President Georgi Parvanov, head of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, was returned to power in presidential elections in November.
In March, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights recommended that the government implement reforms of the justice system; make further efforts to eliminate corruption; strengthen the status, selection, training and pay of judges; adopt new Codes of Administrative and Civil Procedure as a priority; and allow detained suspects unrestricted access to legal counsel. Concerns remained about the inappropriate use of firearms by law enforcement officials.
In May, the European Commission recommended that January 2007 be maintained as the date of Bulgaria's accession to the European Union (EU) only if serious deficits were remedied. In September it allowed accession to go ahead, despite continuing concerns about corruption, on condition that the required changes to the Civil Procedure Code, judicial system and Constitution were adopted.
In March parliament amended the Constitution to incorporate the Ombudsperson institution. A new provision also allowed the institution to initiate cases before the Constitutional Court if it considers a law concerning citizens' rights and freedoms to be unconstitutional.
Bulgaria signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in November.
Ill-treatment and excessive use of force
Representatives of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, on a visit to Bulgaria in September, examined the treatment of detainees in the custody of regular and border police; conditions in investigation detention facilities; regimes for prisoners serving life sentences and foreign prisoners; and implementation of legal safeguards on compulsory placements to psychiatric institutions under the Health Act.
Reports of police ill-treatment continued, particularly against members of the Romani community and on the basis of people's sexual orientation.
• In January the Sofia Military Court ordered further investigation in the case of Angel Dimitrov, who died during a police operation in Blagoevgrad in November 2005, after his family opposed a request by the Sofia District Military Prosecutor for criminal proceedings to be halted. The police had used excessive force while arresting Angel Dimitrov, in violation of domestic and international law, the Ombudsperson reported in March.
• In February the European Court of Human Rights found that Bulgaria had violated Zahari Stefanov's rights to life and to be free from torture and arbitrary detention (Ognyanova and Choban v Bulgaria). In 1993 the 23-year-old, of Romani origin, died in Kazanluk police station. An official inquiry at the time concluded that he had jumped of his own accord out of a third-floor room where he was being questioned, and that all his injuries were caused by the fall.
• In October, police reportedly used excessive force in quelling fighting involving 400 Roma in Pazardzhik. Officers were accused by Romani people and the regional governor of exceeding their powers by entering homes and damaging property.
• In May the Commission for Protection against Discrimination initiated an investigation in the case of three police officers who allegedly ill-treated a gay man in October 2005 because of his sexual orientation and ethnic origin. The Commission concluded that during his illegal 12-hour detention, the man was denied food and access to his relatives and medical assistance.
Racism and discrimination
In February, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private individuals filed a civil lawsuit in Sofia City Court against Volen Siderov, leader of the Attack (Ataka) party. They alleged that he incited others, through television broadcasts, publications and public statements, to harass and discriminate against people from ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
In November, the NGO International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights reported a rise in anti-minority rhetoric and discrimination.
The Romani community
In March the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights recommended the government implement its national plan of 2003-2004 for integrating Roma and establishing a co-ordinated policy for all minorities.
Also in March the government approved a national programme for improving Romani housing conditions, but discrimination in housing persisted.
In July, as Bulgaria assumed the presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, a regional intergovernmental initiative to reduce social and economic exclusion and disparities, legal challenges were initiated by Romani communities over instances of discrimination. The cases concerned threats to demolish houses and the refusal by Sofia Municipality to provide public transport in Sofia's largest Roma settlement in the Fakulteta District.
Plans to forcibly evict inhabitants of a number of Romani neighbourhoods in Sofia were suspended after protests by members of the European Parliament. Some of Sofia's district governments continued to threaten forced evictions, and did little if anything to address the extreme poverty and denial of human rights in many Romani communities. A working group was formed by the Sofia Municipality and Romani NGOs to propose solutions. In July, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy provided funds to purchase caravans as a temporary solution for evicted residents.
• In April some residents demanded the removal of a Romani neighbourhood in Sofia's Zaharna Fabrika district. The mayor of Sofia said the city prosecutor would help the municipality find a legal way to move Romani residents, promising funds for temporary shelters.
• In June the international human rights organizations, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and the European Roma Rights Centre, appealed to the government to stop unlawful evictions in Dobri Zhelyazkov and Batalova vodenitza, Sofia. The district government had ordered 16 Romani families to leave their homes within 10 days or be summarily evicted, although their communities had lived on the land for generations. The authorities did not provide reasonable justification, adequate notice, consultation with those affected, compensation, alternative housing or social support. The municipality finally said that legal owners would be compensated according to the law, and others would be accommodated in freight containers adapted to make them habitable.
The Macedonian minority
The authorities and the judiciary continued to deny the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, and insisted that there was no legal obligation to protect it, a policy backed by all political parties represented in parliament.
• In October, the Sofia City Court refused registration to OMO Ilinden PIRIN, a political party representing some members of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, despite an October 2005 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that a previous ban of the party violated rights to freedom of association and assembly. In November the European Parliament Rapporteur on Bulgaria and the Enlargement Commissioner of the European Commission urged the government to register OMO Ilinden PIRIN.
Concerns about mental health care
In March the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights urged the provision of decent living conditions for people with mental disabilities who lived in social care centres and psychiatric hospitals that had not yet been refurbished. He also called for increased funds to feed people confined in institutions, and a system to ensure judicial review of decisions to confine such people.
In June the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that the sanitary facilities in these institutions were still "in the poorest condition", and that the procedures for placements of patients for compulsory and involuntary treatment, provided under the Health Law of January 2005, had not been implemented.
In October, two NGOs, the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, filed with the European Court of Human Rights the case of a man they believed was needlessly detained in a psychiatric hospital and given psychiatric medication against his will, despite the recommendations of five psychiatrists that he receive outpatient treatment.
AI country reports/visits
• Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)