Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. Observers considered the 2019 presidential election and December 2020 parliamentary elections to have been generally free and fair.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the gendarmerie, border police, the General Directorate for Internal Protection, and the Directorate General for Anticorruption. The General Directorate for Internal Protection is responsible for intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and preventing and combatting vulnerabilities and risks that could seriously disrupt public order or target Ministry of Internal Affairs operations. The directorate reports to the minister of interior. The Romanian Intelligence Service, the domestic security agency, investigates terrorism and national security threats. The service reports to the Supreme Council of National Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the intelligence service and the security agencies that reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; widespread serious official corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence and sexual violence; and abuses targeting institutionalized persons with disabilities.
The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities did not have effective mechanisms to do so and delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse and corruption, with the result that many of the cases ended in acquittals. Impunity for perpetrators of some human rights abuses was a continuing problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were reports during the year that the government or its agents committed one arbitrary or unlawful killing. On April 16, in the city of Pitesti, several police officers tried to restrain a 63-year-old man who was arguing with security forces after being evacuated from a burning restaurant. According to surveillance camera footage of the incident, officers appeared to push the man to the ground roughly. Press reports indicated that the man immediately stopped breathing and could not be resuscitated. A representative of the forensic medicine unit in Pitesti told media that the cause of death was mechanical asphyxiation. On April 20, two officers were arrested for their involvement in the incident. As of November the prosecutor’s office attached to the Bucharest Military Tribunal was conducting a criminal investigation against two police officers and a gendarme involved in the incident for involuntary homicide and abusive behavior.
There is no agency specifically designated to investigate whether police killings were justified. Prosecutors’ offices handle investigations and prosecutions against police who commit killings, while military prosecutors’ offices handle investigations and prosecutions against members of the gendarmerie who commit killings.
In June, through a nonfinal ruling, the Iasi Military Tribunal imposed on a gendarme a suspended prison sentence of two years and seven months for manslaughter, battery, and abusive behavior. In 2019 the gendarme had tried to physically immobilize a 55-year-old man for 10 minutes and used tear gas spray against him, as he was suspected of inappropriately touching a child. During the altercation the man became unconscious and was taken to the hospital, where he died the following day.
As of November the trial of former communist-era Securitate officials Marin Parvulescu, Vasile Hodis, and Tudor Postelnicu was pending before the High Court of Cassation and Justice. The three officials had allegedly committed crimes against humanity in 1985 when, according to prosecutors, they were responsible for allegedly arresting and beating anticommunist dissident Gheorghe Ursu to death. In 2019 the Bucharest Court of Appeals issued a nonfinal ruling acquitting Parvulescu and Hodis, but Gheorghe Ursu’s son challenged the decision.
On November 10, the High Court of Cassation and Justice dismissed the indictment against former president Ion Iliescu and former vice prime minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1989 Romanian Revolution. The court returned the case to the Military Prosecutor’s Office. According to the court, the indictment included several irregularities. The General Prosecutor’s Office announced it would redraft and refile the indictment.
As of December the investigation of former president Ion Iliescu, former prime minister Petre Roman, former vice prime minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu, and former Intelligence Service director Virgil Magureanu for crimes against humanity committed during the 1990 “miners’ riot” was ongoing. The defendants were accused of bringing thousands of miners to Bucharest to attack demonstrators opposed to Iliescu’s rule. According to official figures, the violence resulted in hundreds of injuries, illegal arrests, and four deaths. Media estimates of the number of injuries and deaths were much higher.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media that police and gendarmes mistreated and abused Roma, asylum seekers, minors, and other persons primarily with excessive force, including beatings.
The most recent report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), published in 2019, found, “a large number of allegations of physical ill-treatment (many of which were corroborated by medical evidence) by police officers were received from detained persons. The allegations consisted primarily of slaps, punches, kicks and baton blows inflicted by police officers against criminal suspects either at the time of the arrest or during questioning at a police station, apparently for the primary purpose of coercing a confession.”
