Bucharest, 11 November 2015
This is a tragic and difficult time for Romania, in the aftermath of the Colectiv nightclub fire on 30 October. But it might also prove to be a time for solidarity and renewal. The spotlight has now been shone dramatically on denial, corruption, inadequate government services, and a lack of official accountability.
In Romania’s response to the poverty in which far too many of its citizens continue to live, I have encountered the same pathologies. Many officials are in a state of denial about both the extent of poverty in the country and of the systemic and deep-rooted discrimination against the extremely poor, especially the Roma. In terms of corruption, major progress has been made in prominent cases, but forms of soft-core corruption persist in relation to access to, or exclusion from, many social services. Government services, especially but not only for the poorest, are generally the worst in Europe, based on indicator after indicator. I was often told that poverty is a choice. It is indeed, but the choice is too often made by government policies rather than by those living in poverty. And finally, there is a continuing ethos in too many parts of government that resists transparency, consultation and accountability.
I was fortunate to be able to speak to a large number of Government ministers and state ministers, to officials of the key international agencies active in the country, and to civil society representatives. I also met with many people living in extreme poverty in areas as diverse as Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Bacau county, and Prahova county. I am very grateful to the Government for its very strong cooperation in facilitating my mission.
Romanian society today is strongly divided, not only in terms of the urban/rural divide to which many have referred, but even more importantly, the divide between the more than 40% of people who continue to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and the rest whose well-being is the overwhelming priority of so many official policies. In my final report, which will be available in June 2016, I will provide more detail on the issues discussed below, and also address other concerns.
Because today is so widely seen as a dramatic crossroad for Romania, many of my interlocutors, even in government, encouraged me to emphasize constructive criticism rather than to engage in a bland recounting of problems. It is in that spirit that I offer these observations.
2. Social policy and poverty
The fact that Romania ranks at, or near, the very bottom on almost all measures of poverty and social exclusion within the European Union has been exhaustively documented by the European Union, the World Bank, UNICEF and a host of other observers. In addition to the 40% who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, 29% are estimated to be severely materially deprived, which is almost three times more than the EU average. A new composite Social Justice Index, which scores EU countries based on poverty prevention, equitable education, labor market access, and other factors ranks Romania 27th. Only Greece, in its state of despair, ranks lower.
In education, the OECD assessed 37% of 15-year old Romanians to be functionally illiterate. But you get what you pay for. The European Commission puts government expenditure in education at 3% of GDP in 2012, again the lowest in the EU. The Minister of Education suggested that the current figure is around 4%, a figure which would still be well below the EU-average and very far from the 6% goal that article 8 of Law 1/2011 requires. Each year since that target was adopted in legislation, its application has been suspended by the Government through an emergency ordinance. While increases have been proposed, there is concern that most will go to the tertiary sector which has been relatively well protected from the dramatic cuts of earlier years.
In health, Romania does better in the sense that its public expenditure was 4.3% of GDP in 2012, which made it only the third lowest in the EU. But for 2015, the figure is apparently down to 4%. Again, this is reflected in poor health outcomes: Romania has the highest infant mortality rate in the EU. Accessibility to services is especially poor in the rural areas. Recent expenditures have favoured hospital funding, at the expense of urgently needed improvements in primary, community and preventive care arrangements. Corruption in the health sector remains rampant, with an estimated 28% of Romanians visiting public health facilities having had to offer what amounts to a bribe to get services. This is almost six times the EU average.
In housing, the number of units of social housing available and planned between now and 2020 is radically below the level of need. In Bucharest alone, there is a waiting list of 10,000 persons, compared to a highly optimistic estimate that 4,000 units will be built. The waiting list, however, does not reflect an estimated additional 10,000 persons who have not bothered to apply or who have given up. There is no national plan to address this chronic shortage and the criteria that are used in practice to allocate available housing clearly disfavor the worst off. I met many people living in dire poverty who recognized that they would never qualify for social housing because of the restrictive criteria applied.
