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Europe Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 17:42 GMT
Romania's violent police
Silviu Rosioru was left seriously injured by a beating from the police
By Max Easterman

Silviu Rosioru was enjoying a late-night meal with a friend, when a group of drunken security police attacked him violently, allegedly after he insulted them.. He was beaten for nearly an hour, inside the restaurant, then in the police van parked outside, then at the police station.

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He took months to recover; he has never been given any cogent reason for the attack; he has never been compensated; he has never received an apology. The authorities have not even acknowledged that there was an incident to be investigated.

Silviu Rosioru today
Three highly critical reports in the past five years on Romania's human rights record have highlighted cases like that of Silviu Rosioru. Two of the reports were from Amnesty International, the other from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Romania - like so many other former Communist states - wants to join the European Union - and abuses of human rights have been a major obstacle.

The Rosioru case - and failure to find those responsible - is typical. I started investigating these stories when, by chance, I met an ex-major of the Romanian Police at an asylum seekers' camp in Hungary.

Major Adrian Pitu
Adrian Pītu fled there after he tried to expose the violence and corruption, which he says are routine in the Romanian Police. Major Pītu joined the police just after the Revolution that deposed the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu; he hoped he could help build democracy as a police officer. He was appalled by the reality.

He described to me how he and his fellow officers would be ordered to solve a certain number of crimes each week - or else. Beating confessions to serious crimes out of petty criminals was often the way of meeting the quota. It was, he says, routine - though he would not participate.

The most frequent method was the 'rotisserie.' Suspects were suspended between two tables by a pole passed behind their knees, and the soles of their feet beaten. It was horribly painful, but left few marks.

The Romanian Government concedes that such cases did exist, but insists the police have cleaned up their act. That may be, but a visit to quiet village in Major Pītu's former police district quickly produced evidence of a recent case of police brutality. The victim lost his right testicle and is now impotent.
Mugurel Soare shows how a bullet damaged his head

And there was the case of Mugurel Soare, a Roma or gypsy who was involved in a family argument in Bucharest last May. Three plain-clothes police officers intervened; they claimed Mugurel drew a knife and injured one of them. No knife was ever found.

An officer smashed Mugurel's head against a wall, then shot him at point-blank range through the head. Mugurel is now crippled and cannot speak. Like so many other victims, his case has, apparently, vanished into the police bureaucracy.

A large part of the problem is that the Romanian Police are a highly centralised organisation, with no local accountability or control. They are a military force, with a military command structure and a highly developed military esprit de corps.

There is a bill in Parliament to demilitarise the police, and there are also moves to create British-style local police authorities to improve accountability. None of this has happened yet.

Ovidiu Draganescu
And as Major Pītu found to his cost when he reported his findings to his local MP, Ovidiu Draganescu, exposing problems can be dangerous. Questions in Parliament brought no answers - only threats from his colleagues, and an eventual charge of stealing official documents from the Ministry of the Interior.

In the end, he was forced to flee to Hungary two years ago. He has been fighting to clear his name ever since. But Mr. Draganescu, told me, he had no other option. If he'd stayed, the system would have utterly crushed him.

Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu
The Minister of the Interior, Constantin Dudu Ionescu, told me that the problems had been exaggerated. Corruption is bad, he said, but getting better.

And although there have been cases of violence by the police, most accusations are made by 'delinquents,' trying to avoid criminal charges. The minister argues that Romania is determined to modernise its police and that much progress has already been made.

But many Romanians fear that without a proper recognition of the scale of the problem, change will be very slow.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Activist Manuela Stefanescu, Bucharest Sept 2000
of the Helsinki human rights group in Romania: "We need to learn how to fight for our rights."
Chief Sup Andrew Felton, Romania, Oct 20000
gives a British policeman's view of what's wrong in Romania
Dan Pavel, Bucharest, Romania, Sep 2000
"what is harder is to reform the mentality of policemen"
See also:

09 Aug 00 | Europe
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