Romania: Human Rights Advocate Found Murdered

One day after the death of Matthew Shepard, a human-rights activist in Romania was assassinated, in an attack which may have been linked to his apparent homosexuality or to his work in exposing official corruption. However, police have since declared his death a "sex crime" and a "homosexual murder" -- a way both of dismissing his killing, and of implying that homosexuals bear ultimate responsibility for violence committed against themselves.

Stefan Itoafa, a lawyer and journalist in the coastal city of Constanta, was coordinator of the city's chapter of the League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADO), a respected national human-rights organization. On October 13, his body was discovered in his apartment. He had been stabbed and his throat had been cut; his hands were tied behind his back. Police called the crime a "particularly cruel and savage killing."

According to news reports, a fellow attorney, Sorin Calafus, stated that Itoafa's work had "upset a number of influential figures in the town." In conversations with a representative of Human Rights Watch, Nicolae Stefanescu-Draganesti -- national president of LADO -- observed that Itoafa had been investigating connections between Constanta police and organized crime.

Within days, however, police had released information to the press on Itoafa's alleged homosexuality. Their explanation for the crime changed concurrently. As the national newspaper Cronica Romana explained on October 19, police now believed that Itoafa had been the victim of a "jealous lover," who was outraged by the fact that "'Stephanie de Monaco' -- as Stefan was known in the circles which he frequented -- wished to marry." The media now concentrated on recounting lurid details from the autopsy, which had "revealed beyond doubt that Stefan had previously engaged in anal sexual contact."

The controversy was reminiscent of police investigations, and press coverage, of other recent acts of violence against gay men in Romania. It particularly echoed the murder of Ion Luchian Mihalea, a popular musician, in 1993. Mihalea was beaten and strangled to death in his apartment; police employed revelations about his sexual life to convey the notion that an act of violence against a homosexual could be reclassified as "homosexual violence." This in turn was used by conservative forces inside and outside Parliament to muster opposition to repealing Romania's laws against consensual homosexual relations.

Since that time, both police and the mainstream press have repeatedly painted homosexuals as potential criminals, subject to jealous rages which lead to murder. A colonel in the Bucharest Municipal Police, often quoted on this subject, told a journal in 1996 that "Murders among homosexuals have distinctive features . . . The homosexual killer operates with premeditation, surprising the victim (often in a home they share), acting with a ferocity typically moved by savage jealousy .. . . The danger does not disappear at all in the case of homosexual couples. Their jealousy is pathological."

IGLHRC is concerned that, in this climate, the murder of Stefan Itoafa will not be adequately investigated, nor will those responsible be fairly tried or punished. IGLHRC is also concerned that misinformation concerning the murder will be employed with the object of promoting homophobia in the general population.

IGLHRC asks for letters to the President and the Minister o f Justice of Romania. These letters should demand a full and fair investigation of the murder of Stefan Itoafa, if necessary by national authorities rather than by the local Constanta police. Letters should also insist that both President and Minister of Justice publicly condemn attempts to hold homosexuals responsible for acts of violence committed against them. They should ask that these officials call for an atmosphere of tolerance and open discussion, rather than one of prejudice and fear. They should also insist that the officials press publicly for an end to legal provisions which sanction private, consensual sexual acts between adults--as well as to provisions criminalizing "propaganda" for homosexuality, which render reasoned discussion of these issues subject to prosecution.

Write to:

President Emil Constantinescu
Presedinte al Romaniei
Palatul Cotroceni
Bucuresti, Romania
fax 401 411 3131
Dl. Ministru Valeriu Stoica
Ministerul Justitiei
B-dul Kogalniceanu nr. 33
Bucuresti, Romania
tel. 401 614 4400
fax 401 315 5389