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Action to Stop Forced Evictions in Romania

31 October 2006

Prime Minister Urged to Intervene to Prevent Serious Human Rights Abuses

Budapest, Bucharest.
The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Romanian Helsinki Committee have sent a letter to Romanian Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu, urging him to intervene to prevent serial human rights abuses as a result of the actions of the Tulcea municipality. The case concerns the forced eviction of a large number of Romani families in Tulcea, as well as durable and credible threats to carry out further forced evictions in the next days. The letter was copied to a number of other agencies, including Romanian government officials, as well as relevant United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe desks.

The full text of the letter concerning the Tulcea evictions follows here:

Honourable Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu,

We write to you to express our deep concern in relation to the recent forced eviction of around 110 Romani individuals in Tulcea, Romania. This action is the latest and the most grave in a series of similar racially tainted incidents, with the eviction of another Romani family from social housing owned by local authorities in Tulcea being imminent.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law organization aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights violations against Roma. The Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) is a non-governmental not-for-profit organization, affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and aimed at changing the society and its institutions towards a democratic culture, based on the respect of human rights.

The 25 families, comprising approximately 110 individuals, were evicted just before noon on 11 October from a building situated in Tulcea at 5 Alunisului Street, a building they had occupied for the previous seven years. The eviction took place after the Tulcea Tribunal handed down a judgment in August this year allowing the request of the building's present owner to have the occupants evicted.

Eighteen of the families (approximately 80 people) evicted from Alunisului Street had no alternative but to accept the lease contracts offered by the Municipality for rooms in two derelict buildings situated four kilometers away from the town, in an enclave inside the Tulcea industrial port. These highly inadequate structures were the sole arrangements made for alternate shelter. A number of heavy industries are located in that area. Notably, right next to the buildings occupied by the Roma, ships carrying bauxite ore are unloaded and the ore is transported to a nearby storage facility with heavy open trucks. As a result everything in the area is covered with red dust that makes breathing difficult. Three people were already taken by ambulances to the hospital, complaining of skin problems, lung pain, and other ailments. Besides the imminent danger to health for any people forced to live there, the new location is far from all communal facilities such as schools, hospitals, churches, shops, etc. After their relocation, the children in the ‘colony' stopped going to school because of the distance and because their parents feared for their safety. The two buildings are in an advanced state of disrepair, with no access to electricity, hot water, sanitation and only limited access to drinking water, from a tap located outside.

The rest of the people evicted from Alunisului Street, for whom there was not enough room in the buildings in the industrial port or who refused to move there, were left sleeping rough in the streets outside the building on Alunisului Street. Seven families, comprising approximately thirty people, including infants and old people have had to sleep outside for the last two weeks in temperatures that went as low as 0°C during nighttime. As a result of efforts by local activists and a representative of the ERRC, a tent was provided by the Red Cross for these people, as a temporary solution.

Despite this humanitarian crisis, the local authorities have refused to respond to the pleas for help launched by the Roma and their representatives. The solution they offered with regard to those people rendered homeless by the eviction was to move them to mobile housing located outside Tulcea, also in a heavily industrialized area. However, as the authorities themselves have acknowledged, these structures offer little more than very limited shelter since they cannot be connected to any utilities. Given the coming winter, these cabins are uninhabitable.

Furthermore, other forced evictions are slated to take place in the coming days in Tulcea, with a Romani family of three due to be evicted from social housing without adequate alternative accommodation. While authorities invoke the shortage of available social housing at their disposal, there is considerable evidence indicating numerous abuses in the way in which social houses were distributed, with the Roma being the most obvious victims in the process.

The eviction that took place on 11 October is the high point of a cycle of neglect and deprivation lasting for more than seven years. Most of the families evicted last week used to live in informal housing on Plugarilor Street in Tulcea. When their houses burnt down due to a faulty electrical installation in August 1999, they were left to sleep under the open sky among the charred ruins for months on end. Under pressure to find a solution, the municipality identified an empty building on Alunisului No. 5, abandoned at the time by its owner, and reportedly explicitly encouraged the homeless Roma to occupy it until a more permanent arrangement could be found. At the same time, the Roma made numerous requests for social housing, most of which remained unresolved to this day.

