Romania: Public Scandals in Romania

Today in Romania, gays and lesbians are routinely denied some of the most basic human rights guaranteed by international law. 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, but may also be interpreted to punish speech and association that expresses a homosexual identity: 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.

Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission thus charged Romania today with sustaining a climate of legalized intolerance toward gays and lesbians. Jeri Laber, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch, and Scott Long, advocacy coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, presented the joint report Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania, at a press conference in Bucharest. "This report documents case after case of detentions, beatings, and harassment directed at gay men and lesbians," stated Mr. Long. "The Romanian government can no longer ignore this issue, they must take action now to stop the abuse".

Article 200 Continues to Punish Homosexuality

A provision dating from the era of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Article 200, paragraph 1 of the Romanian penal code punished "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" with one to five years' imprisonment. The Council of Europe, upon admitting Romania in 1993, insisted that the law be repealed. After three years' delay, during which homosexuality became a fiercely contested political issue, the Romanian parliament in 1996 passed a new version of the law, punishing homosexual acts "committed in public, or causing public scandal," with one to five years' imprisonment. New language also criminalized "inciting or encouraging a person to the practice of sexual relations between persons of the same sex, as well as propaganda or association or any act of proselytism," with the same punishment.

The Romanian government presents these new provisions as a liberalization. Clearly, however, they not only preserve but expand the pretexts under which persons suspected of homosexuality can be arrested and convicted. The broad reference to "public scandal" ensures that private acts need only become known to instigate legal reprisal. It effectively denies gays and lesbians equal access to privacy. Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission also establish that no comparable provision punishes, or even mentions, sexual acts "committed in public" by persons of opposite sexes. Finally, the new language ensures that even speech sympathetic to homosexuality, as well as meeting places, organizations, publications, and demonstrations, may be subject to criminal prosecution. Gays and lesbians are denied the rights to expression, association, and assembly: any public manifestation of homosexuality is punishable under the new provisions. Effectively, being gay or lesbian having a public identity as such is now against the law.

Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission also document how other vaguely written legal provisions are used to harass persons suspected of homosexuality. The report also describes a pattern of physical abuse by police and other officials. In the climate of contemporary Romania, gays and lesbians are regarded as people without rights. Prisoners suspected of homosexuality are routinely beaten by police. In detention, they are targeted for rape and other forms of abuse by other inmates, with the knowledge and active encouragement of guards and other authorities.

Recommendations to the Romanian Government and Inter-Governmental Bodies

Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC call on the Romanian government to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, prevent harassment and physical abuse of persons perceived as gay or lesbian, and punish those responsible for such abuse in the past. Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission call on the Romanian government:

to eliminate all laws which permit, encourage, or enforce discrimination against persons based on their perceived sexual orientation. These include not only Article 200 of the Romanian penal code, but also a series of other laws by which gays and lesbians are prosecuted and/or more severely penalized than heterosexuals who engage in similar acts;

to eliminate all laws which can be used to punish individuals for consensual, private homosexual acts between adults;

to clarify or repeal ambiguous legal provisions which can be used to persecute individuals for peacefully exercising rights of expression, association, and assembly, as well as laws that arbitrarily interfere with privacy.

Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission call on international bodies, including the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union:

to bring an end to beatings, maltreatment, and other forms of abuse practiced by police and other officials on the basis of victims' perceived sexual orientation, and to punish those found responsible for such abuses in the past;

to press the government of Romania to undertake the above reforms;

to investigate the multiple forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation in addition to the simple existence or absence of laws explicitly criminalizing homosexual acts in evaluating the human rights records of applicant as well as member states;

to investigate and address discrimination based on sexual orientation through their existing mechanisms for rights protection, including mechanisms to protect the rights of minorities.

For more detailed recommendations, see the body of the report.