Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
As of September 20, the trial of police officer George Stefan Isopescu was pending before the Bucharest Court of Appeals after the Bucharest Tribunal sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment for aggravated battery leading to death. In 2014 Isopescu, who was working at Bucharest Precinct 10, allegedly beat to death a 26-year-old Romani man, Daniel Gabriel Dumitrache, who worked as a “parking boy,” earning income by finding parking spaces for drivers in exchange for tips.
In 2012 the Institute for Investigating Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile received authority to initiate criminal investigations of communist-era crimes discovered through its research. On February 10, in a final ruling, the High Court upheld a 20-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity given in 2015 to former communist-era prison official Alexandru Visinescu, whose trial began in August 2014 at the request of the institute. On March 30, the Bucharest Court of Appeals sentenced another such official, Ion Ficior, who ran a communist forced labor camp, also to 20 years in prison for inhuman treatment. The sentence was appealed before the High Court and remained pending as of mid-October.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media that police and gendarmes mistreated and abused prisoners, pretrial detainees, Roma, and other vulnerable persons, including homeless persons, women, sex workers, and substance users, primarily with excessive force, including beatings. Media reported various instances of such abuse throughout the year. In most cases, the police officers involved were exonerated.
The NGO Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies (CRISS) stated that, in 43 cases of police brutality against Roma it documented over the previous 10 years, there were no convictions at the national level, in part because of prosecutorial decisions not to send the cases to court. Racism was not investigated as a motive in any of the cases. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in a number of cases after finding the justice system had failed to deliver a just outcome, including cases of police brutality, particularly against Roma, and cases involving abuses in psychiatric hospitals. At the national level, the average time for resolving a case involving police abuse of Roma was 3.76 years, with another five years on average before the ECHR.
On June 6, media showed images of police in the middle of Bucharest beating and taunting a naked man, whose hands and feet were in restraints. The victim was later committed to a psychiatric hospital. Police announced they would conduct an investigation, which was still pending at year’s end.
In May 2015 the Association for the Defense of Human Rights-Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) published a report on the situation in Racos, Brasov County, where a Romani community of more than 1,200 persons was located. Community members complained that police had terrorized and repeatedly beaten them over the previous three years and that the Brasov prosecutor’s office had handled their complaints improperly, closing all cases. In addition, four men, two wearing overalls and the other two balaclavas, reportedly beat a civil activist who was advising members of the community on how to file complaints. As of September, the case was still pending before the Brasov Tribunal, with the head of the local police among the defendants.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and did not meet international standards. The abuse of prisoners by authorities and other prisoners reportedly continued to be a problem. According to media, NGO and ombudsperson reports, guards assaulted prisoners and at times prisoners assaulted and abused fellow inmates. In March the government adopted new regulations for prisons and pretrial arrest, detention, and confinement, bringing prison regulations in line with criminal legislation in force since 2014.
Physical Conditions: According to official figures, overcrowding was a problem, particularly in a number of prisons that did not meet the standard of 43 square feet per prisoner set by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. As of July, the country held 28,278 persons in prisons that had space for only 18, 826. While observers noted some improvements in certain areas–mainly in existing spaces or as a consequence of greater spending on repair and retrofitting–conditions remained generally poor within the prison system.
In July protests broke out and spread to about one-half of the country’s prisons for several days due to poor living conditions. Protesters went on hunger strikes, burnt mattresses, and threw bottles at guards. Four inmates from Giurgiu maximum-security penitentiary filed a complaint with the penitentiary administration, claiming they had been severely beaten by unidentified assailants wearing balaclavas, at the instruction of guards, retaliating after the protests. An investigation by the National Penitentiary Administration (NPA) was pending. A team from the ombudsperson’s office also made visits to penitentiaries in Iasi and Botosani during the protests and found that specially trained prison guards used beatings during their interventions to stop the protests. Guards also used tear gas in Iasi. Authorities transferred 53 prisoners from Iasi and 46 from Botosani, whom they considered to be instigators, to other penitentiaries. Inmates in Iasi told the ombudsperson’s team they were afraid to talk for fear of reprisals. As of September, five complaints against penitentiary staff had been lodged with the NPA for actions falling under the category of crimes against life, torture, or other cruel and inhuman treatment. The NPA sent the complaints to prosecutors, who dismissed one case; the other four remained pending. Also, inmates filed another 15 complaints with NPA for abusive behavior by staff. Of these, prosecutors dismissed nine and six were in the process of being resolved. Inmates can also file complaints directly with prosecutors. Statistics were not available.
