On 1 January Bulgaria became a member state of the European Union (EU). In its progress report in June, the European Commission urged Bulgaria to adopt tougher measures to fight and investigate corruption and to reform its justice system. The Bulgarian authorities were also instructed to implement a strategy to fight organized crime.
The National Plan for Protection against Discrimination (NPAD) was approved by the government in January, making provision for all areas of discrimination covered by Bulgarian law, including sexual orientation. Despite such initiatives, hate speech and intolerance continued. A leader of the far-right Attack (Ataka) party reportedly placed an anti-Turkish poster in the parliament building in the run-up to the election to the European Parliament in May, and party members continued to make declarations against minorities.
Roma encountered obstacles in accessing housing, employment, professional qualifications and education. Between 65 and 70 per cent of Bulgaria’s Roma labour force were unemployed, according to a report by a Bulgarian NGO. Some 18 per cent of Roma were illiterate and another 65 per cent had never completed high school, the report found. UNICEF reported that around 50 per cent of Romani homes were not connected to running water and that 20 per cent of Romani children had never been to school.
In September the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe confirmed the finding of the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) that Bulgaria was in violation of the European Social Charter for its systematic denial of the right to adequate housing with regard to Roma. In response, Bulgaria announced new legislation in support of a variety of measures, including the construction of new social housing.
- In July, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the 1996 racial killing of Angel Dimitrov Iliev, a Romani man, by a group of six teenagers in the town of Shumen. The Court noted that the authorities recognized the heinous nature of the crime yet failed to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into the incident. Charges against four of the attackers were dropped, while the remaining two defendants were not brought to court. The Court judged “completely unacceptable” the authorities’ failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, even though they were aware of the racist motives of the attack from the beginning.
In October, the NGO European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) filed a collective complaint with the ECSR accusing the Bulgarian government of failing to eliminate the disparity regarding health insurance and access to medical assistance between Roma and other vulnerable groups and the majority population. It also accused the government of tolerating policies and practices which undermined the health of Roma and other minorities.
In September, the European Commission called on the Bulgarian government to respect the decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that Bulgaria should allow the registration of the OMO Ilinden PIRIN party, which represents the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Both the Supreme Court and the Sofia City Court had denied the party’s application for registration.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants continued to be detained for months and even years awaiting expulsion. According to Bulgarian NGOs, detentions of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants became routine practice, contravening legislation that such a measure should be used only as a last resort.
According to a report in the newspaper Kapital in June, at least 36 people had been held for more than six months at the Special Centre for Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners in Busmantsi, near the capital Sofia. They were allegedly not informed why they were being held, and were not brought promptly before a judicial or other authority.
- Annadurdy Khadzhiev, exiled leader of an opposition group in Turkmenistan, and the husband of Turkmen human rights defender Tadzhigul Begmedova, was held in detention in Bulgaria in February, after Turkmenistan requested his extradition to try him on embezzlement charges. Both Annadurdy Khadzhiev and his wife were granted “humanitarian status” which allowed them to remain in the country. In April, Varna district court ruled against his extradition but following protests by the Prosecutor’s office an appeal hearing was heard in May. The appeal court upheld the initial decision and Annadurdy Khadzhiev was finally released.
Police and security forces
The NGO Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) noted that the use of firearms by law enforcement officers continued to violate international standards and that investigations into their use were not prompt, thorough and impartial. The BHC also reported several cases of ill-treatment by police officers, in particular towards Roma.
In October the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe assessed Bulgaria’s implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights regarding ill-treatment by police. The Committee found that professional training for members of the police was still inadequate, and issues of detention and guarantees for the independence of investigations had yet to be properly addressed.
Mental health care
Bulgaria signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September.
- In August, the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights regarding the inadequate investigation into the death of an elderly woman in February 2004 after she was placed in a social care institution near Sofia. While in the care of the institution, she allegedly suffered broken bones, freezing temperatures, poor hygiene and a lack of nutritious food or general health care. Although administrative inquiries in 2005 into her treatment and the conditions at the institution uncovered serious legal and procedural violations, law enforcement authorities failed to carry out adequate investigations and no one was held accountable.