Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Romania
10 August 2010
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixteenth through nineteenth periodic reports of Romania on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Csaba Ferenc Asztalos, President of the National Council for Combating Discrimination of Romania, said that the Romanian Government had created the National Council for Combating Discrimination as the main specialized body of the central public administration empowered to guarantee and supervise the implementation of the principle of equality and non-discrimination among citizens. The Council was an autonomous public institution, with legal personality, under parliamentary control. It carried out its activity without any restriction or influence coming from other public institutions or authorities. Its annual report was debated and approved by parliament. There were a number of other bodies tasked with ensuring the rights of people to non-discrimination including the National Audiovisual Council, the Labour Inspectorate, the office of the ombudsman, the Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations, and the National Agency for Roma.
In terms of enforcing these rights, Mr. Asztalos said that a person who deemed himself/herself discriminated against could file a notification in two ways: through administrative proceedings or through judicial proceedings. In the period covered by the report, the activities to prevent discrimination were strengthened and they resulted in programmes of information and education for citizens. Regarding the Roma community, Mr. Asztalos said that improving the situation of persons belonging to the Roma community remained one of the most important challenges for Romania. According to statistics, most discrimination complaints filed dealt with discrimination against persons belonging to the Roma ethnic group. These deeds often came in the form of discriminatory language and behaviour which offended human dignity. Compared to other States in the region, discrimination against Roma did not take the form of violence in Romania. There were no racially motivated murders, violent attacks or other criminal deeds with racist significance against Roma communities.
In preliminary concluding observations, Régis de Gouttes, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Romania, said in future the Committee would need updated information from the upcoming census which would make it possible to get more specific information on ethnic minorities. The Committee would also be interested in seeing what follow-up had resulted from the draft law on minorities which was before the parliament as well as the effects of all the national strategies in place to combat discrimination. The results of the economic crisis on the most vulnerable groups in society and the effects of the austerity measures adopted in Romania were also of great interest to the Committee. Committee Member would also look for more information on the draft reform of the criminal code as well as the autonomy of the state bodies charged with combating discrimination and the progress of international accreditation for the National Council for Combating Discrimination. The other items they would take into account would be complaints of ill treatment and racial profiling by police and the judiciary as well as racism, not only in the media, but also with respect to speeches and xenophobic statements made by political leaders and officials.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, the status of women in ethnic minority groups as they often suffered the burden of double discrimination, measures undertaken to combat racism, xenophobia and hate speech in the media including the Internet, as well as measures taken to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The Committee also raised questions about discrimination in sports, de facto segregation of Roma children in schools, lack of access to and opportunity in the labour market for members of ethnic minorities, lack of adequate housing for the Roma community and forced evictions of Roma families. Committee experts also raised concerns about how the autonomy of the National Council for Combating Discrimination and other anti-discrimination bodies was guaranteed, the coordination and harmonization of the various agencies involved in non-discrimination, and what measures were being taken to increase the cooperation between these bodies. The delegation was also asked how the State proposed to address the challenge of changing the impression of Roma in the general population, including among politicians, judges, teachers and professors.
The delegation of Romania was comprised of representatives from various governmental bodies including the National Council for Roma, the Department of Inter-ethnic Relations, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Ministry of Education, the National Agency for Civil Servants, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Administration and the Interior, the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection, and the National Council for Combating Discrimination.
The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the sixteenth through nineteenth periodic reports of Romania, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 27 August.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to take up the combined fifteenth through seventeenth periodic reports of Australia (CERD/C/AUS/15-17).
Report of Romania
The combined sixteenth through nineteenth periodic reports of Romania, submitted in one document (CERD/C/ROU/16-19), says that over the reporting period, a new census took place in Romania, revealing that in Romania there are 20 national (traditional) minorities, represented in the Parliament by 19 organizations. At the same time, statistics of the Romanian Office for Refugees and Immigration indicate that, at the end of 2007, foreign presence in Romania amounted to a number of 6,662 persons, out of which 231 are stateless. The foreign presence covers approximately 75 nationalities, the majority of these persons coming from the Middle East and the neighbouring countries.
The National Strategy for Improving the Situation of Roma is a governmental initiative that has a comprehensive approach to the problems of the Roma minority. The development of the Strategy is the result of collaboration between the governmental structures and Roma non-governmental organizations, with assistance from international institutions, in particular the European Union. The Strategy lays down 10 priorities: community development and public administration; housing; social security; healthcare; justice and public order; child protection; education; culture and religious affairs; communication and civic participation.
