News. – The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, completed yesterday a visit to Romania that lasted ten days. This exercise was a great opportunity for him to assess the situation in the country. His visit followed the Colectiv nightclub fire on October 30 2015 that killed many people and spread confusion and panic in the city of Bucharest. He acknowledged that it was indeed “a tragic and difficult time for Romania”, but he also noted that it was a time for solidarity and renewal.
The Rapporteur pointed out that many Romanian officials right now are in a deep state of denial when it comes to acknowledging the extent of poverty and discrimination towards the most vulnerable groups in the country. The officials struggle to be accountable for the situation: “The spotlight has now been shone dramatically on denial, corruption, inadequate government services, and a lack of official accountability”. Regarding corruption, Philip Alston first wants to emphasize that some major progress have been made in various prominent cases, but he also needs to state that forms of soft-core corruption still persist in relation to access to many social services, especially Government services. According to him, poverty is often a choice made by government’s policies, rather than a choice made by the ones living in poverty. Many parts of the government are still resisting transparency, consultation and accountability in the country.
No necessary measures to tackle poverty have been taken
Even though the European Union as well as the Word Bank have insisted on using more integrated approaches, the Romanian government has not shown a real political will to take necessary measures to tackle extreme poverty and as of now, it only uses inadequate social policies to deal with this issue. The Rapporteur noticed that the Romanian society is currently strongly divided, mainly between people who are at risk of poverty and the well-being, who remain the priority of many official policies. According to him, the resources that should be used to solve this issue, “have instead been used to finance even better conditions for the relatively well-off”, even though the International Monetary Fund confirmed to the Rapporteur that Romania had enough fiscal space to increase spending on poverty eradication. There is indeed a redistribution of wealth that is detrimental to poor people in Romania. Finally, Romania can be found at the bottom of the list when it comes to public spending on education and health, which makes it difficult for the most vulnerable groups in Romania to have access to education as well as health care.
Prejudicial stereotypes against Roma
Many Roma are currently facing intense discrimination and they have to deal with “Prejudicial stereotypes abound, even among senior government officials”, added Alston. The state of denial is particularly strong towards Roma in the country and available statistics show that most of them are in a more difficult situation than the rest of the population in a large majority of aspects of life: for example, the maternal mortality rate for Roma women is fifteen times higher than for non-Roma women. Moreover, according to the Word Bank, about 90% of the households of Roma face material deprivation, compared to 54% of non-Roma living in adjacent areas. The unemployment figures for Roma are higher than for the rest of Romanians but for a good reason: they are victims of a long history of discrimination, neglect as well as isolation, that makes it difficult for them to found a job as well as provide a good education to their children. Alston wants to remind everyone that “the Roma are humans just like every other Romanian, with similar needs, ambitions and feelings”. His full findings and recommendations will be presented in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.
OHCHR (2015). Romania “in denial about extent of poverty”, UN human rights expert says. 11 November 2015. IN: OHCHR (online). http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16739&LangID=E Accessed on November 12 2015.
OHCHR (2015). End-of-mission statement on Romania, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. 11 November 2015. IN: OHCHR (Online). http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16737&LangID=E Accessed on November 12 2015.
STACK, Liam (2015). Deadly Fire Roars Through Romanian Nightclub. October 30, 2015. IN : NY Times (online). http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/31/world/europe/deadly-fire-at-romanian-nightclub.html?_r=0 Accessed on November 12 2015.