In social services, Romania spends about 0.6% of GDP. These are services to help people who need it most, such as elderly persons who live at home but are incapacitated because of illness or old age, families living in poverty who need assistance to keep their children in school, access medical care or social housing, and home-based care for children and adults with disabilities. Romania spends only about one quarter of the EU average on such services. The results, which reflect a combination of austerity and decentralization, are truly grim in many places, as I can attest from my field visits. The County Directorates of Social Assistance and Child Protection, municipalities and NGO providers, do not have sufficient funds to finance adequate social services. Although the law (Law 292/2011) requires every municipality to establish public social assistance services (SPAS), many smaller municipalities in rural areas do not offer such services.
In brief, as the European Commission noted earlier this year, the “reduction of poverty and social exclusion remains a major challenge for Romania.”
3. Social assistance
Romania has an elaborate system of cash transfers. Some are universal, such as the State Child Allowance, the Child Raising Benefit and the Indemnity for Disabled Adults. Other benefits, such as the Guaranteed Minimum Income, the Family Support Allowance and the Heating Benefit are so-called ‘means tested programs’ and are targeted at poor people and conditional on certain requirements. At the insistence of the World Bank, which has had significant influence on the National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction, the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Protection, and the Elderly is planning to bundle the three means-tested programs into one program, the so-called Minimum Social Insertion Income. The plan is to increase the budget for this initiative from 1.2 billion RON in 2014 to 2.5 billion RON in 2017.
While there is a need to increase spending on benefits to increase the coverage of the poor and the benefits received per beneficiary, the emphasis on a so-called targeted social safety net approach to social benefits is problematic. Social protection is a human right enshrined in multiple sources of international law, including the right to social security and the right to an adequate standard of living. Receiving a social benefit from the State should not, as the Government proposes, be conditional on good behavior and aimed at excluding those who are not ‘deserving’. Excluding individuals who do not meet the conditions of the proposed Minimum Social Insertion Income is also a measure that is sure to punish the most vulnerable and increase existing inequalities. A 95% school attendance rate is one of the proposed conditions, but that is likely to exclude those children I met that who have a range of reasons for being unable or reluctant to attend school.
In terms of social workers, the national figure is one social worker per 3,350 inhabitants, with a denser network of social workers in urban areas than in rural areas. It is therefore not surprising that many of the NGOs and people living in poverty we spoke to have had very little contact with social workers. Social workers are underpaid, are often not properly trained to perform their task and have to spend a disproportional amount of their time doing office work. It is clear that the central Government should allocate more money from the State budget to local authorities in order for them to hire and train more social workers and pay them a decent salary. When I was in Bacau, I visited a project by UNICEF and Norway Grants that has developed – in partnership with the local authorities – a minimum package of integrated social services in the communities in which it is active. The project shows that the provision of quality social services in rural areas is possible, but requires a commitment from the Government from the central State budget, instead of counting on money from international donors.
The situation of Romanian children, especially those in rural areas, warrants serious attention, for the levels of poverty, social exclusion and material deprivations to which they are exposed are simply unjustifiable in an upper middle income country like Romania. Among the Romanian population at risk of poverty, children are the hardest hit group. According to the Eurostat, 48.5 percent of children are at-risk-of poverty or social exclusion, which is the second worst score in the EU, and 34.1 percent reportedly suffer from severe material deprivation. The situation of children in rural areas is dire and the risk of poverty for those children is three times higher than those in urban areas. I have personally witnessed the conditions in which children in rural areas live in and the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.
What I believe is crucial in reversing this trend is access to education, which is not only a fundamental right of the child, but also a crucial premise on which other related human rights, such as the right to work and the right to participate in public life, may be realized. However, the percentage of Romania’s GDP spent on education is revealing. The low level of expenditure on education has ripple effects. While the authorities maintain that compulsory education is provided to all children for free, there are consistent reports on “hidden costs” of education, which effectively hinders access to education by families with limited financial resources. Such costs may include, for instance, supplementary tuitions, school supplies such as textbooks, notebooks and pencils, and school uniforms. The burden is particularly onerous on families living in rural areas, given the large disparity between rural and urban areas in terms of budgets allocated and spent on education.