Segregation is prohibited both by Romanian domestic law and applicable international law. Notwithstanding the ongoing efforts of the Romanian authorities in the area of combating all forms of discrimination, some cases of segregation practices in schools have been reported in connection with the Roma pupils. De facto segregation in Romania is not a consequence of a law or a public policy but a continuation of certain prejudices. The high proportion of Roma children living in Roma-majority or exclusive settlements, often situated in the outskirts of the majority communities and infrastructure, has led to a situation where schools serving these settlements and neighbourhoods have (almost) exclusively Roma children. “Roma schools” do not exist as such, insofar as they do not have a legal status different from other schools and were not created specifically for Roma students. In reality, schools built in and around Roma areas naturally attract Roma students. Because a substantial amount of school funding is local, some of these schools tend to be poorer than others in wealthier regions (on a county-by-county level, the percentage of schools with large Roma students varies dramatically). Also, there were some reports of local school-driven initiatives to place Roma children in separate classes, even though in mixed schools, or of isolated cases of channelling them into special schools for children with intellectual disabilities (some Roma children have been registered with these schools to take advantage of meals and accommodation benefits).
Presentation of Report
CSABA FERENC ASZTALOS, President of the National Council for Combating Discrimination of Romania, said that Romania had created a complex and complementary legal framework in the domain of equality of opportunities and of non-discrimination. The principle of equality of opportunity and of non-discrimination was enacted on each level of the laws’ hierarchy, starting from the constitution, the framework law preventing and sanctioning discrimination, to the laws regulating special domains of activity or social relations, namely in those laws that provided protection to various categories of persons.
The equal protection of the law and non-discrimination were reflected in the following obligations of t the Romanian State: to refrain from the unjustified differentiated treatment in adopting and enforcing the law; to forbid and sanction discrimination through the law; and to design efficient legal remedies for the victims of discrimination.
Mr. Asztalos said the Romanian Government had created the National Council for Combating Discrimination as the main specialized body of the central public administration empowered to guarantee and supervise the implementation of the principle of equality and non-discrimination among citizens. The Council was an autonomous public institution, with legal personality, under parliamentary control. It carried out its activity without any restriction or influence coming from other public institutions or authorities. Its annual report was debated and approved by parliament.
The National Council for Combating Discrimination was qualified to investigate and to establish and sanction cases of discrimination. At the same time, the Council elaborated and applied public policies in the field of non-discrimination. The National Council for Combating Discrimination received and reviewed petitions and complaints regarding violations of the legal provisions concerning the principle of equality and non-discrimination from individuals and groups of persons, non-governmental organizations active in human rights protection, other legal entities and public institutions. The National Council for Combating Discrimination fulfilled the criteria established through the Paris Principles and recently the accreditation procedure of the institution according to these principles was started. The number of complaints addressed to the National Council for Combating Discrimination in 2009 was 528.
In addition to the National Council for Combating Discrimination, Mr. Asztalos said there was also the National Audiovisual Council, which could apply sanctions to audiovisual operators for transmissions which contained discriminatory messages. The Council could also promote public campaigns for the observance of the principles of equal opportunities and non-discrimination. Between 2008 and 30 July 2010, the National Audiovisual Council applied five sanctions amounting to 5,000 lei and issued four notices for breaching legal provisions in the audiovisual field referring to discrimination on grounds of nationality, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic affiliation.
The Labour Inspectorate controlled access to the labour market without discrimination for all persons capable of work, and ensured the observance of specific norms on labour conditions for young people, women and certain disadvantaged groups. Mr. Asztalos said that the Labour Inspectorate had offices in each county and was considered the most important institution in the implementation, monitoring, and control of the principle of equal opportunities and non-discrimination in the field of labour relationships.
Mr. Asztalos said there was also the institution of the ombudsman, which had the aim of defending the rights and freedoms of citizens in their relations with public authorities; it was an autonomous public authority and independent from any other public authority, in accordance with the law; it did not replace public authorities in exercising its prerogatives; and it could not be subjected to any imperative or representative mandate. No one could force the ombudsman to obey his instructions or measures. The activity of the ombudsman, of its deputies and subordinated employees, had a public character. Upon the request of persons injured in their rights and freedoms or due to well-founded reasons, the ombudsman could decide upon the confidentiality of its activity.
According to Mr. Asztalos, the public authorities were required to communicate, or as the case might be, make available to the ombudsman, under the law, the information, documents or acts in their possession in relation to petitions which were addressed to the ombudsman and provide assistance for the exercise of prerogatives. The ombudsman was appointed for a duration of five years to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals. The deputies of the ombudsman were specialized in fields of activity.
