4 August 1999

Reviews Situation in Antigua and Barbuda; Decides to Publish Press Communique on Situation in Kosovo

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concluded consideration this morning of a report of Romania, hearing assurances from a Government delegation that efforts were being made to change police attitudes towards the country’s Roma.

The delegation said the police did not have a textbook explaining how to deal with the Roma people, but the current Government was endeavouring to transform the structure of the police to better respond to society's expectations.

Mario Jorge Yutsis, the Committee expert who served as country rapporteur for the report of Romania, said he hoped the country had the will to carry out structural reforms which would enable it to surmount its current economic problems.

Committee Experts Michael E. Sherifis and Yuri A. Rechetov also participated in the discussion.

The Committee will issue its final, written conclusions and recommendations on the report of Romania towards the end of its four-week session, which ends 27 August.

As one of 155 States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Romania must provide the Committee with periodic summaries of Government efforts to implement the treaty.

Also this morning, Committee Chairperson Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr said the Committee should condemn the violation of human rights of innocent people in Kosovo, as well as the destruction of churches there. He said the Committee had to alarm the international community to the worsening situation in Kosovo. As the Committee had denounced violence against Kosovars in the past, he said, it should equally condemn crimes committed now against other people living the Yugoslav province. The Committee decided to entrust three of its members with drafting a press communique on the matter.

The Committee also heard a report of one of its members on the implementation of the Convention in Antigua and Barbuda. This discussion took place under the panels review procedure, through which country situations are considered in the absence of Government reports long overdue.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will take up a report of Iran.

Statement by Committee Chairperson

At the beginning of the meeting, Committee Chairperson Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr said that in the past the Committee had expressed its concern about human-rights violations in Kosovo. At present, he said, the Committee could not remain silent in the face of violations of human rights against innocent people and the burning of churches in Kosovo. The Committee should equally condemn such crimes and draw the attention of the international community to the fact that the situation was worsening in that part of the world.

The Committee decided to form a small open-ended working group comprised of three Committee experts to draft a press communique to be delivered to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, alerting her to the Committee's concern. The matter also would be reflected in the Committee’s report.

The Committee is expected soon to publish a press communique on the situation in Kosovo under its early warning and urgent action procedures.

Discussion of Romanian report

In response to a number of questions raised by Committee Experts previously and this morning, the members of the Romanian delegation said that the separation of State power was assured by the country's Constitution, and the independence of the judiciary had also been guaranteed by legislative acts.

The delegation said the Government was combatting the negative portrayal in the mass media of the Roma community. Members of the Roma community had been treated in the press as criminals, resulting in their increasing exclusion from the rest of society. However, the Romanian Television Corporation had sought to maintain and develop an intercultural dialogue, tolerance and friendship among persons of different cultures or races, in order to eliminate all prejudice of a racial or ethnic nature.

In addition, the Romanian Radio Corporation had produced and transmitted programmes in national minority languages to help preserve and express the cultural identities of minorities.

The Roma people had been slaves for more than 500 years and had been left in a state of poverty once they were liberated in the middle of the 19th Century, said the delegation. At various times, they were obliged not to speak their own language or to use their traditional dress. Although their number amounted to 409,000, they were able to send only one deputy to the country's legislative body, thanks to the affirmative action act. It was also the view of the Government that in order to improve the image and conditions of the Roma community, further affirmative action measures were required in all spheres of society.

Concerning the attitude of the police toward the Roma people, the delegation said that it was doubtful that the police had a textbook explaining how to deal with the Roma. However, the current regime was endeavouring to transform the structure of the police to better respond to society's expectations.

With regard to anti-Semitism, the delegation said that although there had been isolated cases, Romanian society in general was tolerant and such cases were not widespread, as claimed by some experts.

On the establishment of the institution of national Ombudsman, "advocate of the people', the delegation said the post was created to protect citizens from administrative abuse. The Ombudsman was entitled to deal with individual complaints related to the work of the Government administration. Only individual cases regarding the executive branch of the State were admissible, with the exception of group cases. All administrative officials had the obligation to respond to the Ombudsman's inquiries. During the last three years, the Ombudsman had received around 35,000 complaints among which more than 70 per cent were beyond its jurisdiction. Very few cases had been examined by the Office.

Concerning complaints received from minorities, the delegation said there had been cases of complaints against police intervention in the private affairs of members of national minorities. Other cases, such as detention conditions and policed brutality, also had been reported to the Ombudsman. Some members of national minorities had complained about discrimination in employment or about dismissals from work because of racial bias.

MARIO JORGE YUTSIS, Committee Expert serving as country rapporteur for the report of Romania, said he appreciated the quality of the delegation's responses. The delegation had attempted to provide replies to the Committee’s oral questions. The possible number of persons belonging to the Roma people was not a minor matter. The globalization process required that economic and social structures be brought into line with private interests. However, the market economy, as in the case of Romania, had shown that the lack of skills in the employment market had slowed growth. He hoped that Romania had the will to carry out structural reforms which would enable the country to surmount its current economic problems.

Discussion of situation in Antigua and Barbuda

SHANTI SADIQ ALI, Committee Expert serving as country rapporteur on the implementation of the Convention in Antigua and Barbuda, said that in the absence of a report from the State party, she had depended on other sources to prepare her report.

Ms. Sadiq Ali said that the Constitution of the country prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, creed, language or social status. However, she wondered if there had been any anti-domestic-violence legislation, as social discrimination and violence against women continued to be a problem.

She said the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda provided for an independent judiciary and that the judiciary system was part of the Eastern Caribbean legal system and reflected historical ties with the United Kingdom. It also provided that criminal defendants received a fair, open and public trials.

In her conclusions, Ms. Sadiq Ali said that the country's Constitution provided for freedom of speech, of the press and other forms of communication, but had restricted opposition party access to the electronic media and that there continued to be allegations of censorship.