"I am seriously concerned by a number of reported cases of inhuman and degrading treatment of persons with disabilities living in closed institutions. Romania needs to set up an efficient national mechanism for the prevention of torture to safeguard the protection of the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty", said today Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after his five-day visit to Romania.
The Commissioner visited a residential institution in Tancabesti, near Bucharest, which hosts more than 50 infants, children and young people with disabilities. "Isolating children with disabilities in institutions like the one I visited cannot but lead to the deterioration of their health and to their social exclusion. Placing persons with disabilities in institutions perpetuates their stigmatisation and marginalisation, in violation of their right to live independently in the community, guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by which Romania is bound. A strong commitment to de-institutionalisation and to promoting the autonomy of persons with disabilities is needed to overcome this regrettable practice".
Measures should also be taken to replace substituted decision-making with supported decision-making for persons with psycho-social or intellectual disabilities. "Regrettably, recent changes in domestic legislation did not bring about the abolition of full incapacitation and plenary guardianship. I urge the authorities to align legislation with the CRPD so as to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life".
The Commissioner welcomed the re-establishing of the National Authority for Child Protection and hopes that it will give a new impetus to the authorities' efforts to combat the negative trends of the past few years affecting in particular children from disadvantaged social groups, such as Roma and persons suffering from extreme poverty.
The Commissioner was particularly worried about the situation of more than 80 000 children left behind by their parents who work abroad. "I urge the authorities to strengthen the protection of these children who are badly affected by the absence of their parents. Urgent measures should be taken in order to provide necessary health care and ensure the social inclusion of more than 5 000 street children living in deplorable conditions in Bucharest and other cities of Romania. In this context, the Health Ministry's plan of creating community health care centres is very positive."
The Commissioner welcomed the measures taken by the authorities as of 2013, which have led to the registration of almost 5 000 Roma children and the issuing of identification documents to more than 30 000 adults. "I encourage the authorities to continue these efforts, which are essential for enjoying the fundamental social rights of access to health care and education."
Commissioner Muižnieks noted with satisfaction the successful measures adopted by Romania to include Roma children and youth in the education system and to promote the teaching of the Romani language and Roma history in schools. "However, the reported school drop-out rate of Roma pupils, 36%, is still too high. I urge the authorities to allocate funds and make better use of the Roma mediators, a very useful tool of social mediation that originates from Romania, only half of whom are currently employed".
Lastly, while noting with satisfaction the anti-discrimination framework existing in the domestic legislation and the work of the National Council for Combating Discrimination, the Commissioner urges the authorities to step up action against hate crimes. "I am concerned at the fact that Romanian authorities appear to underestimate the incidence of racist hate crime in the country, affecting primarily Roma. Despite continued reports of such crimes by NGOs and the media, in 2013 the courts handled no cases. Particular attention needs to be paid to the recording of hate speech and hate crime and ensuring that law enforcement officers and legal professionals are adequately and systematically trained to be able to recognise and effectively investigate and sanction crimes committed notably with a racist motive".
The Commissioner's report following this visit is forthcoming.