Romani Victims of Police Abuse Bring Lawsuit at European Court of Human Rights
On 24 January 2006, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights against Romania, concerning a case of excessive and unjustified use of force by the police against a Romani family, as well as the subsequent failure of the authorities to conduct an effective investigation into the incidents.
The case involves the Pandele family, a Romani family of four – two spouses and their two sons – living in Targu Frumos, a small town situated in northeastern Romania. The Pandeles used to own a fruits and vegetables stand in the food market of Targu Frumos, which was built on a space leased from the municipality. Before the police intervention at issue took place, the municipality agreed to extend the lease contract for twenty- five years. For obscure reasons, however, the municipality decided to cancel the lease contract shortly after having agreed to extend it. Legal procedures concerning the abusive cancellation of the lease are pending domestically in Romania.
On 19 August 2003, four days after the lease contract had been terminated, the municipality decided to evict the Pandele family from the food market. To this end, some workers hired by the municipality were contracted to tear up the foundation of the applicants' kiosk. The Pandeles, together with a number of their relatives and friends, staged a protest against the decision of the municipality. Among the protesters, there were a number of other Romani tenants whose stalls were also facing forcible expulsion from the food market. Extensive evidence shows that the protest was peaceful, despite official allegations to the contrary.
Responding to calls made by employees of the municipality, a number of agents of the Police Detachment for Rapid Intervention ("the DPIR") arrived at the scene and started beating the applicants. The DPIR is the police department in charge of special interventions, dealing in particular with organized crime. At the time when the incidents took place, the DPIR officers concerned were wearing black uniforms and head masks, and were equipped with shotguns and "Kalashnikov" assault rifles. The agents of a private security company hired by the town council, who had already taken up positions in the market, joined the police in beating the applicants. All of the applicants were brutally beaten with rubber truncheons, baseball bats, fists and boots, and were threatened with firearms. Two of the applicants were then taken to the Targu Frumos police station where they were again physically abused and threatened. They were also fined for "disturbing the public order" and eventually released.
On 15 September 2003, Ms. Roxana Prisacariu, the applicants' legal representative, filed a complaint with the Prosecution Service of the Iasi Court of Appeal asking for an investigation into the case and for the punishment of those responsible for the beating. The prosecutor charged with the investigation summarily dismissed the complaint and gave a non-indictment decision, stating that the use of force by the police officers was lawful. That decision was upheld through a series of appeals and became final in May 2005.
On behalf of the four Romani applicants, the ERRC has taken this case to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
The case at hand is a particularly egregious instance of a widespread problem in Romania – that of disproportionate and unjustified use of force by police, frequently in cases in which the victims are Romani. In related proceedings, the abusive cancellation by the Targu Frumos town council of the Pandeles' lease contract has recently been held to be discriminatory in a decision by the National Council for Combating Discrimination. In addition, since the incidents took place, the applicants have been subjected to continuous harassment by local officials. Thus, for example, the Targu Frumos town council has repeatedly refused to grant the applicants social allowances to which they are entitled by law. Moreover, in September 2004, one of the two sons of the family was beaten and his car was destroyed by a group of unknown individuals without any apparent reason. The investigation into these events was inconclusive, and the perpetrators are yet to be identified. Additional information on the situation of the Roma in Romania is available at: www.errc.org.