Romania announces process to establish independent monitoring of institutions – monitoring visits must start

Today on World Mental Health Day, MDAC has been in Bucharest, Romania, working with our partner NGO the Centre for Legal Resources (CLR), to convince the Romanian government to let independent monitors inside children and adult institutions, where terrible human rights abuses have been reported for many years. At today’s discussion, Mr Codrin Scutaru, State Secretary of Labour,Social Protection, Family and Elderly Persons, committed to establishing an independent monitoring mechanism for disability institutions, so that torture and ill-treatment is named, dealt with, and prevented.

Romanian State Secretary, Codrin Scutaru (left) commits to establishing an Independent Monitoring Mechanism 'early next year'. (L to R): Georgiana Iorgulescu, Executive Director, CLR; Georgiana Pascu, Program Manager, CLR; Steven Allen, Research & Advocacy Officer, MDAC; interpreter.

In May this year, footage from the Gheorghe Şerban Social Care Centre showed young residents of that institution, in Bucharest, tied to their beds, the use of force-feeding, residents not being allowed access to fresh air, and physical and verbal abuse by staff. Since then, no independent monitoring has been permitted, making it impossible to ascertain whether conditions have changed. CLR has now won a court case to gain access to institutions in the country.

“35,371 children and adults with intellectual disabilities and psycho-social (mental health) disabilities are forced to live in institutions across Romania,” said Georgiana Pascu, Program Manager for the Centre for Legal Resources. “Until now, the government has used its power to resist attempts by civil society organisations to visit institutions. Today’s commitment comes as a welcome surprise and we will test out that commitment soon."

Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, said: “Boredom, beatings, sexual violence, over-medication and deaths. This is the daily reality of institutions. It is vital that the Minister ensures that there is independent monitoring, to prevent this torture and ill-treatment, to end impunity of perpetrators, and to shine a light on what, until now, has been a dangerously closed system.”

CLR has already carried out more than 60 unannounced visits in almost 10 years, but has frequently been prevented from carrying out monitoring visits to institutions. Last week, CLR agreed a Protocol with the Ministry of Labour to enable unannounced visits to take place. CLR worked with the Romanian Senate Human Rights Commission to propose a law establishing an independent National Preventive Mechanism, as required under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Memorial in front of Gheorghe Şerban Social Care Centre, July 2013.

Romania ratified OPCAT in 2007 and is the only country in the world that has postponed, on two occasions, the establishment of a national preventive mechanism (NPM) which would allow human rights monitoring visits to institutions.

“We are looking forward to seeing if the political will expressed today is translated into concrete steps allowing us access to institutions, and moving towards Romania’s compliance with its international obligations under OPCAT,” said Georgiana Pascu.

At today’s roundtable discussion, people with disabilities and representatives of disability and human rights organisations expressed frustration at the slow pace of implementation of international human rights obligations by the Romanian government. “We hear arguments that there isn’t enough money to make changes, so why are tens of thousands of Euros being spent on painting institutions that should be closed?” asked a person with a disability (self-advocate) at the event.

CLR and MDAC calls on the Romanian government to move from words to action to ensure that the 35,371 people with mental disabilities get out of institutions and can live, with supports, in community settings. We also call for a moratorium on new admissions to institutions as a concrete step towards realising the rights of all people with disabilities to live in the community. "Every vacant bed should be destroyed, not filled with so-called 'new admissions'" said Steven Allen, Reasearch & Advocacy Officer at MDAC.

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