Children living in poverty have much less chance of remaining in the school system and acquiring quality education. According to the highly-respected National Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights and Adoption, the drop-out rate for children in compulsory education is 2 per cent year, but this figure does not provide an accurate picture as it is based on an analysis of the number of children at the beginning and the end of compulsory education. I received reports suggesting the early school leaving rate is as high as 17.3 per cent and the rate is particularly high for Roma children. Even worse, I have met children in the heart of Bucharest who have never been to school for a variety of reasons, including the lack of a birth certificate or an identity card, poverty and illness. From the State’s perspectives, those without birth certificates are “invisible” children who do not exist. They have never had a birth certificate or identification document in their lives, never been to school or never been offered support from the State. The legal procedures to obtain a birth certificate are extremely cumbersome, time-consuming and costly, often requiring a lawyer and a range of documentation including forensic evidence to prove the age of the child.
What is paradoxical is that while there are a large number of children who fall through the cracks of the education and social welfare system, institutionalization of children seems to play a significant role in filling the gaps. The families that I spoke to in Bucharest often spoke of the fear that the local council may take away their children and I have also received information indicating that poor families are often persuaded to send their children to residential institutions so they are adequately fed and taken care of. According to the official figures, there are 37,126 children in family-care settings, 20,887 children in public residential institutions, and 4,043 children in private residential institutions. Strikingly, 40 per cent of those children enter the institutions because of poverty. Furthermore, although Law No. 272/2004 prohibits institutionalization of children under the age of three except those with a “severe” degree of disability, the information that I gathered suggests that the definition of “severe” disability is often discretionary in practice and many small children with minor or no disabilities are often institutionalized. The children in the institutions often end up staying there until they become adults, at which point they may be transferred to residential institutions for adults. There is a critical need to prevent children from entering into the institutions in the first place or to at least ensure that institutionalization is a temporary measure of a last resort.
a) In view of the fiscal space available, the Government should increase its spending on education to reflect both EU standards and domestic law. Increased spending should be allocated to local authorities, particularly focusing on those with limited resources with a view to reducing the regional disparity.
b) The process of issuing a birth certificate should be simplified, so that it is a straightforward administrative procedure that can be undertaken on a free-of-charge basis.
c) The local authorities should provide services and support to the families at the community level in order to prevent the institutionalization of children. The central Government should allocate more resources to the local authorities for the purpose of enhancing the capacity of social workers and providing professional training so they could provide effective early intervention services.
d) The Government should consider the establishment of a Children’s Commissioner, who is tasked with a broad mandate and power to protect children’s rights and equipped with adequate resources and capacity to maintain his/her independence.
5. Fiscal policy and poverty
It would be reasonable to assume that the inability of the Romanian Government to deal adequately with these challenges is a result of budgetary constraints. But the fiscal reality actually tells a very different story. With a flat rate income tax of 16%, Romania has the most regressive tax system in Europe. In other words, a political decision has been taken not to increase the net effective tax rate for individuals with higher incomes relative to those with lower incomes. Thus the opportunity to increase tax revenue to support increased spending on anti-poverty measures has been foregone. In addition, effective tax collection rates are low and widespread tax evasion and corruption further reduce revenue intakes. Even in successful anti-corruption contexts, the amount recovered from the proceeds of corrupt conduct is estimated at only 5-15% of the assets subject to a court order. This undermines the impact of sanctions and does not generate the appropriate revenues for the state. Moreover, Romania has only been able to make use of available European structural funds at a relatively low level, thus leaving much funding untapped.
Despite all of these missed opportunities, Romania could have had even greater fiscal space to fund social reforms. Instead, it has adopted inadequately evaluated and questionable policies of reducing VAT from 25% to 19%, and doubling the child allowance, which have eliminated much of the space for broader, more progressively targeted, reforms. In other words, the dismal state of social inclusion is a result of deliberate policies that reduce funding that could otherwise be available, while channeling what is available to the better off in the society.
The paradox is that Romania has, on the one hand, under the influence of external funders, adopted a plethora of strategies designed to put in place the building blocks for a social democracy, or welfare state. Some of these strategies are excellent and almost all are necessary. But on the other hand, the state’s macro-economic policies seem to signal a rather different orientation. Some of my interlocutors spoke of neo-liberal assumptions aimed at minimizing both taxation rates and social protection, while facilitating wealth generation without regard to redistribution. Instead of social or citizenship rights, the dominant discourse was one of equality of opportunity, as opposed to affirmative action.
