14 June 2023, Cluj-Napoca. The Equality and Human Rights Action Centre (ACTEDO), in partnership with the Centre for Legal Resources (CRJ) and with the support of the Cluj Bar Association, organised on Tuesday 13 June the first National Pro Bono Forum in the country, a large-scale conference dedicated to fundamental rights and social justice. The event, hosted by the Hilton Hotel in Cluj-Napoca, brought together special guests, legal and social experts and activists, who discussed fundamental rights, exclusion and the justice system, but also shared life stories of how they overcame many barriers to live a life free of violence and to be themselves in an often intolerant world.
The Cluj-Napoca Forum is part of a long international tradition: similar conferences dedicated to pro bono and public interest law are organised annually in Europe, Asia and, more recently, globally by the international organisation PILnet - The Global Network for Public Interest Law, with which ACTEDO closely collaborates. The event was built around four thematic sessions, each followed by a question and answer session: (1) Justice and groups vulnerable to discrimination and social exclusion; (2) Gender equality in Romania - between progress and regression; (3) Roma fundamental rights and historical inequality and (4) LGBTI rights - between legal obligations and social intolerance. A total of 65 people participated, legal specialists (lawyers, jurists), academics, specialists working with vulnerable social groups (social workers, psychologists, NGO representatives), as well as local authorities and human rights researchers.
Special guests included members of the National Council for Combating Discrimination, lawyers working on strategic human rights cases, representatives of civil society organisations, researchers and academics, lawyers and activists. The National Pro Bono Forum opened with a presentation of the INTEGRIS project, within which the event was organized, by Alexandra Columban, Executive Director of ACTEDO, followed by a welcome message from the Cluj Bar Association, delivered by Av. Luiza Budușan. The international organization PILnet also sent a video message of support, presented by Giulia Patane.
The first session was opened by Cătălina Olteanu, Member of the Steering Committee of the National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) who presented, on the one hand, some of the barriers she faced as a Roma woman on her way from her native village to the CNCD and, on the other hand, the CNCD's case history and the under-reporting of discrimination cases among vulnerable groups to the institution she represents. Then, Dan Chertes, lawyer and counsellor in the Cluj Bar Council, presented arguments in favour of regulating and encouraging pro bono lawyering in Romania, in the context of the multiple gaps in access to justice for vulnerable groups. Cezara David, Anti-Discrimination Programme Manager of the Legal Resources Centre (CRJ) also gave an overview of the situation of discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes in Romania, with examples from the media, police statistics and school textbooks.
The second session, dedicated to gender equality, was opened by Oana Băluță, PhD, Professor at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences of the University of Bucharest, who presented the latest data on global conservative and fundamentalist-religious trends against gender equality and LGBTQ rights, referred to in the literature as anti-gender movements, and how they influence legislation and public policies aimed at protecting women and minorities against discrimination and violence. The next presentation was by Laura, a domestic violence survivor, who told the audience about the many barriers she faced trying to leave her abusive relationship and her path to freedom. She highlighted the importance of support services, but also of the support group she belongs to, the I Can Do It Network, run by the Association for Gender Equality and Freedom (A.L.E.G.). The last presentation of the session belonged to Teodora Godîncă-Herlea, Partner Lawyer in SCPA Sergiu Bogdan & Asociații, specialized in criminal law and human rights, Cluj Bar Association, who presented a case of non-consensual pornography (also known as revenge porn), which she has been working on since 2019 on a pro bono basis and which she now represents before the European Court of Human Rights. The case is strategic, as there is a growing number of such abuses and a total failure of the state to provide protection to victims and punish perpetrators.
The third session, dedicated to Roma rights, was opened by Corina Păun, writer and counsellor at the National Centre for Roma Culture - Romano Kher, who presented brief cultural perspectives on the legislation and institution of Roma slavery in Romania, as well as the legacy of slavery today in the common consciousness of Roma and non-Roma alike. Eugen Ghiță, President of ROMAJUST - Romanian Roma Lawyers Association, followed, presenting a series of disturbing cases of violence and abuse by the authorities against Roma communities: violent interventions, lack of investigations in cases of murder or even murder by shooting. The cases were documented by ROMAJUST, which got involved through legal assistance and representation in court, many of which are still before the courts.
Vlad Levente Viski, Executive Director of MozaiQ LGBT Association, opened the fourth and final session with a review of the history of LGBTQ rights in Romania and the majority's perception of this community, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2000 to the present, in May 2023, when the ECHR ruled that the Romanian state is obliged to recognise same-gender couples in one form or another. Bianca Oprea, Coordinator of the Legal Department of ACCEPT Romania then presented a series of strategic cases for the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons from the perspective of the ECHR and the CJEU, including the cases of Buhuceanu and others against Romania and Coman-Hamilton. The forum was closed by Octavian Dumitru, transgender rights activist and member of the Board of MozaiQ LGBT Association who shared his life story as a trans man in Romania, from accepting his own identity to social, medical and legal transition.
The project "INTEGRIS: Integrated Support for Human Rights" is implemented by the Action Centre for Equality and Human Rights (ACTEDO), in partnership with the Centre for Legal Resources (CRJ), with the financial support of Active Citizens Fund Romania, a programme funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through EEA Grants 2014-2021. The aim of the project is to protect the fundamental rights of people vulnerable to discrimination and to facilitate their access to justice and integrated support services by developing multi-sectoral collaborations and influencing policy makers.
About Active Citizens Fund Romania Program
The Active Citizens Fund Romania programme is funded by EEA Grants 2014-2021. The overall objective of the Grants is to reduce economic and social disparities and strengthen bilateral relations between the 15 beneficiary countries and the donor countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway). The programme is administered by the consortium composed of the Civil Society Development Foundation, the Partnership Foundation, the Resource Centre for Roma Communities, the PACT Foundation and Frivillighet Norge, acting as Fund Operator designated by the FMO - Office of the EEA and Norwegian Grants Financial Mechanism. Active Citizens Fund Romania aims to strengthen civil society and active citizenship and increase the capacity of vulnerable groups. With a total allocation of €46,000,000, the programme aims to develop the long-term sustainability and capacity of the civil society sector, enhancing its role in promoting democratic participation, active citizenship and human rights while strengthening bilateral relations with the donor states Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. For more information about the Active Citizens Fund in Romania, please visit www.activecitizensfund.ro. For more information on EEA and Norwegian grants, please visit www.eeagrants.ro.
Website-ul ACTEDO a fost actualizat în cadrul proiectului INTEGRIS: Sprijin integrat pentru drepturile omului, derulat de Centrul de Acțiune pentru Egalitate și Drepturile Omului (ACTEDO), în parteneriat cu Centrul de Resurse Juridice (CRJ), proiect care beneficiază de o finanțare în valoare de 197.716,41 euro prin programul Active Citizens Fund România, finanțat de Islanda, Liechtenstein și Norvegia prin Granturile SEE 2014-2021. Conținutul acestui website nu reprezintă în mod necesar poziția oficială a Granturilor SEE și Norvegiene 2014-2021. Pentru mai multe informații accesați www.eeagrants.org. Informații despre Active Citizens Fund România sunt disponibile la www.activecitizensfund.ro.
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