In August the prosecutor’s office attached to the Bucharest County Court indicted seven police officers for torture, illegal deprivation of liberty, abusive behavior, and forgery. The seven officers, in addition to two others, were originally detained on March 5. In September 2020 the officers had detained and abused two persons who admonished them for not wearing face masks. The officers reportedly handcuffed one of the individuals, took him to a field at the outskirts of Bucharest, beat him for 30 minutes, and subjected him to degrading treatment. Police officers handcuffed the other individual, transported him to a dangerous area of Bucharest, and abandoned him in a dark alley. The prosecutor’s office attached to the Bucharest Tribunal started a criminal investigation against the officers for illegal deprivation of liberty and torture.
As of November the prosecutor’s office attached to the Giurgiu County Court was investigating a member of the police for abusive behavior. In April 2020 media outlets circulated a video showing the chief of police and a subordinate in the town of Bolintin Vale in Giurgiu County beating several Romani persons immobilized in handcuffs on the ground and verbally abusing them for speaking in the Romani language. In 2020 the Ministry of Interior announced it had dismissed the chief of police and started an investigation of the incident.
The 2019 CPT report noted, “a considerable number of allegations of physical ill-treatment of prisoners by prison staff were received, notably by members of the masked intervention groups, in the prisons of Aiud, Gherla, Iasi and Galati. The situation was particularly alarming at Galati Prison where a climate of fear was evident. The report details several allegations of physical ill-treatment including sexual abuse by staff and raises serious concerns over the lack of recording of injuries by the health-care service and failures to investigate allegations effectively.”
The 2019 CPT report stressed “repeated and numerous detailed allegations” of inmate abuse by “masked intervention groups” – prison guards who wear body armor, balaclavas, helmets, batons, gloves, which the CPT described as “designed to intimidate prisoners.”
During the year authorities’ investigations into two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Romanian peacekeepers originally reported in 2017 continued. The cases involved military observers deployed in UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One case involved the alleged sexual abuse (rape) of a minor. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated by the United Nations. The other case involved alleged sexual exploitation (transactional sex).
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among police and gendarmerie. Police officers were frequently exonerated in cases of alleged beatings and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Prosecutors are responsible for investigating abuses. The Directorate for Internal Review within the Romanian Police can conduct, under prosecutorial supervision, criminal investigations of abuses committed by members of the police as well as internal administrative investigations. The government took the following steps to increase respect for human rights by the security forces: members of the police and gendarmerie received training on a wide range of human rights issues, including gender equality, abuse against children, prevention of torture, gender-based violence, and preventing discrimination; police schools and academies reserved several seats for admission opened only to persons of Romani ethnicity; police schools and academies, as well as gendarmerie schools, provided training to students, noncommissioned officers, and officers on racism, discrimination, and diversity.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law only judges may issue detention and search warrants, and the government generally respected this provision. Authorities must inform detainees at the time of their arrest of the charges against them and their legal rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Police must notify detainees of their rights in a language they understand before obtaining a statement and bring them before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Although authorities generally respected these requirements, there were some reports of abuses during the year. Pending trial, if the alleged offender does not pose any danger to conducting the trial, there is no concern of flight or commission of another crime, and the case does not present a “reasonable suspicion” that the person would have committed the offense, the investigation proceeds with the alleged offender at liberty. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the law allows for home detention and pretrial investigation under judicial supervision, which requires the person accused to report regularly to law enforcement officials. A bail system also exists but was seldom used.
Detainees have the right to counsel and, in most cases, had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Authorities provided indigent detainees legal counsel at public expense. The arresting officer is also responsible for contacting the detainee’s lawyer or, alternatively, the local bar association to arrange for a lawyer. A detainee has the right to meet privately with counsel before the first police interview. In some pretrial facilities and prisons, however, there was no possibility for confidential meetings between detainees and their families or attorneys. A lawyer may be present during the interview or interrogation.