According to reports by the NPA, in the first eight months of the year, 58 persons died in prisons, three from suicide and 55 from various illnesses.
In September and October, penitentiary staff began protests over poor working conditions related to too many overtime hours without pay and not being able to take annual leave due to a chronic staffing shortage. They also asked for equity in salary with other professionals in the defense and public-order sectors, in accordance with the law.
In April the government adopted an investment plan through 2023 to improve living conditions and create additional space in prisons. The plan was adopted to avoid a potential ECHR decision that could halt all cases related to prison conditions until the systemic situation is remedied. In October Justice Minister Raluca Pruna stated she had lied to the ECHR when she reported that the government had money for penitentiaries, noting that the documentation she had been provided was not based on actual budgetary allocations. Following these statements, the Chamber of Deputies called for Pruna to step down via a nonbinding vote. Pruna countered that only the prime minister could ask for her resignation, which did not happen. As of August, 371 new spaces for prisoners had been created.
A number of prisons provided insufficient medical care, and food quality was poor and sometimes insufficient in quantity. The standard food allotment was less than 17 lei (four dollars) per day per inmate. In some prisons, heating and ventilation were inadequate. While noting improvements at some prisons, APADOR-CH reported that most were overcrowded and that a number of them had inadequate conditions, including insufficient medical care, poor food quality, mold in kitchens and cells, understaffing, an insufficient number of bathrooms, poor hygiene, insects, an insufficient number of doctors (including no psychologists in some prisons), lack of work opportunities, and insufficient educational activities.
APADOR-CH stated that most police pretrial detention facilities had inadequate conditions, particularly in terms of hygiene and overcrowding. Such facilities were often located in basements and had no natural light and inadequate sanitary and water accommodations. In some pretrial facilities and prisons, there was no possibility for confidential meetings between detainees and their families or attorneys. APADOR-CH also criticized the lack of adequate treatment with substitute substances for former drug addicts, and the lack of HIV and hepatitis prevention measures.
As of mid-July 2016, the ECHR ruled in 11 cases against Romania and ordered 287,700 euros ($316,000) to be paid to victims. Also, in 20 cases, settlements were reached that paid a total of 720,570 euros ($793,000) to victims and, in one case, there was a unilateral declaration acknowledging the violation with 12,600 euros ($13,900) to be paid to victims.
Administration: Independent authorities did not always investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year. The ombudsperson also visited prisons as part of his new mandate to monitor places where persons are confined.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police; the gendarmerie; the border police; the Department of Intelligence and Internal Protection (DIPI), which oversees the collection of intelligence on organized crime and corruption; and the Directorate General for Anticorruption. The prime minister appoints the head of DIPI. The General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police is divided into functional directorates, and there are 42 regional directorates, one for each county and the city of Bucharest. Internal disciplinary councils at the work locations of accused police officers handle complaints of misconduct.
The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), the country’s domestic security agency, investigates terrorism and national security issues. The president nominates and parliament confirms the SRI director. SRI submits annual activity reports to parliament, which has a standing committee for SRI oversight. Some observers, however, regarded this committee as lacking independence and as ineffective in conducting meaningful oversight of SRI.
Impunity was a problem. Police were frequently exonerated of allegations of beatings and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (see section 1.c.). Police corruption contributed to citizens’ lack of respect for police and a corresponding disregard for their authority. Low salaries and the absence of incentives and bonuses led to personal financial difficulties and contributed to making individual law enforcement officials susceptible to bribery. Authorities referred instances of high-level corruption to the Directorate General for Anticorruption within the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In September a court ordered police to provide, free of charge, their stop-and-search procedures to an NGO that had requested them. The procedures were used to identify persons, take fingerprints and photographs, perform body and bag searches, and “administratively take” persons to a police station. APADOR-CH had previously requested the procedures, but police claimed the information was classified. The NGO sued under the freedom of information act. In court, police argued they did not provide the procedures in order to prevent criminals from gaining knowledge of police methods. APADOR-CH later found the procedures in a book prefaced by former interior minister Petre Toba, meaning they were available via other, open-source means. The Bucharest court ruled that police had to give the procedures to the NGO, as a matter of access to public information. As of October, police had not provided the information, and the NGO was preparing to file another suit to force execution.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law provides that only judges may issue detention and search warrants, and the government generally respected this provision. The law requires authorities to 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. Authorities must bring detainees 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 if the case does not present a “reasonable suspicion” that the person would have committed the offense, the investigation is conducted with the alleged offender at liberty. Depending on the circumstances of the case, aside from pretrial detention, the law provides for home detention and for pretrial investigation under judicial supervision, meaning, among other provisions, that the person must report regularly to law enforcement. A bail system also exists, but it 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. The detainee has the right to meet privately with counsel before the first police interview. A lawyer may be present during the interview or interrogation. Detainees also had prompt access to their families.
