Irinel Rotariu is a Colonel Magistrate and military prosecutor at the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Iași, Romania. He attended the Law Faculty at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iași, Romania, where, since 2007, he has served as an Associate Professor. Currently, he is engaged in doctoral studies in Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Political Sciences at the same university. From May of 2018, he has been the national contact point of the Romanian Public Ministry for the European Network for the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes of Eurojust. Since that time, he has also served as the Focal Point of the Romanian National Network for Genocide Prevention and Multidisciplinary Research of Mass Graves.
Could you tell us about the National Network on Genocide Prevention and Multidisciplinary Research of Mass Graves and how it was established? Why are these two issues so closely linked in Romania?
The Romanian National Network for Genocide Prevention and Multidisciplinary Research of Mass Graves was established in September of 2018 as a form of cooperation between the Romanian Public Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, and the Auschwitz Institute for Genocide Prevention and Mass Atrocities (formerly known as the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation). Through the activities of the Romanian National Network, we are trying to raise awareness among public servants – particularly prosecutors, judges, policemen, anthropologists, teachers, and historians – on genocide and mass atrocities. To do this, we use case studies from our activities as investigators to communicate the facts – many of which are unknown to these professionals, despite being from our recent national history.
Through this I come to the second part of my answer: I investigated a genocide case in 2010, when, in cooperation with Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, we discovered and unveiled a mass grave near Iași, in the northeastern part of the country. The grave contained 36 victims: men, women, and children. During the investigation that followed, we established that they were Jews from Bessarabia, a region that is in the present-day Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. They were killed by the Romanian Army and probably by Nazi German Armed Forces during the first days of the Second World War. Furthermore, we demonstrated that they were killed without any form of judgment or justification aside from their “guilt” of being Jewish. This was a tremendously hard moment for me and for my colleagues from the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Iași.
Another important moment of my career came in the form of the investigations that I undertook concerning the crimes of the communist regime in Romania and the repression of the Romanian people who opposed the Communist Party. Also, in 2015, when we investigated a mass grave near Iași, we extracted 206 victims and were able to establish that they were, in fact, medieval warriors!
It was clear to me that these experiences must be shared with society at large, and, particularly, with people involved in this kind of investigation work, for two primary reasons. First of all, the truth about these crimes must be revealed as a condition for avoiding them in the future. Second, the relevant professionals must learn about these crimes and how to handle these cases as the result of being educated in the social aspects of genocide and mass atrocities, as well as in the technical aspects of investigation.
What is your role in the National Network? What are the Network’s current priorities and what its plans are for the near future?
I am a military prosecutor, a criminal investigator, but in the Romanian National Network, I serve as the Focal Point. Concretely, this means that I am a facilitator and an organizer together with my colleagues. After all, I am a man who is highly concerned with the prevention of these high-level crimes, so I work on gathering people and resources in order to create social value.
The National Network’s priorities are threefold: education, education and education. In 2020, we plan to continue the series of seminars that we began in 2018 and 2019 with a seminar in Timișoara and București, and further the development of our activities for prevention. The latter may take the form of developing specific programs for law schools, as well as the National Institute of Magistracy and various Romanian military institutions – particularly the Army and the Police. We also intend to invite representatives of the Network for Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes within Eurojust to at least one of our seminars as instructors in order to give a presentation on topics related to core international crimes, both in the EU and worldwide.
In your opinion, which actions, policies, and/or approaches are the most effective in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities?
I believe prevention is based, first of all, on common sense and commitment. I always believed in education as a solution for social problems and a very useful tool in crime prevention. Perhaps this is because I have been teaching in law school for more than a decade. But I’m aware that we have to educate the educators and that education alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by engagement from policy makers and, generally speaking, by public servants through their recognition of the signs of conflict within society through an atrocity prevention lens. A condition for this is having a good level of knowledge of recent history.
We have also seen that sharing our professional experiences is a useful tool to promote this type of knowledge. I strongly believe in a culture of knowledge, and, in our case, we had to begin from somewhere! In Romania, we began by telling the truth about the Holocaust and the crimes committed by the communist regime. This is an important task that Romanian society should continue. Future generations must learn about the experiences that we’ve had. They must understand a very important lesson that we have learned through performing our investigations into mass graves: we have to make our society safe in both the present and the future. This is also a good point from which we can develop policies and other measures for prevention.
How did you come to work on the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities? Who and/or what inspires you in your continued work in prevention?
First of all, prevention is a part of my activities as a prosecutor. I do prevention work in relation to ordinary crimes in military units as a part of my regular duties. In relation to genocide and mass atrocity prevention, my initial idea was to write a book on the mass grave of Popricani alongside some of my colleagues from the investigation, which is still in the project phase. However, colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – I must mention, in particular, the late and thoroughly missed Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu – and others that I haven’t cited here informed me of the opportunity for wider and more efficient education and action.
As we reflected on the burgeoning National Network project, I realized that the story from Popricani must be known due to its value as a tool for prevention. I engaged in this awareness raising effort also as a form of personal reparations, as a commitment to justice for the 36 Jewish victims who had been lying in the ground for almost 80 years, and for the millions of Romanians victims of the communist regime. I was lucky to have the Auschwitz Institute as a great partner. I met wonderful people there and I have learned a lot from their team and, in fact, I’m still learning about prevention.
Last but not least, I should mention the support I have had, and continue to receive, from the head of the Romanian Public Ministry, particularly Mr. Augustin Lazăr, the former General Prosecutor, deputies of the General Prosecutor Ms. Laura Oprean, Mr. Bogdan Licu, Mr. Răzvan Radu and, of course, Military Prosecutor General Lt. Magistrate Gheorghe Cosneanu. Mr. Augustin Lazăr, for his part, participated in, and supported, the launch of the National Network in 2018, while last two are members of the Network and have been active participants in the seminars we organized in September of 2019 in Iași and Cluj.
First, in genocide and mass atrocity prevention, I am inspired by the notion of justice. I cannot accept injustice and crime without doing anything. This is the reason I wanted to be a prosecutor. While we couldn’t prosecute the murderers from Popricani – as they were already prosecuted by the communist regime and we have thus far identified only some of the communist perpetrators – we can tell the truth about victims. This is very much an act of justice for me.
Second, after justice, for me, comes the wish to build a stronger and safer Romanian society. This is a society in which genocide and atrocities must only be a bad memory.
Third, I am inspired to continue this work due to the sense of intolerance I feel and see in our society. Romanians are still learning about tolerance, about being different and accepting people who are different. This is not an easy process, as people must learn it. In this sense, I feel that our work can create social value. When I see cases of discrimination in Romania, or crimes in countries around the world, based on race, sex, or religion, I became more motivated and determined to work in prevention.