Mr. Asztalos said that another agency designed to combat discrimination was the Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations, a governmental body that had the mission to promote ethnic diversity in Romania by strengthening and enlarging the protection offered to the multicultural society. For this purpose, it initiated and developed programmes aimed at improving the protection system of national minorities, developed strategies to combat racism and xenophobia and supported organizations active in this domain.
The National Agency for Roma was the governmental body of representation of Roma nationally. Mr. Asztalos said this agency applied, coordinated, monitored, and evaluated measures in the sectoral areas of social intervention laid down in the Romanian Government’s Strategy to Improve the Conditions of Roma. In performing its prerogatives, the National Agency for Roma initiated, participated in and worked with specialized institutions and non-governmental organizations to take actions and promote projects and sectoral programmes aimed at improving the conditions of Roma.
In terms of enforcing these rights, Mr. Asztalos said that a person who deemed himself/herself discriminated against could file a notification in two ways: through administrative proceedings or through judicial proceedings. In the period covered by the report, the activities to prevent discrimination were strengthened and they resulted in programmes of information and education for citizens. Most programmes were conducted in partnerships between public institutions and civil society. The course of continuous training for magistrates, policemen, teachers and civil servants in this field had short term results in the activity of these professional categories.
In terms of the Roma community, Mr. Asztalos said that improving the situation of persons belonging to the Roma community remained one of the most important challenges for Romania. According to statistics, most discrimination complaints filed dealt with discrimination against persons belonging to the Roma ethnic group. These deeds often came in the form of discriminatory language and behaviour which offended human dignity. Compared to other States in the region, discrimination against Roma did not take the form of violence in Romania. There were no racially motivated murders, violent attacks against Roma communities or other criminal deeds with racist significance.
Mr. Asztalos went on to say that legislation and institutional mechanisms in the field of discrimination played an extremely important role. However, good legislation and an operational institution in themselves and in isolation were not sufficient. Besides a legislative framework and administrative measures, public policies were needed to be efficiently implemented to end rigorous and negative expressions of discrimination.
Mr. Asztalos pointed out that it must not be ignored that discrimination took the form of not only legal practices, but also of behaviours ranging from language, violence and ostracism to measures in the workplace, at school or in the relation with authorities and private institutions. In 2009, harassment by language and behaviour continued to exist in a way which showed how important it was to understand that any person belonging to a national minority had the right to freely choose to be treated or not as such. Access to education was in some cases affected, despite the intervention of the Ministry of Education.
According to Mr. Asztalos, persons with disabilities faced discrimination, particularly in employment. Accessibility and reasonable adjustment remained by far the major issues. Sadly, the discrimination affected children with disabilities, even in schools. The preservation of confidentiality of personal data, access to medical services and school environment proved to be areas of discrimination for HIV positive persons. Differentiated treatment based on gender had extremely serious facets. Registered cases of discrimination against women and the use of discriminatory language used against women in the workplace continued to be a problem.
Romania had made significant progress in the field of non-discrimination and in the legal protection of vulnerable groups. Beyond the coercive force of the State displayed by legislation and its enforcement, Mr. Asztalos said one should not ignore the fact that discrimination harmed dignity under the mental and emotional aspects. Ultimately, in a democratic society there was the legitimate expectation of being treated with the highest standards. To achieve such a goal, the National Council for Combating Discrimination had tried to keep the public well informed about its tasks so that every person could be aware of the existence of the institution that protected them against discrimination. It also aimed to familiarize the public with the concept of discrimination by publicizing its jurisprudence.
Mr. Asztalos said Romania was concerned about the effects of the economic crisis on discrimination as the competition for resources, the lack of jobs and increased poverty were factors that favoured the emergence of tensions in the society and could lead to discriminatory acts.
Mr. Asztalos then invited other members of the Romanian delegation to provide additional information on the situation of racial discrimination in Romania in the areas of the judiciary, education, health, housing and other sectors. Members of the delegation went on to explain some of the laws that protected citizens from discrimination. The Labour Code, Audiovisual Laws, and Gender Equal Opportunity statutes all contained important provisions for combating discrimination. In the draft criminal code that would come into force in October 2011, all provisions of the current criminal code punishing discrimination would be maintained, and all people were equal before the law according to the rules governing the judiciary. In 2009 Romania ratified the optional protocol on cyber crime dealing with acts of a racist or xenophobic nature committed through the Internet. The ongoing training of judges also included concerns related to combating discrimination. During the second year of judges’ studies at the school for magistrates, they followed a mandatory six week course entitled “Combating Discrimination in the Romanian Judicial System” and there were continuing education seminars on national and international legislation dealing with combating racial discrimination.