The law allows police to take an individual to a police station without a warrant for endangering the public or other individuals or disrupting public order. There were allegations that police often used this provision to hold persons for up to 24 hours. Since those held in such cases were not formally detained or arrested, authorities determined their right to counsel did not apply. APADOR-CH criticized this provision as leaving room for abuse.
Pretrial Detention: A judge may order pretrial detention for periods up to 30 days, depending on the status of the case. While a court may extend this period in 30-day increments, total pretrial detention may not exceed 180 days. Under the law, detainees may hold courts and prosecutors liable for unjustifiable, illegal, or abusive measures. According to human rights NGOs, in many cases authorities automatically extended pretrial detention, even if the reasons for the original arrest no longer existed. APADOR-CH conducted research into how preventive arrest is determined and found it was the most common pretrial preventive measure ordered. Most decisions in such cases were upheld upon judicial review, and courts rarely considered more lenient measures.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Any measure taken against an alleged offender pending trial, including pretrial detention, home arrest, or judicial supervision, may be contested before a court different from the one that ordered it, within 48 hours. The new court must rule on the contestation within five days of registration. The contestation is lodged with the court that ordered the measure, which must forward it, together with the case file, to the next-level court, also within 48 hours. Contesting such a measure does not suspend its execution. The prosecutor must be present when the court rules on the contestation, and the alleged offender must be assisted by a lawyer, either of the offender’s choice or provided by the state.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The government generally respected judicial independence but failed to provide sufficient personnel, physical space, and technology to enable the judiciary to act swiftly and efficiently, thereby resulting in excessively long trials.
The Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) is the country’s judicial governance body. It generally maintained transparency of operations and acted promptly to suspend judges and prosecutors suspected of legal violations. The number of high-level corruption trials remained steady during the year.
The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Under the law, defendants enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence, have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and have the right to free linguistic interpretation if necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are open to the public and should take place without undue delay, but in many cases delays occurred because of the heavy caseload or procedural inconsistencies. Defendants have the right to be present at trial. The law provides for the right to counsel and the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner. The law requires that the government provide an attorney to juveniles in criminal cases; the Ministry of Justice paid local bar associations to provide attorneys to indigent clients. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them (unless the witness is an undercover agent), present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and have a court-appointed interpreter. The law generally provides for the right of defendants and their attorneys to view and consult case files. The prosecution may restrict access to evidence for reasons such as victim’s rights and national security. Both prosecutors and defendants have a right of appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves and have the legal right to abstain from making statements with no negative legal consequence. Prosecutors may use any statements by defendants against them in court.
The law allows for home detention using electronic monitoring devices, but the government did not procure such devices. A judge may detain a person for up to five years during a trial, which is deducted from the prison sentence if the person is convicted. Arrests generally took place during the investigative phase rather than during the trial phase. The law separates the roles of various types of judges, including the preliminary judge, who examines evidence and pretrial motions; the judge for rights and liberties, who seeks to ensure the defendant’s constitutional rights are not violated; and the trial judge, who is legally required to be separate from the judge for rights and liberties. Some courts, however, lacked a sufficient number of judges to separate these functions.
Prosecutors may introduce evidence, including evidence acquired from wiretaps, during their investigations and in their indictments. Media often reported this information, especially in high-level corruption cases. Some judges and human rights advocates complained that excessive media coverage of arrests and the use of pretrial detention resulted in unfair justice. Some prosecutors and judges complained to the CSM that media outlets and politicians’ statement damaged their professional reputations. The CSM determined some politicians’ public statements infringed on judicial independence.
In June the informant in one of three corruption cases against the former head of the Organized Crime Directorate, Alina Bica, testified before the High Court of Cassation and Justice that, while he was under arrest, he made a deal with National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) prosecutors to testify against Bica, in exchange for leniency in his case. He later recanted his accusation. The case remained pending.
