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August report on watchdog activities from Romania

Protests against gold mining at Rosia Montana

The headline of the second part of the month seems to be the series of protests against the Rosia Montana mining project. By short, the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) led by Gabriel Resources (Canada) as a major shareholder acted in order to mine for gold in Rosia Montana, a small locality in Alba County by using cyanide. For more than 14 years a struggle has been going on among the supporters and the opponents of the project, including alleged bribes, media influence, and controversial political decisions. The project has been tagged by many as an initiative that affects the freedom of expression and information or the right to property (for the opponents), but also the freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work or the freedom to conduct a business, according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Protests through art prove to be catchier for the Romanian public. One of their many forms is Fânfest, a festival that has been organized every year since 2004 in order to protest against the environmental disaster that could become Rosia Montana.

In 2013, the event was organized between 16th and 18th August and included shows, concerts, theatre performance, activist social forum, children’s area, workshops, film projections or other events that brought together thousands of participants. The activist music, workshops or theatre joined with the advocacy efforts of saving houses that are part of the patrimony, through the “Adopt a house” programme that included demonstrative workshops on traditional crafts and the promotion of the local landscape through guided tours.

The Activist Social Forum gathered activists, students, peasants, civil society organizations and informal movements and groups from all over the world that are either fighting against exploitation projects or questioning the governments and share their experience. The topics of the Forum included: alternative development, grassroots groups, campaigns and social movements, cultural heritage, campaigns against cyanide mining.

The festival ended with a protest march against the mining project. The participants came from both Romania and abroad and showed their intention to meet the Parliament in order to present the risks of the approval of the mining project.

The story continues…

Miners.

The Minister of Culture, Daniel Barbu recently visited the site together with a few members of the Parliamentarian Commission for UNESCO. They met – in a series of meetings that has been catalogued as directed and prearranged – with representatives of the local administration and with RMGC, the Corporation that is majority-owned by Gabriel Resources (Canada) while the Romanian state holds about 20%, a fact that has been constantly criticized by the civil society.  The opponents of the projects, such as the Alburnus Maior Association refused to meet with the representatives of the government, as the meeting would have taken place in a location that will be restored by RMGC and transformed into a hotel.

The center of the locality was occupied by both miners and representatives of the company and opponents representing ecological organizations that criticize the project. The civil society did not manage to perform a proper opposition – and therefore, did not manage to properly perform its functions –  as it was overwhelmed by the representatives of the other side.

Overall, the main conclusion stated by Mr. Daniel Barbu was that the locality is not prepared to be introduced on UNESCO lists, as the Roman galleries need to be preserved and the buildings need to the restored. Still, the project affects both the environment and the historical sites.

Protests z Bucharest.Meanwhile, in Bucharest…

After the project has been awaiting the approval for more than 14 years, the Government sent a legislative project to the Parliament that will practically permit RMGC to open the mine. The opponents of the project state that this political decision will cancel or override the current legislation and will make the assessment reports useless. The government declared the national importance of the project and allowed the modification of legislative acts, including those regulating private property, so that the mine could be opened. One strange decision comes from Prime Minister Victor Ponta that signed the document, but publicly declared that as a parliamentarian he will not vote for its approval as a law.

 

Nationwide protests against the Government

Photo from the protest in Balrad.This decision started a public movement of the opponents that occupied the streets on 1st of September in Bucharest, Cluj Napoca, Alba Iulia, Oradea, Brașov, Sibiu or Timișoara and other cities. The protests were also organized outside Romania, near the embassies. In Bucharest, more than 3000 protesters (or even 5000 to some estimation) occupied some of the central streets and protested in front of the Government. The media did not present the events professionally and many TV stations – some of them promoting and supporting the project – did not included live transmissions or news in their shows or bulletins. The protests will continue.

In the same time, about 3000 persons protested in Barlad against the shale gas exploitation through hydraulic fracturing. The citizens have a long history of protesting against the American company Chevron that received it permits from the Romanian authorities and can start working. The public movement has been led by the Initiative Group of the Barlad Civil society, composed of lawyers, ecologists and priests.

In both cases, the civic organizations played an important role, as they fought for the right to life as the cyanide could endanger the life of inhabitants, to association, as it kept the stakeholders united and got other citizens involved, freedom of speech and the right to property, by involving citizens, by using their alerting functions and by aiming to create a change in the governing system. These events are part of a longer series of protest against both local and central authorities and the organizations will probably play a significant role in the cohesion of the protesting groups, even though their efficiency is not always at the highest peak.