The delegation said that the National Agency for Roma aimed to initiate, participate and promote sectoral programmes and actions designed to improve the condition of Roma in Romania. The institution had attracted 25 million Euros from the European Social Fund to improve access and participation of Roma in the labour market through a complex approach. There was also a project to increase the level of education of Roma children in rural and urban areas in order to increase avenues to employment for these children. In addition, there were several measures in place to lower drop out rates of children from vulnerable groups in 20 counties in Romania. There was also a pilot programme underway to increase vocational training for Roma men and women in order to increase their inclusion in the labour market, taking into account several factors that contributed to high unemployment of Roma people, namely racial discrimination, lack of professional qualifications, low vocational preparation and non-correlation of the work needs of Roma within the labour market.
In terms of health and housing programmes, the delegation said that the Ministry of Health, with the help of non-governmental organizations, had established a system of Roma health mediators as an interface between healthcare providers and social services to improve the health of the population, especially persons with low socio-economic status without medical insurance and those living in rural areas uncovered by family practitioners. Relative to housing, in 2008 the National Agency for Roma along with the Ministry of Housing, implemented an inclusive public policy on housing. According to this agreement, the ministry and agency would launch a pilot programme to build social houses for Roma people in 16 locations in 8 regions of Romania.
The delegation said it was also important to note that every year the Government allocated budgetary funds for inter-ethnic projects and programmes aimed at combating intolerance. Several awareness projects on Roma, as well as on all other minorities, had been financed and supported through this mechanism run by the Department of Inter-Ethnic Relations.
The delegation went on to address education by saying that the right to equal access to education was guaranteed by the constitution and the Law of Education. The 20 national minorities in Romania had access to education in their mother tongue. Several hundred Roma school mediators were trained to help Roma students and their parents navigate the school system in the country and scholarships were available to Roma students to help them complete their university studies. The State considered education a key policy for preventing social exclusion, and special attention was provided to reducing drop out rates, providing support to vulnerable and minority children and reducing segregation of Roma children in schools.
In the realm of cultural diversity, the delegation said the State supported the expression of cultural identity for all Romanians, which contributed to cultural diversity in Romania. The Ministry of Culture had provided logistical and financial support to numerous seminars, research programmes, cultural days, craft fairs, visual arts exhibitions, dance, art, and music festivals, and other events to highlight the diversity of Romania and to promote cultural understanding and inter-ethnic dialogue. There were also seminars, roundtables and cultural events held for the other ethnic minorities and the Eli Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust also held numerous seminars and events to educate citizens on the history of the holocaust in the country.
The delegation also said there were new laws in place to do away with all discriminatory aspects of access to and participation in higher education.
Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts
RÉGIS de GOUTTES, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Romania, said that while the periodic report of Romania was voluminous, it was unclear whether non-governmental organizations participated in the preparation of the document.
In terms of general observations, Mr. de Gouttes said that there were 20 ethnic groups in the country with Hungarians, Roma, Germans, Ukrainians, Russians and Lithuanians making up some of the largest ethnic groups. Mr. de Gouttes wanted to know if a new census was planned to provide updated numbers on the population. Information provided by Romania indicated that it had been hard hit by the economic crisis and had to adopt austerity measures in 2009 and 2010 with substantial cuts in salaries, retirement payments and subsidies. This inevitably led to social movements, particularly among civil servants. Mr. de Gouttes said he hoped that the delegation could provide more information on the impact this financial crisis had on the groups most vulnerable to ethnic or racial discrimination.
Mr. de Gouttes also asked for an update on progress made in combating corruption since the State’s last report.
The Rapporteur noted that Romania had adopted many of the Committee’s concluding observations from its last report, including relevant provisions in the criminal code, a law defining and sanctioning all forms of discrimination, the establishment of the National Council for Combating Racism, and a 2002 ruling prohibiting fascist, racist and xenophobic symbols. Given this broad range of laws, Mr. de Gouttes wanted to know if all the Convention’s requirements were met by these laws.
Mr. de Gouttes said it would be helpful to know what were the respective powers of all the bodies responsible for combating discrimination and how were they coordinated. He also wanted to know whether the National Council for Combating Discrimination was in keeping with the Paris Principles.
The delegation was asked whether national minorities were able to use their mother language in education, public administration and courts and could it be expressed in printed matter and on radio and television broadcasts. There were reports that the Hungarian minority was discriminated against in various ways and the delegation was asked whether the situation had improved since the minority was more effectively included in various realms of society since a new law was passed last year.
