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SEPTEMBER – A MONTH OF PROTESTS IN ROMANIA

ROSIA MONTANA SCANDAL CONTINUES

Even if the story began more than 14 years ago, the latest protests seem to represent the top of its contestation as the Government passed a law to the Parliament through which Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) would receive extensive rights. This was one of the factors that determined citizens to get out in the street and exercise their fundamental rights to expression, assembly and thought and ask for a better administration of public goods.

The NGOs are not the main pillar of the movement as will to change the system came from an exntensive citizens’ discontent. Still, they used their expertise in good administration and ecological issues, alerted the public opinion on several topics related to the project and aimed at assuring the implementation of fundamental rights included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: access to information, association, free expression, equality in fron of the law. On the other side, RMGC and the miners’ unions asked for their right to social security and fair and just working conditions.

The first protests started in September and became a habit for more than 10.000-15.000 people each weekend protesting against bad governance and for the right to a proper life. The protests moved to the neighborhoods, in an attempt to attract supporters and culminated with a saven kilometers human chain around the Parliament on the 22nd of September. Protests were organized all over the country in major cities such as Cluj Napoca, Timișoara, Brașov, Sibiu or Iași.

Human chain.The protests created a shock wave, at the political level, in the media and within the civil society. The media proved to be one of the fiercest opponent of freedom of speech and democracy, as a visible objectivity and lack of argument dictated the editorial policies of major media actors on the market. According to Forbes Magazine, RMGC spent in the past three years and a half about 5.443.663 Euros for publicity in the printed media. An important mean of communication was Facebook where several groups and events were developed and attracted thousands of followers.

The behavior of the media and politicians also inflamed the civil society that was accused of being financed by foreign investors – especially George Soros – to protest and to organize citizens. Accusation were brought to other major international donors such as Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE Trust), a fund to which the Soros Foundation is a contributor. The same speech was found in the public discourse of Romanian politicians, including Prime Minister Ponta. A group of more than 50 NGOs protested against these accusations and sent a public letter to the politicians asking them to stop the accusations regarding financial motivation and underlining that the NGOs are not behind the movements, but rather side by side with the citizens. Later on, Soros Foundation denied its involvement in the protests.

The accusations that the NGOs are the ‘fifth column of the West’, following a non-democratic logic became more and more visible. Recently, the head of the parliamentary commission for SIE (External Intelligence) control, Mihaita Calimente, enforced the declaration that George Soros is behind the protests and this fact might be a threat to the national security. A letter was sent by the NGOs to the political superiors of Mr. Calimente, asking for his dismissal.

The protesters.Unfortunately, too little media channels used arguments as an instrument of debate. On the other side, NGOs used their expertise in both good governance and ecological issues in order to bring arguments in the public space. Expert Forum published a short brief asking from the politicians to put into practice the right to good administration. The report enumerates the steps that should be taken by the government: redraw the law, dismiss minister Dan Sova – promoter of the project, publicize the license and apply transparency. Moreover, RMGC should stop recruiting officials and opinion leaders as it leads to the discredits the project. Cartel Alfa Confederation and Activewatch proposed alternatives for mining, in services, industry and tourism, by using structural funding.

Pro Patrimonio Association, based on its expertise in historical sites stated in a press conference that the organization financed an archeological report for including Cavnic Massive in the UNESCO list, a report that was never published. The organization considered that the right to documents has been violated and sued the institution led by Minister of Culture, Daniel Barbu. An official, but laconic press release contradicts the objectors.

A Parliamentary has been established. Its calendar includes hearings, on-site visits and meetings with the protesters. Protesters, NGOs, ministers or other public officials met with the MPs. Eugen David, President of Alburnus Maior Association that leads Save Roșia Montana Campaign contested the componence of the commission by stating that some of the members have already lobbied for RMGC and refused to meet with the representatives of the Commission that visited Rosia Montana.

MORE CIVIC PROTESTS

Another subject that heated the politicians, the media and the citizens is the issue of stray dogs. After the death of a child at the beginning of September, public voices, including high ranking politicians such as President Traian Băsescu asked for the promulgation of the law regarding the management of the dogs. The high stake was the right to life or the euthanasiation if the animals were not adopted after 14 days. The law was sent to the Constitutional Court that rejected it more than a year ago due to constitutional and technical faults. The act passed the Court with a majority of votes on the 25th September.

The right to association and free assembly has been put into practice, as regular protests have been organized mostly in Bucharest for and against the euthanasiation of the dogs. The right to NGOs working in this field, such as Pfoten Vier used their technical experience in order to contradict the declarations of some local officials that accused the lack of legal framework giving them attribution to handle dogs, but also the high costs of management in some cities, such as Bucharest. A number of 45 representatives of NGOs participated at the final debate in the Parliament and boycotted the vote by turning their backs to the MPs when the final voting took place. The NGO Federation for Children composed of more than 75 organizations drew the attention of the authorities of the high number of children bitten by dogs and also about the rights of the children, including intimacy and the fact that they were breached during the current scandal.