6. Tackling discrimination
The official state of denial is most striking when it comes to the Roma population. Available statistics make clear that most Roma are worse off than the rest of the population in almost every aspect of life. The maternal mortality rate, the number of Roma women that die during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, is fifteen times higher than for non-Roma women. According to the World Bank, about 90% of Roma households face severe material deprivation compared to 54 percent of non-Roma living in adjacent areas. A 2013 survey by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) found that Roma, on average, die 16 years earlier than the rest of the population. The European Commission notes that 84% of Roma households report lack of water, sewage or electricity. Many reports support the conclusion that Roma are discriminated against in education, health care, employment and housing.
Nevertheless, very senior officials to whom I spoke asserted that “there is no discrimination against Roma in Romania” and that they “live exactly as they want to live”. Others described how the ‘Gypsies’ are generally criminals who don’t like to work, are “a nomadic people,” and never send their children to school. Most stereotypes conceal a grain of truth, and it is true that unemployment figures for Roma are higher than for the rest of the population, that a higher percentage of Roma children are out of school altogether or have dropped out, and that Roma have a low level of property ownership. But that is not because Roma are by nature unwilling to work or follow an education, but is a function of a long history of discrimination, neglect and isolation. The Roma are human just like every other Romanian, with similar needs, ambitions and feelings. Many have been extremely successful.
The confusion over statistics is an important part of the obfuscation. The 2011 census recorded only 621,573 Roma in Romania, although it is almost universally recognized that the real number is somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million. Census figures recording only 24,000 Roma living in Bucharest are known by all who live there to be a severe under-estimate.
This confusion is compounded by a frequent, but inconsistent, assertion that the state cannot collect data on how people of Roma ethnicity are faring compared to non-Roma, whether in education, health, employment or housing. The great majority of officials with whom I met claimed that the law does not allow the government to collect data disaggregated by ethnicity. This is a reference to article 7 (1) of Law 677/2001 on data protection. But this interpretation is clearly mistaken, as well as being inconsistent with other official actions. For example, Law 677/2001 implements an EU Directive, and provides various exceptions to the prohibition on the processing of personal data related to ethnic or racial origin. It provides that such processing is allowed when the person involved gives his or her consent or when the processing is based on a specific legal provision regarding the protection of an important public interest and relevant safeguards are in place. Despite the prevalence of the official denial, the State seems to have no hesitation in collecting ethnicity data when it has a financial incentive to do so. In the context of projects financed with European Funds, Romania collects data on the ethnicity of beneficiaries, as required by the EU.
Under pressure from the EU and other international bodies, the Government has adopted a Roma Inclusion Strategy earlier this year. But the political will to implement it is lacking. The strategy is disconnected from, and not appropriately integrated in, government policies in general, there is no clear budget for it other than external funds, no ministry is keen to lead on the issue, and no senior political figures are prepared to take the lead. I will deal below with the institutional difficulties that compound these problems.
One particularly pressing problem concerns the forced evictions of Roma, as well as other populations, and the residential segregation that results from these evictions. There are many examples of such evictions around the country, from Baia Mare and Eforie Sud to Bucharest.
One infamous case in Cluj involved the eviction of people from Coastei street in December 2010, but there are many other instances of evictions, including a pending decision to evict around 140 people in central Cluj in the spring of 2016. Mayor Boc showed me photographs to illustrate the squalor in Coastei street before December 2010 compared to the ‘model’ houses to which they were moved in Pata-Rat. But when I visited these model, or more accurately ‘modular,’ houses in Pata-Rat, I saw a very different picture. Each module contains at least four family members living in a single room of about 16 sq. m. The rooms are damp and poorly insulated and you can smell the stench of the nearby garbage dump. Many children have unexplained rashes and stomach illnesses. It is hardly a model outcome, but it is a testament to the ingenuity of those who would prefer to send the Roma to Siberia.
The structural problem in many places is that Roma lack security of tenure. Either they have no property title or rental agreement, or they live in ‘formerly nationalized houses’. At any time, they can be evicted from their homes, with all of the attendant stress. All too often, evictions have taken place with little advance notice, have been carried out in an abusive fashion, result either in homelessness or relocation far away from jobs, schools, hospitals, and other facilities, and end up reinforcing residential segregation of a discriminatory nature.
