ERRC: European Human Rights Court Moves to Redress Romanian Pogrom
13 July 2005
Racial Discrimination and Other Humiliations Amount to "Degrading Treatment"
Seven Victims Awarded Damages Totaling 238,000 Euro
Second Finding of Racial Discrimination in Relation to Roma within One Week
The European Court of Human Rights yesterday ruled that Romania violated multiple provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to provide justice in connection with a 1993 pogrom and its aftermath. The case involves the killing by a mob of three Romani men and the subsequent destruction of fourteen Romani houses in the village of Hadareni in Mures County, northwestern Romania, as well as the degrading circumstances in which the victims were forced to live after the event.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 6(1) (right to a fair hearing) on account of the length of the proceedings, Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Articles 6(1) and 8.
Speaking on the occasion of the ruling, ERRC Legal Director Dianne Post said, "This ruling cannot undo the crimes of the past. It will not bring back to life people killed by mobs for the basest motives of racial hatred. It importantly however finally brings recognition of the extreme harms to which the families of the deceased have been subjected, and compels the Romanian government to pay them for its failures. We call on the Romanian government to take this opportunity publicly to express regret for this dark chapter of post-1989 Romanian history, during which Romani communities throughout the country were hounded from their homes by organised racist mobs."
The facts of the case are as follows:
Following an altercation in which a non-Romani youth was killed, a mob of non-Romani villagers hunted down the alleged perpetrators and set fire to the house in which they were hiding. Two were brutally murdered when they tried to escape, and the third burned to death in the house. The mob, including members of the local police force, went on to destroy 14 additional houses of Romani families Ten months later, three individuals were charged with the murders but later released and their arrest warrants cancelled by the General Prosecutor. The complaints against the police were referred to the Military Prosecutor's Office, which issued a decision not to prosecute. That decision was upheld on appeal. Nearly four years after the incidents, the Public Prosecutor in Mures County finally issued an indictment against 11 civilians suspected of committing the crimes, later expanded to include others. In a judgment issued in July 1998, twelve individuals were convicted of destruction of property and disturbance, including the Deputy Mayor of Hadareni, and five were convicted of murder. The sentences, ranging from one to seven years were later shortened on appeal. The Supreme Court later acquitted two of the defendants and those remaining in custody were pardoned by the Romanian president in June 2000. A civil court awarded limited pecuniary damages to some of the victims, while rejecting all requests for non-pecuniary damages. That decision was made final by the Court of Cassation (the former Supreme Court) in February 2005.
Following the events of 1993, the applicants were forced to live in hen houses, pigsties, windowless cellars, in extremely cold and overcrowded conditions. These conditions lasted for several years and in some cases are still continuing. As a result, many applicants and their families fell ill. Diseases contracted by the victims included hepatitis, a heart condition (ultimately leading to fatal heart attack), diabetes, and meningitis.
With regard to Article 3 of the Convention, the Court applied an approach it first developed in the 1970s, namely that the racial discrimination to which the applicants have been subjected constitutes a factor giving rise to "degrading treatment" within the meaning of Article 3. The Court noted that remarks concerning the applicants' honesty and way of life made by some authorities dealing with the applicants' grievances appeared to be, in the absence of any substantiation on behalf of those authorities, "purely discriminatory", and as such were regarded as an aggravating factor.
The Court went on to explain that the applicants' living conditions in the ten years following ratification of the Convention by Romania, in particular the severely overcrowded and unsanitary environment and its detrimental effect on the applicants' health and well-being, combined with the length of the period during which the applicants have had to live in such conditions also contributed to the finding of a inhuman treatment.
With regard to Article 8, the Court condemned the general attitude of the Romanian authorities prosecutors, criminal and civil courts, Government and local authorities which perpetuated the applicants' feelings of insecurity and constituted in itself a hindrance to the applicants' rights to respect for their private and family life and their homes. In order to arrive at this conclusion, the Court relied on a number of factors, such as:
- Despite the involvement of State agents in the burning of the applicants' houses, the Public Prosecutors' Office failed to institute criminal proceedings against them, and thus prevented the domestic courts from establishing the responsibility of these officials and punishing them;
- The domestic courts refused for many years to award pecuniary damages for the destruction of the applicants' belongings and furniture and justified this refusal by making racist assumptions;
- In the judgment in the criminal case against the accused villagers, discriminatory remarks about the applicants' Roma origin were made;
- The applicants' requests for non-pecuniary damages were also rejected at first instance, the civil courts considering that the events - the burning of their houses and the killing of some of their family members - were not of a nature to create any moral damage;
- Three houses have not to date been rebuilt and, as evident from the photographs submitted by the applicants, the houses rebuilt by the authorities are uninhabitable, with large gaps between the windows and the walls and incomplete roofs; and
- Most of the applicants have not to date returned to their village, and live scattered throughout Romania and Europe.
With regard to Article 14, the Court stated that the applicants' Romani ethnicity played a decisive role in the incidents of 1993 as well as in the subsequent failure of the authorities to investigate the events and provide redress to the applicants. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 14 of the Convention taken in conjunction with Articles 6(1) and 8.
With regard to Article 6, the Court found that the length of the civil proceedings instituted by the applicants failed to satisfy the reasonable-time requirement of Article 6(1) of the Convention.
The Court ordered that seven persons be provided with damages totaling 238,000 Euro. Individual awards ranged from 11,000 to 95,000 Euro.
Throughout the proceedings, the victims were represented by the ERRC. The Targu-Mures-based organization Liga Pro Europa provided significant assistance with the case and undertook representation of some of the victims before domestic tribunals.
Eighteen of the twenty-five applicants agreed to enter a friendly settlement with the Romanian government that was the subject of a separate judgment, issued on 4 July 2005. In the earlier decision, the Romanian Government also agreed to provide a number of other ameliorative measures. The full text of the earlier decision.
The decision follows last week's Grand Chamber ruling in the matter of Nachova v. Bulgaria, another case in which the Court ordered damages after finding the administration of justice in a Council of Europe Member State infected with racial discrimination. Information about the Court's decision in Nachova v. Bulgaria is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2279
Further information on the case is available from ERRC Legal Director Dianne .