The drama of the public finances

The Government passed at the end of July a budgetary rectification without applying the provisions of the Sunshine Law (transparency in decision making) and therefore did not put the document in public consultation, due to emergency arguments, as the officials stated. Still, a formal consultation with the social partners existed. Under these conditions, Funky Citizens, a specialized organization on public finances and civic participation exerted pressure on the Ministry of Finances and sent a request for organizing a public debate – although the Ordinance has already been published in the Official Gazette.

An informal meeting was organized by the Ministry of Finances on 9th August, including the presence of two state secretaries, public officials from the Ministry, NGOs and citizens. Although the meeting aimed at publicly debating the budgetary rectification, the discussion were rather oriented on transparency, access to information, open data, budgetary issues and collaboration between the public administration and the NGOs and citizens. One of the main topics was built around the European funding, including the fiscal legislation that creates significant issues to the beneficiaries or the lack of capacity from the ministries that operate with European funds. Also, the participants asked from more transparency regarding the budgetary execution and the publication of the documents in open data. A difficult issue, even for the Ministry of Finances, is the transparency of the local administrations that are controlled just partially by the central institutions and function under the principle of autonomy.

Through this debate, the NGOs managed to exert pressure and remind the officials of their duties, but also pressed for the system change, by applying and adjusting the law and also by creating new working mechanisms for the above mentioned topics. Also, the participants asked for the better implementation of the principle of expression and information.

Romania needs leaders with attitude

Liderjust, an organization made of young magistrates and law professional tackled the issue of lack of leaders in the Romanian society – especially in justice – and organized an one week summer school (Sinaia, 24th-31st August), Leaders with attitude. The event gathered participants from the justice system (judges, prosecutors and lawyers), but also from the civil society (experts working with anticorruption and decisional transparency), as well as from the business (managers), potential change factors.

Leadership with attitude.

The purpose of the summer school was to develop the capacity of the participants to develop a vision for change in the Romanian justice and to become leaders in their field of activity. All the participants are relatively new in their fields of activity, having less than five years of experience, but have the potential of becoming a new generation of change actors, by developing visions for consolidating the system, learning communication, negotiation or project management skills and primarily, by learning what it takes to become a leader. Therefore, the main objective of the project is to create a critical mass of professionals that could conduct system change, exert pressures on the system and influence citizens to be part of the change. Also, Liderjust aims to create a network that could create and implement projects with the purpose to attract more and more professionals from justice.

The event brought together some of the best trainers in good governance and anticorruption (Codru Vrabie), communication and public speaking (Cosmin Alexandru), education and motivational skills (Mihai Drăgoi) and change of paradigm in the educational system (Marian Stas).

What happens when a consolidated democracy gives bad examples?

More than 150 civil society organizations from all over the world defending human rights reacted against the sentence given in the case of Edward Snowden, a computer analyst working for the CIA and NSA who gave secret information to the press regarding the mass surveillance programs the US and UK perform.

They exerted pressure over President Barrack Obama and the US administration through a public letter to end the prosecution against Edward Snowden – who has fled to Russia and received temporary asylum – and other whistleblowers. Instead of opening an investigation against the responsible for ordering and conducting one “of the most unprecedented global violations of our rights, the US government has chosen to figuratively shoot the messenger”, states the press release.

Article 19 is an organization that envisages a world where people are free to speak their opinions, to participate in decision-making and to make informed choices about their lives. In accordance to their mission, the organization, together with 150 CSOs, including two Romanian ones, Activewatch and the Centre for Investigative Journalism, expressed its worries about the persecution of whistleblowers by one of the world’s greatest democracies.

The petitioners invoked the right to liberty and security, the right to protection of personal data, the freedom of expression and information and equality before the law and asked President Obama to drop the charges against Snowden and reinstate his passport – and in the same time quit to block his attempts to get asylum -, initiate a public consultation over the activity of the National Security Agency, enhance the protection of whistleblowers.

The signatories also express their worries about the example the US might give to the rest of the governments, taking into consideration the manhunt that has been organized against Snowden. By using this pretext, almost any country could start actions against whistle blowing and freedom of speech.

When do media become a threat to the state?