Civil society experts explained to me that the current Housing Law (114/1996) as well as the new Civil Procedure Code are part of the problem. The Housing Law contains no protections against forced evictions, which is defined under international law as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.” As a result of the silence of the Housing Law, Roma families are often inadequately consulted about planned evictions, not given reasonable notice, not properly identified by the authorities, and can be evicted in the middle of winter. All of these problems relate to the lack of safeguards to prevent these problems in the national Housing Law. Forced evictions are not only a violation of the human right to housing, they are also just the beginning of a new set of problems for the people that are affected by it.
Eviction from informal housing does not appear to be covered by the Civil Procedure Code. Article 1042 of that Code is particularly worrying because it limits the grounds on which an eviction can be reviewed before a court. The Code also does not provide adequate time to challenge an eviction notice and there are no legal remedies that allow a claimant to request a court to suspend an eviction.
a) Romania’s highest public officials should publicly acknowledge that there is severe discrimination against Roma in Romania.
b) Because of the depth and scope of past discrimination, special measures to assist the Roma population are needed in areas such as education, health care, employment and housing.
c) A new census needs to be undertaken. While the principle of self-identification should be respected by the State, there are several methods that can be used to ensure that those who are interviewed feel free to identify as Roma. The interviewees should not be required to present an ID and specially trained census-takers of Roma origin should be used in areas with a significant proportion of Roma. Lessons should be learned from international organizations such as UNICEF that have undertaken social censuses in the past in a manner that allows Roma to state their ethnicity.
d) Unless the State has disaggregated data on ethnicity in areas such as employment, housing, education and health care, it is difficult to devise special measures to assist specific minority groups, including the Roma. Law 677/2001 offers enough room to collect such ethnicity data for statistical purposes, provided that relevant safeguards are in place. The National Council for Combating Discrimination, which has as its mandate to monitor the observance of the Anti-Discrimination Law and propose actions or special measures for the protection of disadvantaged groups, should publicly acknowledge the importance of collecting such disaggregated ethnicity data and prepare and publish a legal opinion on the interpretation of Law 677/2001. Although that law implements EU Data Protection Directive 95/46, the current official interpretation of the law appears to contradict article 8 (2) of EU Directive 95/46 and the European Commission should start an infringement procedure against Romania if it continues to misinterpret the EU Directive.
e) The national Housing Law (114/1996) should be brought into conformity with international human rights law on forced evictions, including General Comment no. 7 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1997).
f) Eviction should be a matter of last resort. The Government should give clear instructions to local authorities to prioritize the regularization of informal settlements over eviction.
g) The Civil Code should be amended to apply to evictions from informal settlements, to allow for a full review of eviction decisions by the courts, and for temporary or permanent stays of execution to be granted.
h) Prefects are required to review the legality of all administrative acts by municipalities, including eviction orders. In reviewing the legality of eviction orders, they should take account of international human rights standards. The Ministry of the Interior should issue guidelines for Prefects when undertaking such legality reviews.
(ii) Persons with disabilities
The situation of persons with disabilities is far from the world that the Romanian Government has pledged to realize through the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2010. The concept of “disability” reflected in the CRPD is still not consistently understood and applied. The key Ministries in this field refer to varying definitions and terms relating to disability, such as “handicaps” and “special needs”, which do not accord with the international standards. The absence of a consistent definition of “disability” in turn undermines efforts to collect reliable data on the number and the situation of persons with disabilities in the country. While the National Authority for Persons with Disabilities (within the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly), the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education collect some data on persons and children with disabilities, they do not appear to speak the same language or to correlate the data, which results in confusion about the size of this group and the nature and extent of their needs.
The lack of reliable data is consistent with what many described as a lack of genuine political commitments and a strategic vision on the part of the Government in this area. Many stakeholders consider that a series of national strategies on the rights of persons with disabilities since 2002 has produced few notable achievements. A new national strategy for the next period between 2015 and 2020 has been pending adoption for almost two years now.