The law allows police to take an individual to a police station without a warrant for endangering others or disrupting public order. Following amendments that entered into force in January 2020, the provision that allowed police to hold persons for up to 24 hours was replaced with a provision that imposes the obligation to release persons “at once.” The ADHR-HC criticized the amendment as leaving room for abuse because of the vagueness of the term “at once.”
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although in practice the government did not completely respect judicial independence and impartiality. The Superior Council of Magistrates is the country’s judicial governance body, meant to ensure judicial independence and impartiality.
There were reports that judicial and prosecutorial independence was compromised by government bodies with the power to discipline or retaliate against judges and prosecutors for their decisions. Despite a May 18 European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling that found the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary inconsistent with EU law, the government did not dismantle the entity. The Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary was established in 2018 and has been criticized by judicial and law enforcement stakeholders for intimidating judges and prosecutors. The Superior Council of Magistrate’s investigative body, the Judicial Inspectorate, has been accused of using its authority to intimidate judges who spoke out against the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary and advocated for reform in the justice system. The Judicial Inspectorate used disciplinary measures against prosecutors and judges who sought international courts’ rulings on the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary or who had spoken publicly regarding corruption in the judicial system. On June 14, the Judicial Inspectorate opened an investigation into a judge in Pitesti who ruled that the existence of the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary was illegal, based on the May 18 ECJ ruling.
On December 13, the Superior Council of Magistrates dismissed proreform judge Cristi Danilet for alleged “social media misconduct” after he posted TikTok videos in which he was practicing martial arts and trimming hedges in his yard that the council deemed indecorous. Civil society and opinion makers reported that Danilet was removed for his vocal criticism of controversial, corruption-friendly changes to the justice laws during the previous Social Democratic Party-led government. Danilet could appeal the council’s decision. A European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism report on June 8 also noted a pattern of Judicial Inspectorate disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors who drew attention to corruption.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations by NGOs, politicians, and journalists that authorities failed to respect individual’s rights. There were reports that government authorities entered homes without judicial or appropriate authorization and unlawfully interfered with privacy. According to media reports, police and Ministry of Interior officials wrongfully ordered the surveillance of Radu Gavris, deputy chief of the Bucharest Police, to prevent him from competing for a leadership position in the police force. In January several police officers raided a restaurant where Gavris and several prosecutors were having dinner, allegedly in violation of COVID-19-related restrictions. Following the raid, the minister of interior announced that Gavris was removed from his position as anti-COVID-19 efforts coordinator. Media and the Europol police labor union suggested that police carried out the raid based on information they obtained from the surveillance.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to political parties and owners’ interests. Reporters and civil society representatives said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist, and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. On February 4, a Bucharest court found former intelligence officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation. The defendant wrote articles that described the Holocaust as a “fraud.”
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians, or those with close ties to politicians and political groups, either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.
Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.
On December 11, Bucharest police detained Italian journalist Lucia Goracci and her crew working for Italian state television broadcaster RAI at the request of Senator Diana Sosoaca, who held them against their will in her office during a previously agreed interview regarding her antivaccination views. Goracci stated that the senator’s husband Dumitru Silvestru Sosoaca bit her hand and accused police of following the senator’s orders instead of protecting the journalist and her crew. The RAI team was released by police after the Italian embassy’s intervention. As of December several criminal investigations were ongoing in connection with this case.
On May 24, the Bucharest Court of Appeals sentenced former dean of the Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and his deputy, Mihail Marcoci, to a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 hours of community service, and 80,000 lei ($18,900) in victim’s compensation for inciting a police officer to blackmail and issue death threats against a reporter, Emilia Sercan. Sercan and the National Anticorruption Directorate appealed the sentence. In 2019 Sercan received death threats after an investigative journalism article she wrote in PressOne.ro alleged several cases of plagiarism of Police Academy doctoral dissertations, including the dean’s dissertation. Sercan’s investigation led to the Police Academy losing its right to award doctorate degrees.
