The Things Told to Foreigners: The Bizarre Conversation of the ERRC with the Romanian Authorities
10 April 1997
It has long been acknowledged that the patriot faces a dilemma while speaking about the home country abroad; should she say too much or too little? Embellish or obfuscate? Does the love of one's country inspire cold-eyed realism or valiant acts of disinformation? The ERRC recently encountered the Romanian government's answer to this difficult question.
The strange dialogue began at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Review Conference in Vienna in November 1996. At the session on national minorities and Roma and Sinti on November 12, the Romanian delegation presented a paper entitled „Aspects concrets de la situation des Roma/Sinti en Roumanie" (REF RM/174/96, 12 November 1996), in which the following story was told:
„These last years, our country has been confronted with some manifestations of group violence including persons of the same ethnicity or persons of different ethnicity. The causes, in most of the cases, were criminal acts perpetrated individually or in groups against persons belonging to another group (ethnic or not)."
The Romanian delegate was attempting to describe the phenomenon in which, especially during the period 1990-1993, whole villages of ethnic Romanians or Hungarians gathered, often in response to the ringing of village church bells, to expel or kill local Roma. In one particularly gruesome episode, a mixed mob of ethnic Hungarians and Romanians burned fourteen homes of Romani families and demolished a further five houses in the village of Hădăreni in Mureş County and then chased their inhabitants out of the village. Three Roma were killed in the attack.
Although such attacks have significantly decreased in the past few years, they seem far from over in Romania; on March 9, 1997, the Bucharest based Roma NGO Rromani CRISS reported that on January 16 and 17, 1997, groups of between 50 and 100 ethnic Romanians armed with pistols and shotguns gathered in the village of Tăngănu near Bucharest, chased out the Roma and vandalised their homes.
In addition to pogrom-like convulsions, Roma in Romania have, on numerous occasions since the fall of the Ceauşescu regime, been shot at by police officers and public guards and beaten in detention by police. A number of these incidents have resulted in the death of the Romani victim. The Romanian government was therefore eager to stress in an international forum that it has swiftly and even-handedly responded to incidents of racially-motivated violence against Roma. The government paper „Aspects concrets de la situation des Roma/Sinti en Roumanie" therefore claimed that, in connection with the episodes of community violence,
„...12 cases have been pursued. 176 persons guilty of having exercised violence against Romani families have been brought to justice and 105 of them have been sentenced to up to 3.5 years [in prison]."
The European Roma Rights Center conducted extensive research during the Spring and Summer of 1996 into the administration of justice following community violence against Roma in Romania. The ERRC found that, contrary to the Romanian delegation's assertions, to date most of these episodes remain without legal remedy and the expelled Roma have, in many cases, not been able to return to their home communities
Moreover, most of the statements by the Romanian government to date (including the one quoted above), have been eager to downplay or deny entirely racial motivation in the pogroms. Instead the Romanian government has repeatedly described the attacks as „social conflicts" carried out by „social groups". So, for example, a 1996 document founding the „Mob Violence Prevention Programme explained that certain Roma were to blame for the attacks:
„The conflicts involving Gypsies started on the ground of tension generated just by the way of life of some of them, who by illegal activities were affecting the fundamental rights of others..."
Given the eagerness of the Romanian government to deny entirely that there is a potent anti-Roma discourse in Romanian society which might be at the root of community violence, the Romanian delegation's new claim that, in fact, it has reacted with swift and comprehensive legal remedy for Roma victims of community violence is, unfortunately, incredible. The dubious quality of the data distributed by the Romanian delegation prompted the ERRC to present the following response to the Romanian delegation on November 15:
„...In the specific case of Romania, community violence remains unpunished. Although the European Roma Rights Center appreciates the recent efforts of the Romanian authorities to quickly investigate the incidence of violence against Roma, the Center insists a complete administration of justice in these cases requires the final establishment of guilt or innocence. In this light we are questioning the accuracy of the information provided yesterday by the Romanian delegation, according to which 105 persons have already been sentenced by Romanian courts for a«s of violence perpetrated against Roma..."
The Romanian delegation's response, presented the following day, was as follows:
„It is the right of any NGO, actually of any participant to doubt the data provided but, to my mind, this can badly be a constructive approach, especially when discussing such complex issues like the situation of Roma and Sinti.
My delegation cannot afford to put to doubt the data provided by the Public Prosecutor s Office in Romania. It is first hand official information and should be taken as such..."
The Romanian delegation's reluctance to question the General Prosecutor s information was rendered ridiculous later the same day, when it circulated a second paper concerning violence against Roma. This contained figures inconsistent with the very figures they had declared indisputable. According to the „Legal and Factual Data on the Situation of the Roma (Gypsy) Minority in Romania", dated November 12 but distributed only after the exchange described above, in connection with episodes of community violence,
„...more than 100 persons were brought before the court and found responsible for various infringements of certain provisions of the Romanian law. Among them, 12 were sentenced to prison on the buffs of the Romanian Penal Code."
Unsatisfied now both with the inconsistency of the Romanian delegation's figures as well as with their fundamental implausibility, the ERRC on November 25, 1996, addressed a letter to the Romanian Prosecutor General, Mr. Nicolae Cochinescu. The ERRC requested that the Prosecutor General provide accurate information detailing those cases in particular to which the Romanian delegation to the OSCE Review Conference had been referring. Mr. Cochinescu responded to the ERRC letter on February 4, 1997:
„...The references made by the Romanian delegation at the OSCE Review Conference in Vienna in November 1996, regarding the administration of justice concerning persons using violence against Roma families, were based on reports filed with the Chief Prosecutor's Office in the period of January 1990–November 1996, and monitored at the request of several Roma organisations and associations, among them: the Ethnic Federation of Roma, the Young Generation of Roma, and Rromani CRISS.
At the same time, cases highlighted by international NGOs for human rights protection, and cases that have been made public by the mass media were also taken into consideration.
From January 1990 to November 1996, 30 such toss were monitored altogether. Out of these, charges were brought by the prosecutor in 16 cases, and the courts found 142 suspects guilty in 12 cases."
Were the ERRC forced to rely solely upon information provided by the authorities; we would, by this point, have no idea what the actual status of the various case of anti-Romani violence in Romania is.
The ERRC is, however, independently monitoring a series of cases in Romania with the assistance of various local Romanian non-governmental organisations. The ERRC is therefore aware that in certain heavily-publicised cases, such a the Hădăreni case mentioned above, there has been a sudden stirring of judicial activity following the change of government in November 1996. Thus on January 21, 1997, three civilians were arrested for their involvement in the violence. To date, however, no formal changes have been filed. Additionally, two police officers who allegedly failed to act to halt the violence have been cleared of wrongdoing by the prosecutor. The ERRC is also aware that in the overwhelming majority of incidents of violence against Rome, be it by police officers, public guards, or by individuals acting as part of pogrom-like community attacks, cases have stalled indefinitely at various points in the judicial procedure, and few individuals have been brought to justice for violent offences committed against Roma.
The ERRC therefore calls upon the Romanian government to:
- Bring to justice those persons guilty of violent offences against Romani individuals.
- Make punishment commensurate with the crime: racially-motivated violence should be sanctioned more severely than other acts of violence, since they present a greater danger to society.
- Bring to justice those public officials guilty of stalling or cover-up in cases of anti-Romani violence.
- Take significant steps, in co-operation with human rights and Roma NGOs, to reduce the level of anti-Romani sentiment in Romania, as well as the phenomenon of pogrom and the threat of pogrom.
- Publish accurate figures on the legal status of cases of anti-Romani violence in Romania.