The gap between Romania’s image as a young EU Member State striving to implement the CRPD and the EU Strategy for Disability 2010-2020, and the reality for many persons with disabilities, is very difficult to reconcile. While de-institutionalization of persons and children with disabilities has long been on Romania’s agenda, all too few concrete measures have been undertaken to realize this goal. According to the authorities, at least 17,567 adults with disabilities and 7,025 children with disabilities still remain in residential institutions as of 30 June 2015. My conclusion, based on my conversations with persons with disabilities and a variety of stakeholders, is that there is still a strong resistance to de-institutionalizing persons and children with disabilities for a variety of reasons. The history of segregation of persons with disabilities pursued by the Ceaușescu regime still seems to exert an undue influence. I visited a residential institution for recovery and rehabilitation of adults with mental disabilities. Yet no resident is expected to ever recover and none has been rehabilitated. The residents are thus destined to remain in the institutions until their death, with no prospect of community living. It is also apparent that investments continue to be made on renovating or expanding existing institutions, rather than to build the infrastructures and services necessary to enable persons with disabilities to live independently in the community.
Persons with disabilities face a variety of other challenges in fully realizing their rights, especially in the areas of employment and housing. Although the Housing Law No.144/1996 obliges local authorities to give priority to specific groups including persons with disabilities in allocating social housing and housing benefits, they are often not prioritized in practice because they are hard-placed to fulfil certain criteria. There are very few employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, despite various measures under Law 448/2006 imposing a quota and offering tax incentives for employing persons with disabilities. The low percentage of persons with disabilities who are employed, estimated at 8 percent, clearly indicates that these measures are not effective. Employment in the public sector seems particularly inaccessible for many persons with disabilities. While Law 448/2006 requires a public or private employer with more than 50 employees to hire persons with disabilities for at least 4 per cent of the total number of employees, no central authorities have reportedly reached that quota.
As far as children with disabilities are concerned, one of the key concerns is limited access to education and their segregation from the mainstream education. According to the authorities, 43 per cent of children with disabilities are not enrolled in any type of schools and 17 per cent are enrolled in special schools.
a) A definition of “persons with disabilities” that accords with the CRPD should be adopted and consistently used by all the line ministries. Accordingly, the National Authority for Persons with Disabilities should be responsible for collecting comprehensive and accurate disaggregated data on persons with disabilities, in cooperation with other ministries.
b) The Ministry of Labour Family, Social Protection and Elderly should review the national plan for de-institutionalization and include in it specific targets on establishing community-based care, provided by adequately qualified and trained professionals.
c) The Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly should adopt proactive measures to encourage employment of persons with disabilities, and should set an example for the rest of the country. Such measures may include, but not be limited to: effectively enforcing the implementation of the quota through more rigorous labour inspections; increasing vocational training for persons with disabilities; increasing accessibility in public places; and offering stronger tax incentives for employers to make reasonable accommodation.
d) The National Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights and Adoption should develop guidelines on the institutionalization of babies and toddlers aged between 0 and 3 years old and clearly spell out that “severe disability” is to be defined narrowly, on the basis that institutionalization of children should be an exceptional measure and the last resort.
e) The Ministry of Education should seek a gradual transition from the existing segregated education system to a genuinely inclusive education system. The current bill on the rights of children with disabilities is a welcome step forward and the Government should consider a mechanism to independently monitor minimum standards of accessibility and accommodation as well as quality teaching adapted to the needs of children with disabilities in all schools.
7. Civil and political rights and poverty
While many issues could be addressed under this heading, I will focus only on policing. I received many reports of abuses by the police of Roma citizens. In any society, the poorest are more likely to be the object of police violence and intimidation than the mainstream of the population. High unemployment figures among Roma mean that many are forced to take irregular and informal work. One example are Roma men in Bucharest who ‘assist’ drivers in parking their cars, an activity that is legally prohibited. Rather than being addressed as a social issue requiring economic and social solutions, the brunt falls upon the police to punish such behaviour. I spoke to several Roma men who engaged in this activity and they described being regularly apprehended by the police, and sometimes subjected to physical abuse. On various occasions, after showing their ID cards, they were nevertheless taken to a police station, detained for significant periods and sometimes subjected to physical violence in isolated parts of the building. One tragic incident involving such a ‘parking boy’ is the case of Gabriel-Daniel Dumitrache, who died in March 2014 in Bucharest after allegedly having been beaten up severely at Police Section 10, at 15 Stelea Spataru Street.