Mr. de Gouttes noted that the report was very frank regarding the situation of Roma in Romania, and the State had undertaken an ambitious strategy to combat the problems faced by this community. There were still a number of questions that remained, however. What role did the Roma language play in local public administration and in television and radio broadcasts? What measures had been taken to combat discrimination in the workplace? What was the result of social housing programmes that had been put in place and were there measures in place to combat forced evictions? Mr. de Gouttes also wanted to know what improvements had been made in the realm of public health given the programmes enacted to combat lack of healthcare in the Roma community. The Rapporteur also asked for an update on the Roma children who were infected with AIDS while in the care of orphanages and other facilities.
With regards to education, the report recognized there was still de facto segregation of Roma children in schools, so what was being done to combat this consolidation of Roma children in the poorest schools or separate classrooms or in schools for children with disabilities? It was also noted that reports of police brutality, ill treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against the Roma were still prevalent and Mr. de Gouttes asked for an update on cases filed since 2008 and how they had been resolved. What measures had the State taken to combat racial profiling by police and law enforcement and to combat discrimination in the administration of justice?
Mr. de Gouttes asked the delegation for an update on the State’s efforts to combat manifestations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and applauded the inclusion of Roma in the definition of victims of the Holocaust.
Mr. de Gouttes noted that the establishment of the National Audiovisual Council to combat racism, xenophobia and incitement to racial hatred through the media was a positive development. He asked the delegation how many complaints had been filed since 2007 based on charges of racist propaganda, hate speech, or incitement to racial hatred through the media including the Internet. The report noted that several radio and television broadcasters had been fined for broadcasts that contained such speech, but a non-governmental organization had charged that people at the highest level of Government had made defamatory and discriminatory remarks about Roma and Armenians on television and radio and the delegation was asked about these charges.
Mr. de Gouttes noted that there were two avenues to filing complaints of racial discrimination, but there seemed to be very few cases that were deemed credible. Could the delegation provide more information on why so few cases were prosecuted? Mr. de Gouttes said the Committee also needed updated judicial statistics for 2008 to 2010.
Several Committee Members commended the delegation for the State’s acknowledgement of the suffering of the Roma during the Holocaust, but they noted that there was still a great deal of discrimination against this community in the majority community with comments being made that that the Roma gave Romanians a bad name abroad and that they should be gotten rid of using various methods. What was being done to change these attitudes toward this community?
A Committee Member noted that the National Agency for the Roma was referred to as a governmental body of representation for the Roma nationally. How were people chosen to serve on this body and what was its composition? Mention had also been made of the decade for Roma inclusion, but what did this entail?
The next Committee Expert to speak asked how the autonomy of the National Council for Combating Discrimination and other anti-discrimination bodies was guaranteed. The Expert also wanted to know if the State had statistics regarding the status of ethnic groups before and after European Union accession. The delegation was also asked what sort of measures it would take to ensure a more accurate count of minorities in the 2011 census. This Expert also expressed concern about the coordination and harmonization of the various agencies involved in non-discrimination and asked what measures were being taken to increase the cooperation between these bodies. How did the State propose to address the challenge of changing the impression of Roma in Romania, including among politicians, judges, teachers and professors? How did the State intend to target the general population in this area? The delegation had conceded that there was de facto segregation in education and that housing for Roma people was a huge problem. What particular measures did the State propose for addressing these problems as well as the problem of forced evictions?
Another Committee member emphasized the need to address complaints from minorities and non-governmental organizations regarding discrimination in education. Having policies in place was very good, but the implementation and practice had to be there as well so the delegation was encouraged to work harder to put the State policies into practice.
A Committee Expert asked several questions regarding discrimination in sports, including clarification on who was being discriminated against, was it discrimination against athletes or fans for example, and how did this racism manifest itself. What forms did it take? Also, there was a case of fans using racist chants during a football match and a complaint had been filed. Was this act prosecuted and if so what was the outcome? The Expert then went on to ask about efforts to stop employment discrimination, including the practice of employers posting job openings and indicating that members of certain ethnic minorities need not apply.
Another Committee member asked for clarification on the law against crimes against peace and humanity. What constituted such crimes? The Expert noted that there was also no reference to freedom of expression in the State’s report, and also asked about the progress made in Romania in implementing the cyber crimes convention against racism, xenophobia and hate speech on line; the convention had been ratified, but seemed to have not been implemented.
Response by Delegation
Addressing concerns expressed about the impact of the economic crisis on vulnerable groups, the delegation said that austerity measures took the form of budget cuts and salary cuts of 25 per cent. The Government tried to keep living standards of vulnerable groups at reasonable levels and had limited cuts in programmes geared toward vulnerable groups.
