Romania: President To Pardon Some Gay And Lesbian Inmates

In a historic meeting, the President of Romania promised to pardon all prisoners currently jailed under his country's draconian laws penalizing sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. During the hour-long session, held in Bucharest's Presidential Palace on January 15th, President Emil Constantinescu was briefed on the status of gays and lesbians in Romania by Scott Long, advocacy coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and by Jeri Laber, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch.

The President was given a copy of a report, published by Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, detailing a pattern of systematic abuse of the most basic human rights of Romania's sexual minorities. The report, titled Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania, demonstrates that despite recent amendments to the criminal code provisions relating to homosexual conduct, gays and lesbians continue to be arrested and convicted if their sexual relations become public knowledge. They face frequent physical abuse and harassment by law enforcement officials, as well as systematic discrimination in many walks of life. In 1996, for example, Gabriel Presnac and Radu Vasiliu were beaten brutally by police and now face five years' imprisonment for kissing and holding hands in a public place. Romanian law not only prohibits private sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex (under article 200 paragraph 1), but may also be interpreted to punish speech and association that expresses a homosexual identity (under article 200 paragraph 5): in one case, Mariana Cetiner was arrested and now serves a three-year prison term for merely asking another woman to have sexual relations with her.

President Constantinescu promised to pardon all prisoners convicted under article 200 paragraph 1 and article 200 paragraph 5, including Mariana Cetiner. The President stated that his pardon should send a signal to the Romanian public and added, "Homosexuality is the last remaining human rights problem we have to address in Romania, and we will address it."

"We are very encouraged by the President's response," said Mr. Long, "but we will have to wait and see how the decision is implemented. We will monitor the situation closely." Currently neither the President nor the Minister of Justice have a final list of prisoners convicted under article 200 paragraph 1 or 5. According to Romanian law, the prisoners themselves will have to individually petition the President for a pardon in order to initiate the proceedings. "We are mindful that the President's pardons are not equivalent to a repeal of the discriminatory laws," declared Mr. Long. "We call on the Romanian Parliament to follow the President's lead and put an end to the abuse."

The unprecedented meeting with the President Constantinescu was preceded by similar gatherings with Romania's Prime Minister, Justice Minister, General Inspector of Police, General Director of Penitentiaries, and members of the Senate's Human Rights and Judiciary Committees.