On September 16, a group of 20 individuals armed with axes and sticks attacked and beat journalist and filmmaker Mihai Dragolea, director Radu Constantin Mocanu, and environmental activist Tiberiu Bosutar, who were documenting illegal logging in a Suceava County forest. Media outlets reported that two of the victims lost consciousness and their film equipment was destroyed by the attackers. Four of the 20 individuals were arrested and later released and placed under judicial monitoring by prosecutors. The case remained ongoing as of October.
State officials filed baseless civil and criminal cases against investigative journalists, impeding the operation of some media outlets.
For example, throughout the year the mayor of Bucharest Sector 4, Daniel Baluta, filed more than 30 civil court cases and administrative complaints against the Libertatea newspaper and demanded the paper stop mentioning his name in their reporting. From May 20-21, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism interrogated senior editors and employees from Libertatea and Newsweek Romania in response to Baluta’s claims that the reporters had formed an organized crime group to blackmail him. Both outlets had published investigative journalism article regarding Baluta’s mishandling of public tenders and contracts. Local and international media freedom watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, called on authorities to investigate the directorate’s handling of the case and intimidating interrogation methods. In June the directorate dropped some of the charges against the reporters and sent the remaining cases to the National Anticorruption Directorate. The case remained pending as of November.
The government did not systematically restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
On June 1, the ECHR ordered the country to pay 60,000 euros ($69,000) in compensation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights NGO ACCEPT for failure of police and prosecutors to prevent and investigate the violent disruption of a 2013 cultural event. Despite police presence, approximately 45 far-right protesters entered a cinema, threatened viewers, and shouted homophobic slurs during an event that showcased a movie dedicated to LBGTQI+ history month. ACCEPT and five individuals took the case to the ECHR after prosecutors closed the case in 2014 and 2017 without indicting any of the perpetrators.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers, however, may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility, or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” The government restricted the movement of persons granted “tolerated status” (see section 2.f., Temporary Protection).
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons as well as other persons of concern, including irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.
Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees in the form of refugee status or “subsidiary protection” status.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally referred to EU member states but could also include other countries approved by the Internal Affairs Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures or who already benefited from international protection granted in such a country. Exceptions were allowed in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution or serious risk.
The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law applies to irregular migrants who transited, were offered protection, or had the opportunity to contact authorities to obtain protection in a third country considered safe. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government has not rejected any application for protection on a safe third country basis.
Refoulement:The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum) intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: According to media and NGOs, several incidents of harassment, discrimination, abuses against refugees and migrants, pushbacks, and deviations from asylum procedures at border areas occurred throughout the year, although most incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms. In February the NGO LOGS (Group for Social Initiatives, an organization that aided asylum seekers in the city of Timisoara) documented several alleged acts of violence by police against asylum seekers. According to testimonials from several asylum seekers, members of the border police and local police destroyed their phones, took their money, or used excessive force against them. The Amsterdam-based organization Lighthouse Reports and the Border Violence Monitoring Network reported that several cases of violent pushback of migrants or refugees by authorities occurred throughout the year at the country’s border with Serbia.
Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through October. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.
According to UNHCR, irregular migrants, persons declared as “undesirable,” asylum seekers deemed to pose a “risk of absconding,” as well as other categories of foreigners may face detention in public custody centers or in closed areas inside reception centers. Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”
The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.
Employment: While persons granted international protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees.
Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the country has become an emergent resettlement country, having agreed to resettle small quotas of refugees every year. During the year the government accepted 200 refugees for resettlement from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan with the support of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.
Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, refugee integration programs relied almost exclusively on NGOs, with coordination from the General Inspectorate for Immigration. The support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs provided by local governments to refugees were limited.
Temporary Protection: The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country. There were no cases of individuals with tolerated status during the year.
Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of July there were 298 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.
The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.