all Council members are nominated by Parliament. Certain labor unions have alleged that the courts side with the Government in ruling on the legality of strikes and other labor actions. They charge that no court has ever ruled in favor of the workers in a labor action against a government entity. Although the judicial system continued to be at times subject to executive branch influence, it demonstrated increasing independence.

The 1992 law reestablished a four-tier legal system, including appellate courts, which had ceased to exist under Communist rule in 1952. Defendants have final recourse to the Supreme Court or, for constitutional matters, to the Constitutional Court established in 1992.

Cases involving military personnel and the police (who fall under the jurisdiction of the military prosecutor) and criminal acts against the State (including treason and espionage cases) are tried in a three-tier military court system. Local and international human rights groups criticize this system, especially investigations conducted by the military prosecutor's office against police personnel accused of abuses. These critics claim that these investigations are unnecessarily lengthy and often purposefully inconclusive, and that the military courts sometimes block proper investigation of police abuses.

The law provides for fair public trial, and defendants benefit from a presumption of innocence. The Criminal Code requires that an attorney be appointed for a defendant who cannot afford legal representation or is otherwise unable to select counsel. Either a plaintiff or defendant may appeal. These provisions of the law are respected in practice. The law provides that confessions extracted as a result of police brutality may be withdrawn by the accused when brought before the court.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for legal protection against the search of a residence without a warrant, but this protection is subordinate to "national security or public order." The 1992 National Security Law defines national security very broadly and lists as threats to national security not only crimes such as terrorism, treason, espionage, assassination, and armed insurrection, but also totalitarian, racist, and anti-Semitic actions or attempts to change the existing national borders. Security officials may enter residences without proper authorization from a prosecutor if they deem a threat to national security "imminent."

The Constitution further states that the privacy of legal means of communication is inviolable; thus, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) is legally prohibited from engaging in political acts (e.g., monitoring the communications of a political party). However, the laws on national security allow security services to engage in such monitoring on national security grounds. Similarly, although the law requires the SRI to obtain a warrant from a prosecutor to carry out intelligence activities involving "threats to national security," it may engage in a wide variety of operations, including "technical operations," to determine if a situation meets the legal definition of a "threat to national security."

In 1995 arbitrary interference with citizens' right to privacy was rare. However, both citizens and foreign diplomats credibly reported opened mail, personal surveillance, and harassment. The official response to such complaints was that the SRI was not involved and that unreconstructed agents of the Securitate--the Communist-era internal intelligence service--or independent individuals were responsible.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and prohibits censorship, it limits the bounds of free expression by prohibiting "defamation of the country." Amendments to the Penal Code contemplating even tougher penalties for press and media violations were rejected by the Parliament.

The case against journalist Nicolae Andrei, charged in 1994 with slander, was inactive at year's end. The trial of two journalists from the proopposition daily Ziua began in the fall and continued at year's end, as both sides delayed the process with procedural objections and rulings. At the defendants' request, the court appointed a new judge in December, and the next court session was scheduled for January. The two are charged, under the existing Penal Code, with defaming the Presidency by alleging that President Iliescu was a Soviet spy. The trial's outcome will set a precedent, as the Ziua journalists are the first well-known journalists to be prosecuted under the Penal Code restrictions against defaming a state institution. While no charges were brought against journalists during the year, in smaller towns local administrators still occasionally try to exercise control over the press by bringing charges of calumny against local reporters.

Chronic shortages of newsprint continued, although they caused no cessation of publication. The Government began a major effort to modernize the country's single newsprint plant. As a result, the plant was closed for several days in December, when it was announced that it will be closed for further modernization and repairs from January to March 1996. During the interregnum, newspapers will be forced to rely on imported newsprint supplies which are more expensive. The state newspaper distributor Rodipet remains the only large organization capable of delivering newspapers and magazines to smaller cities and towns nationwide. A few publications, however, undertake their own distribution outside Bucharest, using alternative, private means. Foreign news publications may be imported and distributed, but high costs limit their circulation.

The independent electronic media continued to grow, although the frequencies under which they operate limit their audience. During most of the year, Romanian State Television (RTV) and Radio Romania were the only national broadcasters. However, new regulations passed in December provide for private television broadcasting, and by year's end one private channel had begun national broadcasting. It claims coverage of some 35 percent of the country and expects to reach 55 percent by the end of 1996.