The DNA indicted Craiova mayor Lia Olguta Vasilescu for allegedly using her influence before becoming mayor in 2012 to illegally pressure local business leaders to sponsor her political campaign. As mayor, she also allegedly pressured companies that had contracts with the mayor’s office to sponsor an NGO to rehabilitate a number of buildings in Craiova. During the year Vasilescu was charged with bribery, using her authority or influence to obtain money or other undue benefits, and money laundering. The mayor was initially detained for 24 hours in March when the investigations against her started, but the courts did not sanction keeping her under preventive arrest. She was placed under house arrest for a week, and courts then ruled against house arrest as well. Courts also rejected subsequent requests by the DNA for judicial supervision, and she was investigated and then went to trial while remaining free. She was re-elected mayor of Craiova in June. In December the court rejected some of the evidence against her and remanded her case to the DNA for further review. The case remained pending.
In September several professional associations released a joint “Memorandum Concerning Justice,” which enumerated some of the issues the associations found troubling, including a request for “guaranteeing magistrates’ status and independence, including by appropriate compensation levels and ensuring decent working conditions.”
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Civil courts are independent and function in every jurisdiction. Judicial and administrative remedies are available to individuals and organizations for violations of human rights by government agencies. Plaintiffs may appeal adverse judgments involving alleged violations of human rights by the state to the ECHR after exhausting the avenues of appeal in the domestic courts.
Approximately 80 percent of court cases in the country were civil cases. Caseloads were divided unevenly, which resulted in vastly different efficiency rates across the country. A lack of both jurisprudence and a modern case management system contributed to a high number of appeals as well as lengthy trials. Litigants sometimes encountered difficulties enforcing civil verdicts because the procedures for enforcing court orders were impractical and caused delays.
The law for restituting property seized by the former communist and fascist regimes includes a “points” system (one point for each Romanian leu of property value) to compensate claimants for whom restitution of the original property is not possible. The claimants may use the points to bid in auctions of state-owned property or exchange them for monetary compensation. Parliament intended the law to speed up restitution and aimed for in-kind restitution whenever practicable, but local authorities hindered land restitution by failing to complete a land inventory by the deadline stipulated in the law, and the central government facilitated delays by twice extending the deadline for the inventory’s completion.
There were numerous disputes over church buildings and property that the Orthodox Church failed to return to the Greek Catholic Church, despite court orders to do so. The government also did not take effective action to return churches confiscated by the post-World War II communist government. In January 2015, following a 2014 ruling by the Ploesti Court of Appeals, the local council of Sfantu Gheorghe took over the Miko School, which the former communist government had expropriated from the Hungarian Reformed Church. Viewing the move as renationalization, the Reformed Church filed a complaint with the ECHR. It also asked the National Authority for the Restitution of Property for the school’s return, but the request was denied in May. Amendments to address properties forcibly “donated” during these eras and to grant priority status to Holocaust survivors were adopted in May. Associations of former owners asserted that the points compensation system was ineffective and continued to criticize the restitution law for failing to resolve the problem in a fair manner and generating lengthy delays and corruption. The pace of resolving restitution cases at the administrative level increased. In the case of churches and national minorities, however, the number of properties returned was disproportionately low. Through September, out of 1,278 resolved church cases, 13 properties were returned, compensation was granted in 12 cases, 21 cases were withdrawn, and the remaining 1,232 cases ended with negative decisions. Regarding national minorities, of the 79 cases resolved through September, none resulted in restitution. Many of these decisions have been appealed. As of September 30, there were 7,885 pending requests for restitution from denominations.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were accusations by NGOs, politicians, and journalists that authorities illegally engaged in electronic eavesdropping. In 2014 an SRI report stated that it completed 44,000 legal wiretaps, or nearly 122 per day, that year. In February the Constitutional Court found part of a provision enabling the intelligence services to conduct technical surveillance in criminal investigations unconstitutional. The court found the provision’s lack of clarity, precision, and predictability could result in infringements on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. In March the government passed an emergency ordinance restricting the conduct of technical surveillance by the SRI to cases involving national security and terrorism.
The law permits the use of electronic eavesdropping in cases involving organized crime, national security, and other serious offenses. By law the investigating prosecutor must first obtain a warrant from a judge. In exceptional circumstances, when delays in getting the warrant would seriously affect a criminal investigation, prosecutors may begin surveillance for 48 hours without a judicial warrant but must then submit a request within 24 hours for retroactive authorization. When there is a threat to national security, the law permits the prosecutor general to request authorization from the president of the High Court of Cassation and Justice for issuance of a warrant for an initial period of six months and to request extensions for up to two years in three-month increments. Some human rights NGOs noted the contradiction between the two laws with regard to the requirement for judicial approval of wiretaps.