The delegation said that in the last ten years the Government had focused more on implementing the European Union directives and legislation than the Convention in the field of anti-discrimination, but it would work harder to implement and harmonize all laws at the international, national and regional levels.
Regarding the cooperation of the various anti-discrimination bodies in the country, the delegation explained that each body had a defined competency. For example, if a complaint arose from racist or xenophobic comments made via a radio or television broadcast, this was handled by the National Audiovisual Council, while such comments made by an individual were investigated by the National Council for Combating Discrimination and so on.
Turning to concerns about the autonomy and independence of the specialized bodies, the delegation said this was a criterion of the European Union as well as autonomy in the administration of the institution’s annual budgets. Steering committee members were elected by parliament in a transparent way, and the process was open to non-governmental organizations and the public, which could nominate candidates, appeal the selection of candidates and contest candidates and call for their removal from the steering committee, although to date this had never happened.
The delegation then turned to questions regarding the Roma minority. The delegation said there were a few cases of denying Roma persons access to public spaces, but this was not a widespread problem and the cases that had been reported had been sanctioned and damages awarded to victims. In terms of multiple discrimination, the delegation said this was an aggravating circumstance under the law. In this respect, the Roma women had a particularly difficult time because they were discriminated against within their own community because of their gender and then they were discriminated against by the majority community for being Roma. Discriminatory job announcements were mostly posted on the Internet, not newspapers, and in most cases the State applied sanctions. This was easier to combat because they could track down the person who posted the ad or the owner or administrator of the website, who had the responsibility of monitoring ads placed on their website.
The delegation said that there were problems with the last census, including lack of training for census takers. Improvements that had been made for the 2011 census included better training for people in the field, more diverse census takers, and allowing people to check multiple boxes for identification. National minorities had also been involved in the preparation of the census. The delegation said there would still be imperfections because there were still people who were afraid to declare their identities, but the numbers would be much closer to reflecting the population than what was gained in the last census.
In terms of representation of minorities in public life, the delegation said there were nine Hungarian deputies in parliament, 18 deputies representing other ethnic minorities, and at least one Roma deputy representing the Roma party as well as other people who had not declared their Roma or minority identity. At the local level, there were more than 2,000 Hungarian counsellors plus dozens of German, Russian, Bulgarian, Croat, Roma, Uzbek and other minority groups represented in local politics.
In terms of the use of mother tongues in public life, including in courts, the delegation said that was provided for by the law, but in practice it was very difficult to ensure access to translators because there were not enough translators trained in the various languages so while it was guaranteed by law, in practice it was still a challenge.
The delegation then turned to new developments in the media field, including efforts to open the first multi-ethnic broadcast channel on public radio. It was an ambitious project that had been underway for over year; there were problems with the frequency, but they were moving ahead and hoped to have this launched soon.
The delegation said the law on minorities was still working its way through parliament, but it contained provisions for cultural autonomy for different minorities, and they hoped it would be approved soon. In terms of the numerous questions raised by Committee Members regarding the impact of the various campaigns and awareness raising activities of the State, the delegation said it was a never ending process and most of the campaigns were focused on youth and children and the delegation could see these children becoming teachers and going into public service and working in human rights and minority issues. In the near future there would be a new leadership made up of this generation with new visions informed by human rights and minority rights issues.
During the last decade, Romania had registered important progress in the fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobia, according to the delegation. The Elie Wiesel Institute for Studying the Holocaust had been established, every year 500 teachers attended seminars at Yad Veshem in Jerusalem, and a book about the Holocaust was now part of the high school curriculum.
In terms of healthcare for Roma communities, there were 308 healthcare mediators in 2006 and 2,000 community medical nurses throughout the country in 2009. 2005 to 2015 was designated the Decade of Roma Inclusion and it focused on four priority areas: education, healthcare, employment and housing. The aim was to fight poverty and discrimination to reduce the social and economic gap between Roma and other citizens. The programme was supported by numerous international programmes including the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Council of Europe, among others.
The delegation said that non-governmental organizations were involved in the drafting of the periodic report for the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as the report for the Universal Periodic Review, so the two reports were drafted at the same time. Regarding the delay in submitting this periodic review, that was due in large part to the unprecedented change in the administration due to the country’s accession to the European Union. Now that the process was complete, Romania was becoming current on its reporting obligations to the United Nations.