The 1994 administrative law that established boards of directors, appointed by Parliament, for both state television (RTV) and state radio remained unimplemented until December when Parliament finally nominated four candidates to fill the long-vacant positions. The delay allowed Parliament somewhat greater control over state television than it would have had if the board had been operational.

Private broadcasting expanded rapidly. As of December, 34 independent television stations and 103 radio stations were operating. Citizens throughout the country have growing access to domestic and foreign broadcasts through the expansion of cable television throughout the country.

In June the parliamentary commission responsible for overseeing the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) decided to investigate a June 21 incident in which SRI agents were accused of filming two journalists in Bucharest. One of the journalists earlier wrote several articles accusing President Iliescu of having been a Soviet agent in his youth. In a June 27 appearance before the oversight commission, the SRI director claimed that the SRI agents had been on a counterespionage mission, had only accidentally filmed the journalists, and had been suspended from duty for lack of professionalism. The case remained in the courts at year's end.

Academic freedom is respected both inside and outside the classroom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respected constitutional provisions and laws on free assembly in practice. The law on public assembly provides for the right of citizens to assemble peacefully while unarmed but states that meetings must not interfere with other economic or social activities and may not be held near locations such as hospitals, airports, or military installations. Organizers of demonstrations must inform local authorities and police before the events. The authorities may forbid a public gathering by notifying the organizers in writing within 48 hours of receipt of the request. The law prohibits the organization of, or participation in, a counterdemonstration held at the same time as a scheduled public gathering.

The law forbids public gatherings to espouse Communist, racist, or Fascist ideologies or to commit actions contrary to public order or national security. It punishes unauthorized demonstrations or other violations by imprisonment and fines. Constitutional provisions and laws on free assembly were generally respected.

Citizens may form associations, including political parties, and may obtain legal status for them by proving membership of at least 251 persons.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government does not generally impede the observance of religious belief. However, several Protestant denominations made credible allegations that low- level government officials harassed them and impeded their efforts at proselytism and worship, including refusal to grant long-term visas to foreign missionaries.

A 1948 decree officially recognizes 15 religions whose clergy may receive state financial support. The State Secretariat for Religious Affairs has licensed more than 300 faiths and organizations and foundations under two 1924 laws on juridical entities, entitling them to juridical status as well as to exemptions from income and customs taxes. The official registration of faiths and organizations is extremely slow because of bureaucratic delays. Approximately 86 percent of the population nominally adheres to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government places no restrictions on travel within Romania, except in the case of certain small areas used for military purposes. Citizens who wish to change their places of work or residence do not face any official barriers. The law stipulates that citizens have the right to travel abroad freely, to emigrate, and to return. In practice, citizens freely exercise these rights.

In 1991 Romania signed the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees but still does not have implementing legislation. In its absence, the Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and has established committees headed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection to deal with refugee and migration issues. In the first 6 months of 1995, 240 persons filed asylum applications. Of the 60,000 to 80,000 illegal migrants transiting from third world countries to Western Europe through Romania, approximately 1,600 were registered as asylum seekers, of which 70 were recognized as refugees.

As of July 31, a total of 445 refugees and asylum seekers depended on UNHCR's direct assistance for subsistence, including food, accommodation, clothing, medical assistance, and language or vocational training. Another 300 to 400 asylum seekers relied on the UNHCR for legal assistance, social counseling, and translation services. Only about 15 refugees and asylum seekers are housed in the single government refugee camp.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government through periodic and free elections held on the basis of universal suffrage, and they have exercised this right. However, between 1992 and September 1995, government appointed prefects dismissed for various alleged abuses 133 freely elected mayors--116 of whom belonged to the opposition parties or were independent--prior to binding legal ruling on the charges. In addition, prefects peremptorily removed a large number of local council members from office.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in government or politics, but societal attitudes constitute a significant impediment. Women hold 2.9 percent of the seats in Parliament, have no cabinet positions, and number only 1.1 percent of the mayors.

The Constitution and electoral legislation grant each recognized ethnic minority one representative in Parliament's Chamber of Deputies, provided that the minority's political organization obtains at least 5 percent of the average number of valid votes needed to elect a deputy outright (only some 1,100 votes in the 1992 elections). Organizations representing 13 minority groups elected deputies under this provision in 1992. The ethnic Hungarians, represented by the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR), obtained 27 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 12 seats in the Senate through the normal electoral process. Roma are underrepresented in Parliament due to low Roma turnout at the polls and internal divisions which worked against the consolidation of votes for one Roma candidate, organization, or party. They have not increased parliamentary representation beyond the one seat provided them through the Constitution and electoral legislation.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic human rights monitoring groups include the Romanian Helsinki Committee, the independent Romanian Society for Human Rights, the League for the Defense of Human Rights, the Romanian Institute for Human Rights, and several issue-specific groups such as the Young Generation of Roma and the Center for Crisis Intervention and Study, also a Roma NGO. Other groups, such as political parties and trade unions, continued to have sections monitoring observance of human rights.