There is nothing peculiar about police violence, which is a global phenomenon. What is peculiar about the Romanian situation, is that the rules that currently apply could be seen as a charter for harassment. The system includes characteristics that make abuse easy and ensure that accountability will be the rare exception rather than the norm.
I have no reason to doubt the assurances provided to me by senior police and Interior Ministry officials of their determination to eliminate and punish abuses. But this will not happen until the police introduce stricter rules, vastly more transparent figures, regular reporting, and a meaningful complaints procedure.
The existing complaints system ensures that complaints are unlikely to be filed, let alone to lead to a successful prosecution or other sanctions. NGOs have reported that between 2012 and 2014, 3,034 complaints were submitted to the office of the Prosecutor for abusive behavior by the police. Only 14 of those complaints led to prosecution and in only 4 cases were police officers convicted for abusive behavior. It may well be, as senior police informed me, that the allegations are exaggerated, but the extent of the problem is clearly much more dramatic than they were prepared to acknowledge.
a) Every police station in Romania should have CCTV cameras throughout the building, including in, but not limited to, interrogation rooms. The Ministry of the Interior should publish clear and public guidelines on the installation of such cameras, how long video records will be kept, who has access to the records, and under what circumstances.
b) Currently, individuals alleging police abuse need to obtain a certificate from the office of National Forensic Medicine to prove that they are the victims of violence. This is a high and unwarranted barrier to filing a complaint. The rules should be changed to allow a victim of police abuse to obtain a statement from any qualified physician.
c) Victims of police abuse currently have two options: to file a complaint with the superior officer at the police station or to file a complaint with the office of the Prosecutor. The former option is unrealistic, because a victim of abuse is unlikely to complain at the police station at which he or she has been abused. The latter option places too high a burden on the alleged victim. Romania should set up a separate body that can receive complaints of police abuse and is fully independent from the police. I refer to the five principles for such a body mentioned in paragraph 205 of the 2014 report by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. This independent body should be able, with the consent of the victim, to file a complaint with the office of the Prosecutor. The independent body should publish yearly reports on the number of cases received, the nature of the complaints, the relevant characteristics of the victims (including, but not limited to: age, sex, ethnicity, race, color, language, nationality, and economic status).
8. Institutional challenges to eliminating extreme poverty
(i) Technical capacity
Romanian authorities face serious problems in terms of a lack of technical expertise in at least some of the key ministries responsible for important parts of the fight against poverty and social exclusion. This has been compensated for by heavy reliance upon the policy analyses and prescriptions put forward by international organizations such as the World Bank in particular. While the World Bank has done excellent work, its central role has had the unintended consequences of narrowing the range of policy options considered and of failing to develop the essential administrative expertise and capacity in the line ministries. Measures should be considered to address these issues.
The Romanian Government has decentralized the provision of social services and benefits since 1997, which places considerable responsibility on the county and local authorities. While decentralization is a good concept in theory, consistent testimonies that I have gathered are that the county and local authorities are often not equipped with adequate financial and human resources to perform the job in a satisfactory manner. Despite the decentralization of functions, the financing mechanism remains centralized in that the county authorities rely on the central Government to provide up to 90 per cent of their total budget. The corollary of this is diminished public accountability and scapegoating in some cases. When the line Ministries in Bucharest are accused of failing to provide adequate social services and benefits to the people, they point a finger at the county and local authorities for not having adequate administrative capacity and competence to implement such services and benefits. On the contrary, when the county and local authorities are accused of the same, they moan about the shortage of resources allocated by the central Government. Another consequence of the decentralization has been an increase in inequality between urban and rural areas, as urban municipalities are more well-resourced than rural ones.
The central Government and the county and local authorities should work closely together to identify and analyse the financial and human resources needed by the county and local authorities and allocate adequate resources to achieve specific targets.
The county and local authorities should invest in training their administrative staff to increase their capacity and in recruiting and training providers of community-based services, such as social workers, psychologists and counsellors.