Turning to education and the questions raised by Committee members about the segregation of Roma students, the delegation said all these cases had been prosecuted by the National Council for Combating Discrimination. There were a number of legislative measures banning segregation in schools and while there might be school teachers and administrators who did not apply the law as required, the State would use every opportunity to disseminate the law and enforce compliance by educators. Sanctions were applied, but the State had also started a monitoring process in this realm. The delegation noted that there were also prevention activities in this field, including a review before the school year started in those counties where they knew there could be problems of segregation. Teacher training and analyzing cases of segregation and court decisions were also tools used to combat discrimination in education. Another form of segregation took the form of placing Roma children in schools for children with physical or learning disabilities or special education classes when they should be in mainstream classes with other children. Non-governmental organizations brought many of these cases to the Government’s attention and it investigated and sanctioned such cases because the Government believed that education was one of the most important avenues to improving the condition of Roma persons.
In terms of foreigners and stateless persons, they enjoyed the right to property and other rights afforded Romanian citizens under the constitution and citizens of European Union Member States could stay up to 90 days in Romania without a visa.
The delegation said that in the realm of eradicating ethnic profiling by law enforcement personnel, the State was trying to increase the concept of community policing, recruit more ethnic minorities to the police force and train police and gendarme in the legal protections of human rights in the course of police activities. Sanctions and disciplinary measures were taken against police officers found to have used torture or other ill treatment during the course of their activities. If violations were of a penal nature, the cases were forwarded to the competent bodies for action to be taken. The use of torture was prohibited to obtain information or confessions or to intimidate or apply pressure to someone. Between 2008 and 2009, 2,220 petitions were filed alleging ill treatment by law enforcement and 368 of these were partially or totally confirmed while 1,505 were not.
There were some cases of forced evictions, but they were done without violence and there was a legal framework on both the national and regional level to build social housing and provide access to affordable housing. There were also efforts to renovate housing, provide land and construction materials to allow people to build houses, and relocating people who did not own the home in which they were living or did not own the land on which they had built their home. In some cases, the rightful owner of the land had agreed to take another plot of land so that the families would not have to tear down the house they had built on this land.
The delegation said the number of Roma people benefiting from free vocational training in 2009 was 1,109, 714 of which graduated. The number of Roma people who enjoyed free counselling and career guidance in 2009 was 38,645. As a result of this campaign, in 2009 the national employment agency had employed 7,735 Roma people and in 2010, until 13 June, this number was 7,479. There were also projects aimed at promoting the inclusion of Roma people in the labour market as well as enhancing the social integration and inclusion of Roma. The State party had also launched programmes to increase the inclusion of other vulnerable groups in the employment market, including job fairs that put employers in touch with people looking for work. These fairs had the added benefit of showing employers that Roma wanted to work as well as providing a venue to disseminate information about the various programs available for ethnic minorities.
Regarding hate speech in the country, there were not a lot of politicians coming forward to publicly condemn hate speech and that was worrying. There was still a lot of negativity in the general perception of the Roma people and one had to go beyond political correctness to explain what affirmative action really meant because misunderstanding this issue could create even more negative perceptions of the community.
Further Questions Posed by Experts
An Expert commented on school segregation and funnelling children into special schools. The Expert noted that special education schools should not be characterized as negative because they played an important role. Assignment to such schools should not be made on a racial basis, however, but based on ability, so a great deal must rest on the testing process for assigning children to such schools. The problem with the test was that unexamined cultural assumptions could be built into it, undermining the performance of minority children. Simply banning segregation might be a first step, but it would not address the root causes prompting segregation. The Expert asked if the monitoring of schools included looking at the conditions that prompted the segregation in the first place. In terms of hate speech legislation, the Expert asked for more clarification on those laws and their relation to the criminal code.
The following Committee Expert commented that there were traps in trying to balance the protection of freedom of expression and the banning of hate speech and the Expert cautioned the delegation not to fall into such traps. With regard to education, the Committee Member asked whether text books were screened in order to make sure that stereotypes and prejudices were taken out and positive messages educating the young generation about the value of tolerance and non-discrimination were included.
A Committee Expert asked for the reasons behind the negative perception of the Roma. In order to change the situation, one had to know where these perceptions stemmed from. What was the reaction of people when they saw mistreatment of the Roma in a country that was a member of the European Union?
A Committee member said they were pleased to hear Romania had ratified the optional protocol on cybercrime, but wanted to know if anyone had ever been prosecuted for cases of hate speech online. The Expert also asked about extreme right elements from Romania that reportedly had joined with similar groups in neighbouring countries to form a caucus in the European Parliament as well as a political party in Romania whose leader had an outspoken attitude against Roma people. The Expert also asked why most of the complaints filed regarding discrimination were filed by non-governmental organizations and not individuals. Was the process very difficult?