These groups, as well as international human rights organizations, functioned freely without government interference and visited prisoners and detainees. However, the authorities have not been cooperative with all human rights groups. The General Inspectorate of the police in the Ministry of Interior has frozen its relations with the Romanian Helsinki Committee since January 1994, when RTV aired a prime time 2-hour critical documentary prepared by the Committee. During a seminar on tolerance organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and held in Bucharest, government officials refused to allow a Turkish NGO which had attended previous seminars organized by the OSCE to participate in the meeting.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution forbids discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion and political allegiance, wealth, or social background. In practice, however, the Government does not effectively enforce these provisions, and women, Roma, and other minorities are subject to various forms of extralegal discrimination.

Women

Violence against women, particularly rape, continued to be a serious problem. A study released in January by an American NGO, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, concluded that domestic violence is a pervasive problem which the Government has done little to address. There are no crisis centers, shelters, or hot lines for female victims, and media coverage is virtually nonexistent.

According to Ministry of Interior statistics, 706 women were raped in the first 7 months of 1995, with 12 resulting in the death of the victim. In practice, rape goes unpunished due to the difficulty of prosecution in view of the legal requirement for both a medical certificate and a witness.

Both the Constitution and international conventions which Romania has adopted grant women and men equal rights. In practice, however, the Government does not enforce these provisions, nor do the authorities focus attention or resources on women's issues. The rate of unemployment for women is significantly higher than for men, and women occupy few influential positions in the private sector. There are few recourses for women experiencing economic discrimination.

Children

The Government's system of health care and public education benefits children, but there are no programs for children with special needs. Most resources for children still flow mainly from international agencies and NGO's.

There was no perceptible pattern of societal abuse of children. Nevertheless, large numbers of impoverished and apparently homeless but not necessarily orphaned children roamed the streets of the larger cities. No government statistics are available defining the scope of the problem, but deteriorating economic conditions contributed to increased juvenile delinquency and vandalism. Some NGO's cited special concern about the number of minors detained in jail and prison and were seeking alternative solutions, such as parole for juveniles.

People With Disabilities

Difficult economic conditions and serious budgetary constraints contributed to very difficult living conditions for those who suffer physical or mental disabilities. Many disabled people cannot make use of government-provided transportation discounts because public transport does not have facilitated access. Accessibility for the disabled, including to buildings and parking, is not mandated by law.

Religious minorities

More than 200 graves in a Jewish cemetery were vandalized over an extended period by minors. There was no evidence of anti-Semitic signs or graffiti. The parents of the minors charged with the vandalism were fined. The extreme wing of the nationalist press continued its anti- Semitic harangues, to the discomfiture of the remaining Jewish population of less than 15,000. President Iliescu has publicly condemned anti-Semitism, other types of racism, and xenophobia.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Hungarians constitute the largest and most vocal minority. The UDMR--the ethnic Hungarian political party--holds 39 seats in Parliament. There was no violence in 1995 associated with ethnic Hungarian problems despite extremist rhetoric from the Party of Romanian National Unity, the resumption of archaeological excavations near the statue of Hungarian King Mateus Corvinus in Cluj, and other provocative acts by nationalist extremists.

A highly controversial Law on Education was adopted in June. Although the law was deemed by the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities to be in line with European and international standards, it rescinds the rights of Hungarians to take university entrance examinations in Hungarian for those subjects not taught in Hungarian. It also dictates that certain vocational schools use only Romanian, which some Hungarians charge will disadvantage Hungarian ethnic citizens who work in these areas. However, implementation of the law has been postponed until 1997, and the Government has accepted OSCE review of the implementation process.

Roma continued to be subjected to acts of discrimination, harassment, beatings, and violence. The trial of the arsonists of 13 Romani homes in Hardeni in 1993 is still pending. The trial of the persons who torched 11 Romani homes in Racsa in May 1994 continues; the victims received apartments from the Government in Satu Mare and have not returned to Racsa. In January a conflict in the village of Bacu degenerated into violence, with Romanians shooting at two Roma, beating several others, and setting fire to three Romani houses. One woman suffered injuries so severe that she required amputation of a leg. The police have identified and arrested the arsonists.