A criminal inquiry into a blackmail business done by one the representatives of Intact Media Group, a major media company in Romania triggered a public campaign against some of the public institutions that performed the investigations. Antena 3, one of the TV stations controlled by Romanian mogul Dan Voiculescu has been put under investigation, along with some of its managers for blackmailing a major cable company. Still, the inquiry generated a strong reaction from the news station that publicly exercised pressures over the justice system. Under these conditions, Freedom House Romania, Expert Forum and the Group for Social Dialogue criticized the public position of the TV network for putting pressure over the president of the Superior Council of Magistracy, the Chief Prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate and the prosecutors in-charge of the case. Through this type of action, the right to freedom of thought, expression and information have been broken. The NGOs reminded that the National Council for the Audiovisual (CNA) did not react to this breach of the legal provisions, as it should have had imposed sanctions.

The press release sent by the three organizations reminded that this type of action has also been criticized in 2012 by the European Commission after the crisis created by the suspension of President Traian Basescu and included in the latest report published within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The Commission drew the attention over the pressures exerted over the judiciary with no reaction from the CAN that proved to be inefficient in enforcing the legislation.

The organizations also stated that the justice and the public institutions cannot be replaced by the mass media and the indicated station cannot function above the law. Also, they reminded that putting the names of the magistrates near the names of notorious tortures such as Alexandru Vișinescu – currently investigated for crimes against humanity during the communist regime – is not only defamatory, but it is also  mocking the victims of the totalitarian regime.

Functional policies for the civil society

The lack of functional public policies will represent a continuous concern for the civil society taking into consideration its expert role in developing, organizing consultations, implementing and evaluating policies. The NGOs in their domains of interest develop advocacy campaigns in order to convince the decision makers of the necessity of the desired policy.

The governments have never had a true interest into supporting the development of the NGO sector. Although there have been developed public policies and an institutional framework – that was very different from government to government – the true focus on the needs of the CSOs has never been visible, neither in terms of legislation nor of true collaboration or funding.

Under these conditions, two Romanian NGOs specialized in capacity building for the civil society, The Agency for the Information and Development of Non-Governmental Organizations (AID-ONG) and CENTRAS are currently using the change implementation function through a project that has the aim of reshaping and building instruments of public policy that could facilitate the development and better functioning of the third sector.

Currently, the legislation in the field allows NGOs to function properly, but not necessarily supports them. According to the implementers such a policy could be available in two or three years. The working plan of the two NGOs includes the elaboration of documents such as the COMPACTS, position and analysis papers, codes and the government’s policy in NGOs and the creation of multiple working groups that will manage the development of the project. During the summer, multiple meetings have taken place among the NGOs. The latest was organized on the 23rd of August and included debates about COMPACTS, the analysis report evaluating the public policies in Romania and the report on the optimization of the relation with the Government.

The initiative group also had its third meeting and established the topics and methodology for organizing an event in the Parliament, in order to publicly release the documents and for setting up the next edition of the National Forum of the Nongovernmental Organizations in Romania.

NGOs fighting for equal access to justice

The Center for Legal Resources continued its work in the case of Valentin Campeanu, a young man with intellectual disabilities that died in suspicious conditions in Poiana Mare Psychiatry Hospital, in 2004. After taking all the legal steps according to the Romanian legislation, the organization together with Interights addressed the European Court of Human Rights that will be holding a hearing on the 4th September 2013. The great stake about this case is to determine the state to modify its legislation so that persons with intellectual disabilities can be represented in front of the court by non-governmental organizations.

By aiming to change the system, CRJ also put in the public light the way the Romanian state breaks some of the important provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, such as the right to life, the right to dignity, the right to the integrity of the person or the prohibition of torture and degrading treatments. The situation is even more serious as the Romanian institutionalized centers are not for the first time in the center of the attention – the foreign media presented shocking cases in orphanages. There have been public cases in which the institutions breached the rights to non-discrimination or did not secure the right to the integration of the persons with disabilities.

The Center also organized on the 29th August the debate “Valentin Campeanu Case, deceased in suspicious circumstances at the Poiana Mare Psychiatry Hospital in 2004, a CEDO premiere”, with participants from the civil society and the mass media. The organization released a documentary about the access to justice for the institutionalized disabled persons in Romania and Bulgaria.

                                                                                                                                                                       

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.

                                                                                                                                                                        

This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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