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EU concerned about rights abuses in Romania

A respected human rights organisation has voiced “real concern” about what it says is deteriorating judicial oversight in Romania

By: EBR - Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018

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But by “turning a blind eye” to this, he warned the European Union risks encouraging other countries in the region to follow Romania’s example, using the “fight against corruption” as a smokescreen to weaken democratic standards.  It is an environment that provides the perfect breeding ground for the type of creeping authoritarianism we are seeing in Hungary and Poland, Clarke said.
But by “turning a blind eye” to this, he warned the European Union risks encouraging other countries in the region to follow Romania’s example, using the “fight against corruption” as a smokescreen to weaken democratic standards. It is an environment that provides the perfect breeding ground for the type of creeping authoritarianism we are seeing in Hungary and Poland, Clarke said.

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by Martin Banks

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) also spoke about the “lack of fair trials and deplorable prison conditions” prevalent in Romania.  Fautre told the meeting at Brussels press club that “the worsening of some fundamental issues” in Romania is increasingly recognized by international institutions.

However, another speaker said he was concerned that the EU was “turning a blind eye” to such shortcomings.  David Clarke, a political expert, condemned the Commission for “falsifying Romania’s record” in its reports on the country’s judicial situation.  Clarke said, “The EU appears to be deliberately avoiding criticism of Romania and, while I understand the sensitivities involved, that is a cause for concern.”

On Wednesday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans also expressed concerns with regards to the latest developments in Romania regarding the independence of Romania's judicial system and its capacity to fight corruption.

The statement read: "The Commission again warns against backtracking and will look thoroughly at the final amendments to the justice law, the criminal codes and laws on conflict of interest and corruption to determine the impact on efforts to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and combat corruption."

Opening the debate, Fautre pointed out that, in November 2017, Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the Commission, said in the “Commission reports on progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism” that challenges to judicial independence in Romania was  “a serious source of concern.”

Fautre said the Commission noted that the overall reform momentum in the course of 2017 had stalled, slowing down the fulfilment of the EU’s remaining recommendations, and with a risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as closed.  Fautre added, “This negative state of affairs had also been repeatedly raised by the European Court in several judgments.”  In April last year, the court found, he said, that Romania had violated the European convention on human rights.

Fautre said the five complainants in the case complained in particular of overcrowding in their cells, lack of space, mould on the walls, lack of natural light and hygiene, inadequate sanitary facilities, poor quality food the presence of rats and insects in cells.  He also cited comments made by Timmermans as recently as November when the Dutch official said, “Romania has met some of our recommendations, but there is not enough progress yet on others. Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern.”

The commission’s last report on Romania took stock of progress in the past ten years and identified 12 specific recommendations which would help the country move towards fulfilling the CVM benchmarks.  Progress has been made in some areas and, with “respect for judicial independence” and other conditions the EU believes Romania will satisfactorily meet the benchmarks. It will assess progress again towards the end of this year, noted Fautre.

Fautre also raised the case of Romanian businessman Alexander Adamescu who lives in London and faces a European Arrest Warrant against him for allegedly being an accomplice in a fraud case, a charge he strongly denies.  He said, “The UK (in a Brexit process) should not deport Adamescu on the basis of Romania’s poor record in terms of fair trials and the deplorable detention conditions which have been confirmed by new European reports. This is all the more so given that he says loud and clear that he is innocent and that this is a political-financial settlement of scores.”

Another guest speaker, Daniel Dragomir, a former high-level counter-terrorism chief in Romania, also voiced “serious concerns” about the independence of the country’s judiciary and “interference” by its intelligence services.

Dragomir said the EU should consider taking punitive action against Romania unless these and other pressing issues are addressed.  Dragomir was deputy head of Romania’s counter-terrorism unit from 2001-2013 but quit because he says he was “disillusioned” with the “unconstitutional” way he says the security services were operating.

He told the meeting, organised by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), he wanted to raise awareness, particularly at EU level, of major problems of a member state gearing up to assume the EU presidency.  One includes increasing “collusion” between the security services and the judiciary in Romania which, he says, is designed to “eliminate” the opposition and all voices of dissent.  

This might include the media, public figures and members of the public.  He called this trend ‘Securitate 2.0’, an indirect reference to the country’s former dreaded state police whose practices he believes are now increasingly being employed in Romania.

“This collusion is happening even though Romanian law forbids it,” he told the half-day conference at Brussels Press Club.  Another “huge” issue of concern, he said,  was the recruitment by the security services – sometimes by blackmail – of judges and prosecutors. “This reminds you of something that might be happening in Russia, not an EU member state,” he said.

The “mis-use” by the Romanian authorities of Interpol’s Red Notices and the European Arrest Warrant often merely for “politically motivated” reasons, was also concerning, he said. Romania, he pointed out, is third behind Turkey and Russia in the number of applications for such notices/warrants.

Some of the most troubling allegations in Romania, however, concern the close relationship between the DNA and the Romanian intelligence service (SRI), the successor to the feared communist-era Securitate secret police.  What he calls “large scale” surveillance, including physical and electronic, of the population is also commonplace in Romania, he said.

He cited his own case as an example of “serious shortcomings” in the penal and judicial system, saying that soon after leaving his post with the counter-terrorism unit, he was arrested and detained for one year on “trumped up” charges. Five of the charges were subsequently withdrawn and he was given a suspended sentence for the other. His wife was also arrested but not detained. “This means that I remain under preventive control and have to report once a week to the police in Bucharest,” he said.

Similar concerns were expressed by another speaker, David Clarke, a political expert on Eastern Europe and former special advisor at the UK foreign office from 1997 to 2001. He said the recent rise of the populist right populist right in Hungary and Poland has raised the alarm about the future of democracy in Europe, as constitutional safeguards, media pluralism and civil society come under sustained attack.  But there is another threat hiding: the abuse of anti-corruption laws in Romania, a country often lauded as an example of successful reform in central and eastern Europe.

But by “turning a blind eye” to this, he warned the European Union risks encouraging other countries in the region to follow Romania’s example, using the “fight against corruption” as a smokescreen to weaken democratic standards.  It is an environment that provides the perfect breeding ground for the type of creeping authoritarianism we are seeing in Hungary and Poland, Clarke said.

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