“Romania needs to strengthen its institutional framework to better protect the rights of persons with disabilities, and should step up the efforts to combat violence against women,” said Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday, at the end of her five-day visit to Romania.
“While certain measures were taken to improve the legislative framework for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, serious shortcomings persist in respect of its implementation. Moreover, the current reform process which aims to decrease the number of institutionalised persons falls short of providing for the genuine structural changes needed to ensure their access to community-based services,” says the Commissioner.
Concerning the functioning of institutions, the Commissioner noted with concern that the present overlapping competencies given to different authorities and monitoring bodies involved in the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities not only weaken their mandates, but also affect the successful performance of their duties. “The responsible institutions should complete each other’s work, rather than compete with one another,” she says.
The Commissioner is equally concerned that the legislation still lacks important safeguards as regards involuntary institutionalisation. In addition, the Commissioner regrets that the announced reform concerning the legal representation of persons with disabilities has still not been completed. “I strongly encourage the authorities to bring this process to an end and urge them to ensure that measures taken in this area no longer involve the deprivation of persons with disabilities of their legal capacity.”
The Commissioner visited several residential institutions in Băbeni, where she noted with concern the difficult living conditions of adults with disabilities, including overcrowding, and the lack of services aimed at ensuring transition to independent life. “The authorities should focus on developing community-based services and prevent further institutionalisation”, she says. The Commissioner further noted that small institutions, such as the “Nicoleta” home for children in Băbeni, offer a better alternative to large residential institutions. “However, the authorities should strive to uphold the goal of providing care for children in a family environment.”
The Commissioner underscores the importance of Romania’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) in 2016 and urges the authorities to reinforce capacity-building measures to ensure that women’s complaints against violence are effectively investigated. “Officials at the highest political levels should send a strong message that gender-based discrimination is unacceptable. In addition, victim protection should be strengthened”.
With a view to ensuring better protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities and of victims of domestic violence, the Commissioner stresses that it is crucial to fully implement the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, such as in the cases of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania and Bălşan v. Romania which concern these two pressing human rights issues.
In her meetings with the authorities the Commissioner also highlighted the importance of the participation of civil society in the protection of the rights of vulnerable people and urges them to enhance their cooperation with NGOs.
The Commissioner also underlines the importance of maintaining the independence of the judiciary and urges the authorities to give effect to the recommendations of the Venice Commission and GRECO. “The authorities should carry out the reform in full compliance with Romania’s international human rights obligations”.
Lastly, Commissioner Mijatović calls for the protection of journalists’ right to confidential sources. Noting with concern that Romania’s data protection authority recently requested that RISE Project – a journalism organisation based in Bucharest – disclose information on the sources of their investigative report on a case of alleged fraud involving European funds, or face the threat of a 20 million Euro fine in case of non-compliance, the Commissioner urges the Romanian authorities to withdraw these measures and avoid similar cases in the future.
In the course of her visit, the Commissioner met with the Prime Minister of Romania, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Labour and Social Justice, representatives of the Ministry of Health and the First Deputy to the Prosecutor General, as well as representatives of the National Authorities for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption and for Persons with Disabilities and of the National Agency for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. She also met the Ombudsman, the Presidents of the National Council for Combating Discrimination and of the Council for the Monitoring of the implementation of the CRPD, local authorities and representatives of civil society.
The Commissioner’s report on her visit to Romania is forthcoming.