The Roma from Plugarilor moved to the building on Alunisului in 1999. Over the years, other Romani families left homeless for a variety of reasons moved in the building sometimes with the explicit involvement of the Municipality. The Roma never had security of tenure over the rooms in the building on Alunisului, although they paid utilities regularly. Over the years, the living conditions in the building deteriorated markedly, under pressure from overcrowding and lack of maintenance. The local authorities were aware of the unsustainable situation in Alunisului, but generally refused to undertake any actions aimed at regularizing the Roma's situation in the building. The former owner of the building even offered to donate the building to the authorities, but this offer was turned down for unknown reasons. Eventually, the owner sold the building for a derisory sum to another company based in Tulcea.

The new owner initiated eviction proceedings, and obtained a favorable judgment. On 20 August 2005, the Romani families from Alunisului were forcefully evicted from their flats, and had to spend almost four months in the open air. Some of them returned to the remains of their houses in Plugarilor, others squatted in parks, gardens, and other public spaces. A small number of families built mud houses on a plot of private land outside Tulcea, where they live in extreme conditions to the present day, and could face eviction at any time, due to the lack of any title over their houses and the land on which they are built.

Following the decision of a higher court to reverse the lower court's judgment for procedural flaws, most of the Roma returned to the building in Alunisului in October 2005. However, their living was again disrupted by a new set of legal proceedings that resulted in the second forced eviction referred to above.

Honourable Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu,

The actions and omissions of the local authorities in Tulcea over the last seven years amount to a gross violation of Romania's obligations under international human rights law.

Most notably, Romania is bound by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which states, at Article 11(1), "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right, recognising to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent." The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has held that forced evictions constitute a primary harm in the context of Article 11. An eviction is "forced" and therefore illegal under international human rights law if: (i) due process is not observed; (ii) alternate accommodation is not provided; and/or (iii) any form of discrimination infects procedures or outcomes. In these terms, the Tulcea evictions are evidently illegal.

In addition, the Romanian authorities' actions run afoul of a number of provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights providing protections against forced evictions and other core elements of the right to adequate housing. Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights sets forth the following guarantees: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." Article 8's protection encompasses inter alia the following rights: the right of access, the right of occupation, and the right not to be expelled or evicted, and is thus intimately intertwined with the principle of legal security of tenure. Further, the European Court has developed extensively under its Article 8 jurisprudence the concept of "positive obligations", under which a Contracting State must not only restrict its own interferences to what is compatible with Article 8, but may also be required to protect the enjoyment of those rights and secure the respect for those rights in its domestic law. In addition, protections available under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention -- guaranteeing the peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions -- have been interpreted to include the protection of housing rights. In some circumstances, forced evictions and extreme housing conditions may rise to the level of cruel and degrading treatment or punishment, as banned under Article 3 of the Convention.

The Romanian Government was in fact recently found in breach of a number of articles of the European Convention of Human Rights in the Moldovan and Others v. Romania case, which involved inter alia severely overcrowded and unsanitary environment and its detrimental effect on the health and well-being of the persons concerned, as well as evident racial animus on the part of authorities, both elements present in Tulcea.

Honourable Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu,

The ERRC and APADOR-CH urge you to exert your power to ensure that the urgent housing needs of these evicted families are addressed immediately, before forced evictions forthwith. It is imperative that these families are provided with an adequate housing solution.

In particular, with regard to the families that presently live in the industrial port, it is vital that they be urgently provided with adequate alternative accommodation in a safe area. Until such solution is found, the two buildings in the industrial port should be brought to a level which would make possible human habitation. Moreover, public transport to this area should be urgently provided.

With regard to the persons rendered homeless by the eviction, it is urgent that they are provided with adequate accommodation. This should be the highest priority of local and central administration, given the impending winter, and their rapidly deteriorating health.

We also urge that your office initiates the necessary steps in accordance with the law to see that those responsible for the plight of the families evicted from Alunisului Street are brought to justice for their actions.

Finally, we would welcome discussion with your office on these matters. Thank you in advance for all efforts in this regard.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director
European Roma Rights Centre

Diana-Olivia Calinescu
Executive Director
Romanian Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH)

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu
Prime Minister of Romania
Piata Victoriei, nr. 1, sector 1
Bucuresti
Romania
Fax: + 40-21-318 11 45

Cc.: Mr. Constantin Hogea
Mayor of Tulcea
Str. Pacii nr. 20
Tulcea, Romania
Fax +40 240 517736 

In Romanian:  Download it (zip file)!
 

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