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Victims of Romanian mob violence appeal for justice to Strasbourg Court

10 April 2001

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), acting on behalf of 21 Romani victims of a 1993 community violence incident in Romania, has filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights asserting numerous violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants, Romanian citizens of Romani ethnicity, are victims of mob violence which resulted in the murder of three Romani men and in the destruction of Romani houses, property and belongings in the village of Hădăreni, Mureş County, Romania. Seven years later, the victims of this horrific attack on the Romani community have yet to be provided with comprehensive redress for the violations they suffered at the hands of a mob that included members of the local police force. The Hădăreni pogrom received wide international attention and has come to stand, for many, as the paradigmatic event of the post-1989 Roma rights experience. Since opening offices in 1996, the ERRC has been determined to pursue justice in the Hădăreni case, and has expended considerable effort pushing for a just settlement.

On September 20, 1993, Mr Aurel Pardalian Lacatuş, Mr Rupa Lupian Lacatuş and Mr Mircea Zoltan, three Romani men, were killed by a mob in the village of Hădăreni. The lynching occurred after an ethnic Romanian had been stabbed to death by one of the Romani men during a conflict that arose earlier that day. The men attempted to seek refuge in a neighbor's house but were eventually found by the mob. The villagers demanded they come out and then set fire to the house. Mr Aurel Pardalian Lacatuş and Mr Rupa Lucian Lacatuş tried to escape but were caught and beaten to death. Mr Aurel Pardalian Lacatuş died as a result of 89 distinct wounds to his body, while Mr Rupa Lucian Lacatuş died from shock caused by surface wounds covering almost 70% of his body. Mr Mircea Zoltan remained in the house where he died as a result of the fire. After the murders, a mob of ethnic Romanian and Hungarian villagers proceeded to set fire to other Romani homes and property in Hădăreni. In total, 14 Roma homes were scorched and another five were demolished. Additional Romani property such as cars, stables and other possessions were also destroyed that evening and the following day. Further information on the case can be found at: www.errc.org.

There is ample evidence to suggest that police officers present that evening instigated the incident and then stood idly by and watched as the three Romani men were killed by non-Romani villagers. Following the deaths of the three men, the police did nothing to prevent the villagers from setting out on a campaign of violence and destruction of Romani houses and property in Hădăreni. Indeed, various witnesses have testified in Romanian courts before prosecutors and judges that police officials arrived at the house where the three Romani men were hiding that evening and actually urged the mob to set fire to the house. Statements by victims reveal that police present that night actually urged the crowd to set fire to other Romani houses in the village.

Of the eleven civilian defendants finally charged, only four were convicted of murder; and the remaining seven of arson. In June 2000, two of those convicted for murder were granted a presidential pardon, and both were set free. Despite testimony in court provided by victims and witnesses implicating police officials in the crimes committed during the Hădăreni pogrom, no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible. Throughout the investigation and at all stages of court proceedings in this case, the applicants repeatedly attempted to raise the issue of police involvement, but the Romanian justice system ignored their pleas.

Having exhausted all domestic remedies, the applicants are now turning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Their application asserts, among other things, that Romanian authorities violated Article 3 of the Convention by failing to investigate properly the participation of all police officials implicated in the attacks. It argues that the incident at issue, i.e. the death of the three Romani men and the community violence to which the Romani community in Hădăreni was subjected, is sufficient to constitute the minimal level of severity required by the case law pertaining to Article 3 and thus amounts to "inhuman and/or degrading treatment". It further asserts that the incident at issue discloses an unequivocal violation of their rights to respect for their home, and their private and family lives, as protected under Article 8, and that Romanian authorities have failed to provide comprehensive redress for the destruction of their homes and possessions.

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