WHERE IS THE ROMANIAN CIVIL SOCIETY IN 2013?

The Civil Society Development Foundation (FDSC) released the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI), an instrument used since 1997 to assess the sustainability of the CSO sector based on seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. The instrument is developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is lead in each country by a local partners that works with panels of CSO experts, with expertise from different domains.

The Romanian 2012 index analyzes the development of the civil society in the past year and shows significant difficulties that occured in the CSOs’ activities, but does not differ significantly from the past two years. The experts rated Romania at 3.5 (out of 7) regarding the sustainability, as financing is scarce and the competition is high. The European funding had a perverse effect and generated significant issues to the beneficiaries. The legal environment (3.6) has been confronted with the attempt – repeated – of the government to limit the activity of the NGOs by forbiding a list of terms from their names (such as institute or council), leading to the liquidation of some organizations. The organizational capacity (3.6) is marked by human resources volatility, issues related to funding and scarce office technology. After the 2012 protests against the government some of the NGOs attracted membership, but most of them still have an unclear constituency.

The financial viability (4.3) shows that the most of the financing comes from the state and EU funding and CSOs try to diversify their financial sources, through fundraising (events, 2% mechanism etc) or economic activities. More than half of the qustionned NGOs considered that their funding is not enough. Advocacy (3.4) was difficult to be put into practice in 2012 due to frequent political changes. Still, NGOs were active and communicated with the local and central government, proposed policy sets and engaged into activities related to elections or public policies. NGOs are struggling to provide services (3.1) due to low funding, but create jobs through the developing social economy. If we talk about the image of the sector (3.6), just a minority of Romanian CSOs have well-established connections with media outlets and journalists and a greater percentage use social media to promote their activities.

THE REGIONAL DIMENSION OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY

One of the annual events that brings together civil society from Eastern Europe is the Black Sea NGO Forum. The 6th Edition, entitled “Building Sustainable and Effective Regional Cooperation” took place between 4th and 6th September, in Bucharest offered the opportunity to NGOs to meet and exchange information about watchdog activities, national and regional projects and future plan. Human rights and good governance have been some of the central topics.

The first day was dedicated to presentations on experiences and good practice on regional cooperation that can be drawn from the triangle Baltic Sea – Mediterranean Sea – Black Sea and also from the complementarity between the Black Sea NGO Forum and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, as both initiatives have similar objectives.

The second day was dedicated to presentations of donors and public institutions on financial instruments for supporting civil society cooperation initiatives in the Black Sea Region and specialized workshops that permitted participants to share experience from their own countries, but also to establish potential partnerships. Some of the topics were: regional cooperation mechanisms for child protection, good governance and local development, public administration authorities and NGOs. Some of the principles of the Charter of Fundamental rights have been transversal to all topics: good administration, non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, right to education or the access to documents. The workshops moderated by experts aimed to answer to some of the relevant questions that all the countries in the region face, such as corruption, good governance, human rights or the need to strengthen the cooperation between the civil society and public sector.

The last day was dedicated to debates on how NGOs from this part of Europe can contribute to the development of the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, a platform that was set-up in 2012.

Photo from the conference.JOINT INITIATIVES FOR EXTENDED CONFISCATION

Freedom House has built up expertize on capacity building programs in the area of justice, starting in many cases from the need of standardization of the national judicial system in accordance to the Community norms. Therefore, the project Supporting the confiscation and recovery of proceeds of crime in Romania is aiming to transfer best practices from the European experience, to build capacity of the Romanian law enforcers and to produce track-record and develop public-private partnerships in the prevention and fight against economic and financial crime. The project is implemented in partnership with Romanian and foreign institutions as well as civil society organizations, such as Expert Forum that have the role of contributing with their technical expertise on this system change endeavor.

On 16th September Freedom House brought together Romanian and foreign police officers, prosecutors and criminal law judges at the first event of the project, an international conference entitled Extended Confiscation: How much can we recover? Representatives of Romanian ministries, national and foreign law enforcement agencies as well as embassies explained the importance of this tool. Tiberiu Nitu, the Romanian General Prosecutor emphasized the need to change mentalities of law enforcers in this new context, in which Romania has a new piece of legislation, in order to use extended confiscation. Moreover, Laura Codruta Kovesi, Chief Prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate underlined that criminals prefer spending time in prison than having their property confiscated and therefore the extended confiscation is a deterrence factor. Monica Macovei, the European Parliament’s special rapporteur on the draft Directive concerning the seizure and confiscation of proceeds of crime in the EU presented the importance of the instrument in preventing proceeds of crime being used to feed new organized criminal networks.

A BETTER LAW FOR CLASSIFIED INFORMATION

The Center for Legal Resources (CRJ) asks for a new law for the classified information in order to ensure the right application of access to information as the current legislation and institutional practice need amendments proving that in a democracy the free access to information is the rule and the limitation is the exception.