(iii) Roma policy
Too many bodies are responsible for the implementation of the Roma inclusion strategy. There are the National Contact Point for the Strategy, and the Secretary of State of the Ministry of EU Funds. There is the National Roma Agency. There is an Inter-Ministerial Committee and Technical Secretariat to coordinate the different line Ministries that are relevant for the Roma Strategy. There is a counselor on Roma issues in the office of the Prime Minister. Their roles and respective responsibilities are unclear and there is considerable confusion how the Roma Inclusion Strategy relates to the many other strategies prepared by various line Ministries in areas such as poverty eradication, children’s rights, health and employment.
Consideration should be given to a ministerial appointment with specific responsibility for implementation of the strategy. The Ministry of European Funds might not be the best place to locate such a coordinator, because of the signal it sends that action on Roma issues is only happening because the EU wants it and because there is European money available.
9. The human rights dimension
(a) Use of human rights discourse
Romanian authorities rarely ever speak in terms of the state’s human rights obligations when talking of poverty-related issues. They should make greater use of the frameworks provided by recognition of the right to health, the right to education, and so on.
(b) Domestic institutions
The existing panoply of institutions in the human rights field is problematic. None of them is sufficiently effective, their responsibilities overlap, and they are under-funded. The Office of the Ombudsman has been rightly accused of failing to carry out its responsibilities and the National Human Rights Institution has neither the degree of independence nor the capacity to carry out all of the functions normally performed by such a body.
(c) The courts
The courts have contributed remarkably little to the implementation of Romania’s human rights treaty obligations, despite their superior constitutional status.
(d) Interaction with international monitoring mechanisms
Romania needs to devise procedures to ensure the systematic consideration of recommendations addressed to the Government by international human rights bodies. The existing system is ad hoc and ineffectual.
Annex: Details of the Mission
The Special Rapporteur visited Romania from 2 to 11 November 2015 at the invitation of the Government. During the visit, the Special Rapporteur met with the Minister of Education and Research; the Minister of European Funds, the Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration; the State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice; the State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the State Secretary of the Ministry for Internal Affairs; the deputy Head of the General Inspectorate of the National Police; the Head of the Romanian Gendarmerie; the President of the National Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights and Adoption; officials of the National Authority for People with Disabilities; the President of the National Agency for Roma; officials of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly, and the Ministry of Finance. The Special Rapporteur also met with members of the Committee on Human Rights, the Committee on Education and the Committee on Labour of the Chamber of Deputies and the President of the Constitutional Court. He further met with national institutions, including the Ombudsman, the President of the National Council for Combating Discrimination and the Director of the Romanian Institute for Human Rights.
In Bucharest, the Special Rapporteur met with the Director General for Social Assistance of Bucharest Municipality. He also conducted a visit to two locations of Police Section 10 in Bucharest and met with people living in informal settlements in downtown Bucharest.
On 4 November 2015, the Special Rapporteur visited Cluj Napoca where he met with the Mayor, the Vice Mayor, the Prefect and Vice Prefect, representatives of the Intercommunity Development Association and the Regional Development Agency and the regional office of the National Agency for Roma.
On 6 November 2015, the Special Rapporteur visited Bacau, where he met with representatives of the County Council, the General Direction for Social Assistance, the Public Health Directorate, the County School Inspectorate, the County Resources Center for Education and the National Agency for Roma, and visited the Residential Centre Henri Coanda for children. In Bacau County, the Special Rapporteur travelled to the Colonesti and Rachitoasa communes, where he met with the Mayors of the communes, as well as a number of families in both communes. He also visited a school in Colonesti and engaged with the Community Consultative Structure in Rachitoasa.
Finally, on 8 November 2015, the Special Rapporteur visited the Center for Placement in Plopeni and the Center for Rehabilitation and Neuropsychiatric Rehabilitation in Calinesti in Prahova County. In Ploiesti, the Special Rapporteur met with the Executive Manager and the Deputy Executive Manager for the Directorate for Social Assistance.
In addition to meetings with the Government authorities and institutions, the Special Rapporteur met with and consulted international organizations in Bucharest and non-governmental organizations, experts, academics and people living in poverty in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Bacau.