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OSCE Flags Credit OSCE Mikhail Evstafiev

Romania’s Chairmanship of OSCE

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

107th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, this year, Romania holds the chairmanship of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Obviously, this is one of the most important positions in the OSCE and, as Romania is a little more than half way through its tenure, I would like to reflect for a moment on some of their achievements and challenges. First and foremost, I commend Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana for his leadership. In late January Minister Geoana met in the Capitol with members of the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair and again two weeks ago at the Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Paris, we had a helpful exchange of views. He has demonstrated, in word and deed, that he understands how important the role of chairman is to the work of the OSCE. His personal engagement in Belarus and Chechnya, for example, illustrates the constructive possibilities of the chairmanship. I appreciate Foreign Minister Geoana’s willingness to speak out on human rights concerns throughout the region.

As Chair-in-Office, we also hope that Romania will lead by example as it continues to implement economic and political reform and to further its integration into western institutions. In this regard, I would like to draw attention to a few of the areas the Helsinki Commission is following with special interest. First, many members of the Helsinki Commission have repeatedly voiced our concerns about manifestations of anti-Semitism in Romania, often expressed through efforts to rehabilitate or commemorate Romania’s World War II leadership. I was therefore encouraged by the swift and unequivocal response by the Romanian Government to the inexcusable participation of General Mircea Chelaru in a ceremony unveiling a bust of Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania’s war-time dictator. I particularly welcome President Iliescu’s statement that “Marshal Ion Antonescu was and is considered a war criminal for the political responsibility he assumed by making [an] alliance with Hitler.” I encourage the Romanian Government to give even greater meaning to this statement and to its stated commitment to reject anti-Semitism. Clearly, the next step should be the removal of Antonescu statues from public lands, including those at the Jilava prison and in Slobozia, Piatra Neamt, and Letcani.

Mr. Speaker, I also appreciate the recent statement by Prime Minister Nastase that journalists should not be sent to jail for their writings. But frankly, it is not enough for the Prime Minister merely to reject efforts to increase the criminal penalties that journalists are now vulnerable to in Romania. Non-governmental organizations have spoken to this issue with one voice. In fact, since the beginning of this year, NGOs have renewed their call for changes to the Romanian penal code that would bring it into line with OSCE standards. Amnesty International, Article l9, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, the International Helsinki Federation and the Romanian Helsinki Committee have all urged the repeal of articles 205, 206, 207, 236, 236(1), 238 and 239 from the criminal code and, as appropriate, their replacement by civil code provisions. I understand the Council of Europe made similar recommendations to Romania in 1997. Moreover, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has said, clearly and repeatedly, that criminal defamation and insult laws are not consistent with OSCE commitments and should be repealed. There is no better time to take this step than now, while Romania holds the Chairmanship of the OSCE. Public authorities, of course, should be protected from slander and libel, just like everyone else. Clearly, civil codes are more than adequate to achieve this goal. Accordingly, in order to bring Romanian law into line with Romania’s international obligations and commitments, penal sanctions for defamation or insult of public authorities in Romania should be altogether ended. It is time, and past time, for these simple steps to be taken.

As Chairman-in-Office, Minister Geoana has repeatedly expressed his concern about the trafficking of human beings into forced prostitution and other forms of slavery in the OSCE region. The OSCE has proven to be an effective forum for addressing this particular human rights violation, and I commend Minister Geoana for maintaining the OSCE’s focus on the issue. Domestically, Romania is also in a position to lead by example in combating trafficking. Notwithstanding that the State Department’s first annual Trafficking in Persons report characterizes Romania as a “Tier 3” country in the fight against human trafficking, that is, a country which does not meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards–it is clear the Government of Romania is moving in a positive direction to address the trafficking of human beings from and through its territory. For example, the Ministry of Justice is actively working on a new anti-trafficking law. The government is also cooperating closely with the Regional Center for Combating Trans-Border Crime, created under the auspices of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative and located in Bucharest, and in particular, with the Center’s anti-human trafficking task force. I encourage the Government of Romania to continue with these efforts and to undertake additional initiatives. For example, law enforcement officers in Romania, as in many other OSCE States, are still in need of thorough training on how to investigate and prosecute cases of suspected human trafficking. Training which reinforces the principle that trafficked persons deserve a compassionate response from law enforcement–as they are victims of crime themselves, not criminals, is necessary. When such training leads to more arrests of traffickers and more compassion toward trafficking victims, Romania will be a regional leader in the fight against this modem slavery.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say a few words about the Romani minority in Romania. Romania may have as many as 2 million Roma, and certainly has the largest number of Roma of any OSCE country. Like elsewhere in the region, they face discrimination in labor, public places, education, and housing. I am especially concerned about persistent and credible reports that Roma are subjected to police abuse, such as the raids at the Zabrauti housing development, near Bucharest, on January 12, and in Brasov on February I and 9 of this year. I commend Romani CRISS and other groups that have worked to document these problems. I urge the Romanian Government to intensify its efforts to prevent abusive practices on the part of the police and to hold individual police officers accountable when they violate the law. In the coming months, the OSCE will conduct the Human Dimension Implementation Review meeting in Warsaw, a Conference on Roma and Sinti Affairs in Bucharest, and the Ministerial Council meeting also in Bucharest, among other meetings and seminars. The legacy of the Romanian Chairmanship will entail not only the leadership demonstrated in these venues but also progress made at home through further compliance with OSCE commitments.

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