Justice May Finally Come to Families of Romanian Pogrom
Nearly ten years after mob violence left three Romani men dead and the houses of14 Romani families destroyed in Hadareni, Romania, the European Court of Human Rights on June 3 agreed to review the claims of 24 of the victims, finding the complaint raised "serious issues of law and fact under the Convention". The applicants are represented by the European Roma Rights Center, a public interest law organization based in Budapest that monitors the human rights situation of the Roma throughout Europe and provides legal defence in cases of abuse.
Following an altercation in which a non-Romani boy 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 later, following international outcry over the incident and the failure of Romanian authorities to bring justice to the victims, 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 17 July 1998, the Targu-Mures court began by noting, "Due to their lifestyle and their rejection of the moral values accepted by the rest of the population, the Roma community has marginalised itself, shows aggressive behavior and deliberately denies and violates the legal norms acknowledged by society." Twelve individuals were convicted of destruction of property and disturbance, including the Deputy Mayor of Hadareni, and five of murder. The sentences ranged from one to seven years, 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 rejected all of the claims for non-pecuniary (moral) damages, finding the crimes were not of such a nature as to produce moral damage.
Because the incident occurred prior to Romania's ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant's claims under Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) arising from the incident itself were dismissed on 13 March 2001. The claims remaining before the Court, which were declared admissible in the 3 June 2003 decision, include the applicants' claims under Article 3 (freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 8 (respect for private and family life) arising from the inhuman conditions in which they were forced to live following the destruction of their homes, as well as Article 6 (right to a fair trial) based on the delayed civil proceedings against the civilian defendants and the inability to pursue civil claims against the police because of the refusal by Romanian authorities to prosecute them. In addition, significantly, the Court will consider the applicants' complaint that they were subjected to discrimination by judicial bodies and officials in connection with the above claims because of their Romani ethnicity, including the anti-Romani statements in the Targu-Mures judgment of July 1998.
"These families have been living in horrendous and inhuman conditions since 1993," stated Jean Garland, Legal Director of the ERRC. "The European Court's willingness to hear their claims sends an important message that crimes such as those they have suffered cannot remain without due legal remedy. We are confident that justice will finally be done."