RÉGIS de GOUTTES, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Romania, asked a legal question with respect to Roma access to public places. What did the delegation think of the testing practice and whether it was in conformity with legal practices? In terms of resistance from Roma parents against having their children educated in public schools, how could the State ensure social integration of minorities who did not always wish to be integrated and how did the Government approach this problem?
The delegation was asked if there were surveys performed to analyze perceptions and their changes over the years.
Another Committee Expert asked how discrimination at the local level would be dealt with if the efforts were decentralized and would discrimination and segregation be explicitly prohibited in the new education and housing laws. The Expert also asked what sort of initiatives were taken to address structural discrimination against the Hungarian minority.
Replies by Delegation
Responding to those questions and others, the delegation said that a commission for testing was in place that developed these tests and there was a re-evaluation of every child in special education schools to make sure that every child who was there should be there and there were not any children who should be mainstreamed. Sometimes the parents wanted their kids in these special schools because there were some social benefits that came along with their children’s enrolment in such schools.
In segregation cases, mediation was the first step because often teachers did not even realize it was discrimination or a case of segregation and once they educated them they proposed solutions and the situation was remedied. The point was not to enforce punitive measures, but to reach a solution on the issue. Screening of textbooks was very important, and they had started this process but ran into problems with gender, not national minorities. There were books about the history of national minorities and curriculum on different ethnic groups.
The delegation said it took freedom of expression versus non-discrimination on a case-by-case basis and analyzed each situation to determine the limits of freedom of expression. These acts were publicly condemned versus the application of fines or other sanctions. It was a sensitive issue and social norms had to be taken into account as well.
In terms of the negative perceptions of Roma, there was a great deal of generalization so if one Roma person was convicted of a crime it reflected poorly on the whole community and was generally applied to the entire Roma population.
Regarding data on cyber space hate speech prosecutions, the delegation said in 2008 there were six cases with two cases of conviction. These were the latest figures the delegation had available, but they would provide the Committee with updated numbers in writing.
In terms of the party with the outspoken views on the Roma community, the party did not meet the threshold for a seat in parliament in Romania, but they were represented in the European Parliament and it was true that these extremist views were finding voice via parties throughout Europe.
Regarding complaints, most of them were filed by non-governmental organizations because communities recognized the competency of these groups to speak on their behalf in courts and governmental bodies. The delegation said that there were individual complaints and the process was free of charge.
The delegation said that Romanian legislation admitted testing which tested access to public places and this was admissible. It was often done in conjunction with non-governmental organizations and television stations and they had done a film about this which was publicly disseminated.
There was a partnership with non-governmental organizations and the Roma community to convince parents that it was for their own benefit to send their children to integrated schools. In the last few years, the realization among Roma parents that it was important for their children, especially girls, to go to school had increased. There was also a programme for students who had lost years of school and it was also for parents who had not gone to school. It was a sensitive issue and this mentality had to be broken down, but the perception that Roma parents did not want to send their children to schools had to be broken down as well because it impacted the work of the Government and the non-governmental organizations and it was not true.
The delegation said that the State did conduct surveys every year to gage perceptions and their changes over time. In the arena of sports, the message of combating discrimination in sport was well received and well publicized and people supported football players and saw that there were players of many ethnic backgrounds so racism in football was not a huge problem.
The delegation was asked to respond in writing to any questions there was not enough time to answer.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, RÉGIS de GOUTTES, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Romania, said that out of this very positive exchange would come recommendations and concluding observations for the next report. The question of national minorities was an important issue, drawing a number of questions, particularly regarding the Roma minority. In the future the Committee would need new information from the upcoming census which would make it possible to get more specific information on minorities. The Committee would also be interested in seeing what follow-up had resulted from the draft law on minorities which was before the parliament as well as the effects of all the national strategies in place to combat discrimination. The results of the economic crisis on the most vulnerable groups in society and the effects of the austerity measures adopted in Romania were also of great interest to the Committee. They would also look for more information on the draft reform of the criminal code as well as the autonomy of the state bodies charged with combating discrimination and the progress of international accreditation of the National Council for Combating Discrimination. The other items they would take into account would be complaints of ill treatment and racial profiling by police and the judiciary as well as racism, not only in the media, but also with respect to speeches and xenophobic statements made by political leaders and officials.
In concluding remarks, CSABA FERENC ASZTALOS, President of the National Council for Combating Discrimination of Romania, thanked the Committee for the useful and important exercise which provided different approaches to the subject matter and to improve their activities. Mr. Asztalos said the biggest development was the fact that it was an open and frank discussion about these matters.
For use of the information media; not an official record