European Court of Human Rights Delivers Justice to Romani Victims after Seventeen Years
On 26 April 2007, the European Court of Human Rights delivered judgments in two cases concerning anti-Romani pogroms that took place in Romania at the beginning of the 1990s. The Romanian Government acknowledged responsibility for breaches of a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, committed to paying considerable amounts of money as damages and costs to the applicants, and undertook to implement measures aimed at improving living conditions and interethnic relations in the aggrieved communities. These judgments emphasise the failure of the Romanian judicial system to provide adequate redress to the victims of widespread ethnically-motivated violence that took place in Romania at the beginning of the 1990s. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Liga Pro Europa (LPE) assisted the applicants during domestic and international proceedings.
In Gergely v. Romania, the first of the two judgments, Ms Iren Gergely, a Romani woman, complained about violent incidents that took place on 11 August 1990 in the village of Casinu Nou, in Harghita County. On that day, a few hundred non-Romani villagers, incensed by rumours that their Romani neighbours were stealing their crops, gathered in front of the village church and decided to chase the entire Romani community out of town. Subsequently, they set fire to or otherwise destroyed several Romani houses and threatened to lynch the Roma who happened to be in their way. As a result of the aggression, about 150 Roma were made homeless.
The second judgment, Kalanyos and Others v. Romania, concerned similar incidents which took place in Plăieşii de Sus, a village situated close to Casinu Nou. This time, an altercation between a non-Romani night guard and four Romani men was at the origin of the attack on the local Romani community. In retaliation, a crowd of non-Roma assaulted two entirely different Romani men shortly afterwards. Both men died subsequently because of the injuries sustained. Three days later, on 9 June 1991, non-Romani villagers surrounded the Romani quarter, cut the electrical wires leading to it, knocked down the telephone poles connecting the village to the outside world and systematically set on fire all 28 Romani houses, completely destroying them. The Romani villagers, who had been informed about their neighbours' intentions, found shelter in a stable outside the village where they lived in extreme conditions for about a year, until they were allowed to return to the village.
In both cases, local authorities condoned or actively participated in the attacks. Official investigations into the incidents were superficial, failing to assign responsibility to the guilty individuals or provide relief to the victims. None of the victims ever received full compensation for the losses incurred.2
In a rarely used procedure, the European Court of Human Rights struck the two cases out of its list of cases on the basis of unilateral statements made by the Romanian Government that contain a series of admissions and undertakings. Thus, the Romanian Government admitted that its agents were responsible for breaches of Article 3 (prohibition of torture), Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention. The Government stated that it "regret [ted] the failure of the criminal investigation to clarify fully the circumstances which led to the destruction of the applicants' home and possessions, which left them living in improper conditions, rendered difficult their possibility of filing a civil action for damages, as well as the exercise of their right to respect for home, private and family life." Furthermore, the Government expressed regret for the fact "that remedies for the enforcement of rights in the Convention generally lacked at the time when the applicants were seeking justice in domestic courts, and that certain remarks were made by some authorities as to the applicant's Roma origin."
In addition, the Government undertook to implement a series of measures aimed at improving interethnic relations as well as living conditions in the two communities, including:
- Ensuring the eradication of racial discrimination within the Romanian judicial system;
- Enhancing educational programmes for preventing and fighting discrimination against Roma within the school curricula in the Plăieşii de Jos3 community, Harghita County;
- Designing programmes for public information and for removing the stereotypes, prejudices and practices towards the Romani community in Harghita public institutions responsible for the Plăieşii de Jos community;
- Supporting positive changes in the public opinion of the Plăieşii de Jos community concerning Roma, on the basis of tolerance and the principle of social solidarity;
- Stimulating Romani participation in the economic, social, educational, cultural and political life of the local community in Harghita County, by promoting mutual assistance and community development projects;
- Implementing programmes to rehabilitate housing and the environment in the community, in particular by earmarking sufficient financial resources for the compensation; and
- Identifying, preventing and actively solving conflicts likely to generate family, community or inter-ethnic violence.
Finally, the Government committed to paying damages totalling 133,000 EUR to the four applicants in the two cases.
These judgments by the European Court of Human Rights deliver some reparation to four of the many victims of the pogroms in Casinu Nou and Plăieşii de Sus. Furthermore, these judgments confirm and strengthen the findings of the Court in a similar case, Moldovan and Others v. Romania, issued two years ago, which contained a damning indictment of the failure of the Romanian Government to adequately investigate another anti-Romani pogrom that took place in 1991. Indeed, official investigations of an estimated thirty anti-Romani pogroms that took place in post-communist Romania, which resulted in several Romani deaths, destruction of Romani properties and displacement of entire Romani communities, were largely cosmetic endeavours. They failed utterly to elucidate the circumstances of the attacks, bring the perpetrators to justice or provide redress to the victims. Moreover, due to the prevailing climate of impunity in which such lax law enforcement results, racially-motivated attacks against Roma continue to occur with alarming frequency to the present day.
The Romanian government is now under an obligation to proceed swiftly to comply with the judgments and, in this context, to reopen the criminal files concerning the two above-mentioned two pogroms and compensate the rest of the Romani victims not included in the original applications filed with the European Court of Human Rights.
The Romanian Government should also open the files concerning all pogroms of the 1990s with a view to bringing all those responsible to justice, so that a dark chapter of Romania's recent history may be finally closed.
- Constantin Cojocariu is an ERRC Staff Attorney. Mr Cojocariu has been responsible for matters pertaining to the cases highlighted in this article for the past 2 years.
- For a detailed summary of the applications filed before the European Court of Human Rights, see Plese, Branimir. ERRC files against Romania. Available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=609&archiv=1. For a factual description of the whole incident at issue see also: European Roma Rights Centre, Sudden Rage at Dawn – Violence Against Roma in Romania, September 1996, p.18; Helsinki Watch, Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Persecution of Gypsies in Romania, New York: Human Rights Watch, 199, pp. 66-73; HRW/Helsinki, Lynch Law: Violence Against Roma in Romania, Vol.6, No. 17, November 1994, pp. 16-17.
- Plăieşii de Jos is the commune in which Plăieşii de Sus and Casinu Nou are located.