"A contemptuous attitude towards Human Rights has now turned into indifference"

03/08/2000
Press release

Nicolae Stefanescu Draganesti is a lawyer and the president of the
League for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania (LADO is affiliated
to the FIDH) In an interview granted to La Lettre he assesses 10 years
of activities of the League which now faces considerable difficulties
and is threatened with closure.

What were the reasons which led you to become involved in the defence of Human Rights and to set up LADO?

In the socialist era before 1989, Romania was in a most difficult position regarding the respect of Human Rights. The exacerbation of totalitarianism and secrecy which smacked of Stalinism, together with the moral and material misery of the people prompted a group of citizens, driven by notions and a spirit of democracy, to set up an illegal organisation which began to fight against the abuses of the Communist regime. From 1st January 1990, after the events, which at that time, were looked upon as the `Romanian revolution’, this group consisting mainly of lawyers, set up the Romanian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADO), absolutely convinced that the existence of such an organisation would be a firm guarantee against terror and dictatorship ever making a come-back.

What is the Human Rights situation in Romania today? Which are the most important problems to be resolved?

At the present moment ,after more than 10 years of LADO’S uninterrupted activity, the fundamental rights of Romanians are still flouted. Of course, some progress has been recorded, legislation has been improved, but the former mind-set persists in the machinery of state, and that’s not the only thing. The contemptuous attitude towards human rights has now turned into indifference, which explains why the evolution in structural change is so slow. Lay people continue to be the prime movers towards progress, even if they meet with lack of governmental interest concerning human rights.

Can you explain to us, briefly, what the League’s most important activities are and its role in lay society?

Alarmed by such diverse reports as the unprecedented impoverishment of the population, the chaotic administration of the national economy, the lack of political will to put reforms into effective operation, but also the condition of life in the prisons, the violation of the right to free speech, of the freedom of conscience, of the rights of the child, of religious and linguistic minorities, LADO continues to be actively involved by its programmes (`Caravana’, Know Your Rights, High School Students and Human Rights and other publications) in the education of members of local administrations, governments and citizens in general. Education in citizenship remains the main preoccupation, because, as I’ve already said, attitudes are marked by communistic thought patterns and behaviour.

What difficulties have you encountered in the course of your activities?

Where we have tried to engage in open dialogue with the powers that be, successive governments from 1989 to the present day, whatever their political colour, have been resistant to our suggestions and have only paid attention to us when it has been beneficial to their image. The only true and disinterested support we have received has been from the Rumanian Human Rights Commission. As for the second House of Parliament, it was an unpleasant surprise to note that human rights are not only ignored but also flouted. One MP, taking account of LADO’s arguments, asserted in plenary session that `the fight for human rights is madness’. Our organisation continues to believe that this noble `madness’ is worthy of ruling our ideals and actions, in order to thwart the criminal good health’ with which those who direct our destiny are threatening us.

Unfortunately LADO’s activities cannot be sustained merely by enthusiasm and faithfulness to our ideals. Whereas, at the outset, voluntary workers could provide for the development of our activities, now we need funds. Programmes in education in citizenship mean that we need to have large sums at our disposal for printing expenses, to travel around the country and technical grants. The financial crisis which confronts us is linked to the use of hypocritical arguments _ according to which Rumania is supposed to have become a democratic country in which NGO’s, and particularly those working in the field of human rights would be useless -, leading us powerless, to contemplate a far-reaching moral collapse.

But even if LADO is an organisation recognised abroad and valued in all its areas of activity, in Rumania it continues to be perceived as an esteemed organisation, but one which ought not to be helped, just like Romanian society which will always find internal resources to enable it to rise again from its ashes.

It is pointless to add that things are just not like that, but I feel the need to ask all those who have trusted us and all our potential external partners to understand our present situation and support us, so that we may come through this critical period of financial crisis.

Interview by Livia Stoica

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