The arguments, included in a position paper were presented during the public debate entitled Classified information, the right to information and a fair trial organized in Bucharest, on 19th September. The document starts from the implementation of legislation on classified information and contains amendments and a plan of subsequent measures of cooperation between the public institutions with relevant competences and civil society organizations. The conclusion states that thorough changes are needed and a new law would be preferable to the amendment of the current Law no. 182/2002. The participants to the debate included members of the Parliament and other relevant public institutions (such as the Romanian Information Service) judges and lawyers as well as civil society experts.

DIALOGUE FOR JUSTICE WITH THE CIVIL SOCIETY

The platform Dialogue for Justice has been initiated by the Ministry of Justice, with the purpose of working with the civil society in order to bring justice closer to the citizens. The initiative allow NGOs to contribute with their expertise in order to consolidate the judiciary. The second meeting of the platform took place on 14th September in the presence of Robert Cazanciuc and Oleg Efrim, Ministers of Justice in Romania and Republic of Moldova and concentrated on human rights and liberties, judiciary and the cooperation between Romania and Moldova. The Romanian Minister of Justice announced the organizing of the first reunion of Romania- Moldova Legal Forum with the purpose of developing and diversifying common professional experiences.

The minister discussed with the NGO about the mechanisms of public consultation, measuring the satisfaction of justice seekers, publishing ECHR decisions and implementing international commitments. Other topics were related to the necessity of financial support for the institutional consolidation of the judiciary, negotiations on the Partnership Agreement 2014-2020 and future operational programs and grants opportunities within the Financial Norwegian Mechanism 2009-2014.

HEARING BEFORE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

On the 4th September, the Center for Legal Resources (CRJ) took part in a hearing before the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Valentin Câmpeanu vs. România. The stake of the hearing is to create a milestone that will permit NGOs to represent institutionalized citizens with disabilities before the ECHR. Nils Muižnieks, European Commissioner for Human Rights underlined the importance of this issue. Some essential articles of the European Charter are on stake here: right to good administration, right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial or the right to non-discrimination, equality in front of the law and the right to defense.

CRJ draws the attention that such cases can be repeated even today, a fact proved by the recent case from Gheorghe Șerban Center for disable people, where the organization found clear evidence of human rights violations. The management of the institution decide to forbid the access of the experts inside the center. Recently, the 2nd District Court decided that the organization can enter the institution.

More about Valentin Campeanu’s case here.

ADVOCACY FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PRE-TRIAL DETENTION IN THE EU

The Romanian NGO APADOR-CH – specialized in defending human rights and preventing torture – together with other 21 European organizations have sent a letter to Ms. Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship asking for the reduction of the length of pre-trial detention in the European Union. The signatories ask the Commission to introduce “a proposal to include the development, production and dissemination of statistics on pre-trial detention in the European statistical programme to assess the use of alternatives to, and length of, pre-trial detention in Member States and the numbers of cases in which non-nationals are permitted to return home pending trial” and to commit to establish under the next Commission work programme minimum European standards on pre-trial detention and to review the need for a legislative proposal if the statistical work shows that this is needed.

The CSOs show that in many countries the rights of the persons that are in detention are violated and in some countries such as Spain, a prisoner can wait up to four years to get to trial. Moreover, in 2011, more than 50 NGOs answered to a call by the European Parliament that proposed a legislative initiative on the rights of persons deprived of their liberty to ensure pre-trial detention that should remain an exceptional measure, used in compliance with the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty. During the consultations, the CSOs recognized that the new EU law would help to address the problems with pre-trial detention in Europe.

MAYORS ASK FOR A BETTER MANAGEMENT OF THE EUROPEAN FUNDING FOR ROMA COMMUNITIES

A number of 23 members of MERI Network (Mayors Making the Most of European Funds for Roma), supported by the Soros Foundation sent an open letter to Mr. Eugen Teodorovici, the Minister of European Funds. The first meeting of the network took place on the 22nd August when the participants discussed their position regarding the structural and cohesion funds and identified the priority topics for the integration of Roma.

Their requests start from the improper implementation of a few fundamental rights, such as education, non-discrimination, social security and social assistance or healthcare. Therefore, the letter sent on 23rd of September raises awareness on the following topics: the insufficient space dedicated to primary education, the need to build multifunctional centers (sanitary, social and medical assistance) in the localities managed by the members of the network, as well as the development of social houses connected to utilities eligible for European funding. The mayors also asked for the adaption of professional qualification programs to the local environment and the development of infrastructure programs with European financing and financial allocation to the Roma communities.

MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Romania organized a debate on the 26th September over the post-215 development agenda. The meeting was the third out of three and the topic was good governance. The purpose was to present the results of a poll about the priorities of citizens in the next years related to governance, but also to get qualitative input from NGOs and international organizations on good governance, anticorruption, public participation and decision making. The participants coming from organizations such as the World Bank, Expert Forum or Activewatch tried to develop a perspective over how the future goals should look like, indicators that should be used for evaluation and mechanisms to determine the authorities to act according to the objectives.

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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