Without consulting Romani groups, government authorities adopted an official designation for the Roma which was considered highly derogatory by some Roma. This arbitrary decision was strongly criticized by some Roma as well as several OSCE member states.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides that all workers except public employees, police, and military personnel have the right to associate freely, to engage in collective bargaining, and to form and join labor unions without previous authorization. No worker may be forced to join or withdraw from a union, and union officials who resign from elected positions and return to the regular work force are protected against employer retaliation. The majority of workers are members of about 18 nationwide trade union confederations and smaller independent trade unions.

The law stipulates that labor unions should be free from government or political party control, and the Government has honored this in practice. Unions are free to engage in political activity and have done so.

There are legal limitations on the right to strike only in industries such as defense, health care, transportation, and telecommunications, which the Government considers critical to the public interest. However, union members complain that unions must submit grievances to government-sponsored conciliation before initiating a strike and are frustrated with the courts' propensity to declare illegal the major strikes on which they were asked to rule. Past studies have indicated that labor legislation adopted in 1991 falls short of International Labor Organization (ILO) standards in several areas, including free election of union representatives, binding arbitration, and financial liability of strike organizers.

In 1995 the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association asked the ILO governing body to approve its recommendation that the Government amend restrictive provisions on the right to strike. The recommendation resulted from the conclusion of an August 1993 strike launched by railway locomotive engineers, when the national railway company fired six union leaders. The ILO committee also asked the governing body to approve its recommendation that the Government reinstate the suspended labor leaders. Unions representing divergent sectors of the economy carried out strikes, or threatened to strike, throughout 1995.

Labor unions may freely form or join federations and affiliate with international bodies. The National Confederation of Trade Unions-Fratia (CNSLR-Fratia) and the National Union Bloc are affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Alfa Cartel is affiliated with the World Labor Confederation. Representatives of foreign and international organizations freely visit and advise Romanian trade unionists.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers have the right to bargain collectively under the 1991 legislation, but collective bargaining efforts are limited by continued state control over most industrial enterprises and the absence of independent management representatives. Basic wage scales for employees of state-owned enterprises are established through collective bargaining with the State (see Section 6.e.). According to ICFTU's 1995 survey of violations, difficulties arose in the collective bargaining arena in the areas of unilateral employer changes to contracts, refusal of authorities to register collective agreements, and prevention of union organizing by some companies, among others. In July the Government signed a tripartite collective bargaining agreement with CNSLR-FRATIA and the National Union of Romanian Employees. The other major labor confederations refused to sign because they questioned the agreement's terms and the negotiating process. In November CNSLR-FRATIA accused the Government of failing to comply with the provisions of the agreement. The law bars antiunion discrimination by employers.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MOLSP) effectively enforces this prohibition.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 16 years, but children as young as age 14 or 15 may work with the consent of their parents or guardians, although only "according to their physical development, aptitude, and knowledge." Working children under age 16 have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Child labor is not a problem, and children do not work illegally routinely. The MOLSP has the authority to impose fines and close sections of factories to enforce compliance with the law, which it enforces effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Most wage rates are established through collective bargaining at the enterprise level. However, they are based on minimum wages for given economic sectors and categories of workers which the Government sets after negotiations with industry representatives and the labor confederations. Minimum wage rates are generally observed and enforced. In addition, workers and pensioners receive salary increases indexed to price increases several times a year. In 1995 the minimum monthly wage, nominally $33 (L 85,000) in December, did not keep pace with inflation and did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Government still partly subsidizes basic necessities such as milk, bread, housing, and medical care.

The Labor Code provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or 5 days, with overtime to be paid for weekend or holiday work or work in excess of 40 hours. It also includes a requirement for a 24-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers receive 2 days off. Paid holidays range from 18 to 24 days annually, depending mainly on the employee's length of service. The law requires employers to pay additional benefits and allowances to workers engaged in particularly dangerous or difficult occupations.

Some labor organizations press for healthier, safer working conditions on behalf of their members. The MOLSP has established safety standards for most industries and is responsible for enforcing them. However, it lacks sufficient trained personnel for inspection and enforcement, and employers generally ignore its recommendations. Although they have the right to refuse dangerous work assignments, workers seldom invoke it in practice, appearing to value increased pay over a safe and healthful work environment. Neither the Government nor industry, still mostly state owned, has the resources necessary to improve health and safety conditions significantly.

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