Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) have published a report on Romania, outlining its findings of systemic human rights violations throughout the country’s judicial system.
This report is just one in a long line of recent articles that have been highly critical of Romania’s anti-graft push championed by the DNA, the country’s anti-corruption agency, that allegedly includes measures such as pre-trial detention, spurious evidence being used as part of targeted smear campaigns, lack of due process during trials; the list goes on.
The HRWF report presents details this bleak picture of the state of Romanian justice, as well as casting additional light on the appalling prison conditions many individuals are frequently subjected to.
It highlights some startling facts with regard the reputation of Romania’s judicial system across Europe. In 2015 alone, the country ranked as the 3rd highest human rights abuser out of the 47 members of the Council of Europe. More than 27 of the 72 judgments made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) relate to violations of inhumane or degrading treatment. Most notable among this are its verdict on the appalling conditions and treatment in its prisons. This doesn’t seem to have improved in any way, with 69 cases brought before the ECtHR in 2017, more than any other EU country.
Criticism is also coming from inside the country. Numerous articles appeared in the Romanian press earlier this year, alluding to human rights abuses on an unimaginable scale for a European prison in 2018. Eight guards from the Rahova Penitentiary were arrested on charges of torture not long after an investigation was launched following the death of a 33-year-old man in custody. The allegations of waterboarding, urinating on prisoners, physical and verbal abuse hark back to the early days of the Iraq War and the subsequent criminal investigations into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Such allegations are hard to stomach, but sadly, not too difficult to believe.
In 2016, the U.S. State Department reported that prison conditions in Romania did not meet international standards, with facilities lacking natural light and providing inadequate sanitary conditions. Some facilities were also lacking in any private space that would allow a detainee to hold confidential meetings with their lawyers and families.
The U.N has also joined in the chorus of condemnation with its most recent Universal Periodic Review. The report noted that “The Committee against Torture was concerned at alleged reports of violence by law enforcement officials, including against minors, at the time of arrest, detention and interrogation, which had amounted to ill-treatment and torture and which had been aimed at, among other things, eliciting confessions, some of which had allegedly resulted in death.”
The dark side of the moon
Earlier this year, leading Romanian anti-corruption journalists working with two national TV broadcasters presented audio and video evidence apparently showing DNA prosecutors routinely faking documents, fabricating evidence. The claims and allegations made in the reports, include DNA officials admitting to planting evidence, blackmailing witnesses, falsifying official records and statements and aggressively seizing assets, caused uproar across the country, forcing DNA Director, Laura Kövesi to address the allegations during a public press conference, something previously unheard of in Romania.
Kövesi has said the DNA has said the entire justice system has been under attack by fake news, but if there is any merit to the allegations, any one of these illegal actions would be enough to bring down any number of some of the high-profile cases. The scale and audacity of these activities are breath-taking.
The fallout resulted in Romania’s Justice Minister, Tudorel Toader, officially recommending that Kövesi be removed from office. Romania’s centre-right President Klaus Iohannis has defended Kövesi throughout the affair, saying in mid-February that he did not “ see any reason at this time to remove the head of the DNA of her duties.” Kövesi claims she has “always respected the law”.
There is no doubt that there are many hard-working and well-intentioned prosecutors and lawyers at the DNA who are appalled by these allegations. But if there is truth to the independent reports and undercover tapes – they point to a cabal of ruthless and corrupt prosecutors, led from the very top, who are willing to break every rule and abuse every power to secure a conviction – and in doing so, make a mockery of the notion of Romanian justice.
If the allegations of abuse on this scale are found to be true, if indeed these abuses are systemic throughout the judiciary, then the country may find itself in the firing line of allies who are very quickly running out of patience. Romania’s own constitution protects the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and yet, if proven true, the allegations and evidence put forth suggest the country is currently failing to uphold its own promises, let alone the numerous international regulations and treaties, of which Romania is a signatory, that bind all countries to the same high standards.
There is far too much growing evidence to ignore the issue any longer. The allegations referenced in the HRWF report, as well as those made by the Henry Jackson Society and countless others, ought to be urgently investigated. If found to be true, it is time for the EU and other international partners to act. With Romania due to take over the Presidency of the EU Council in January 2019, what is at stake is nothing less than the democratic future of their entire country.