Human rights protection in
In several spheres the human rights
situation was marked by a standstill, and in others – e.g. the right to asylum
and freedom of expression, there was a move backward. In 2003, the European
Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered ten judgments against
Freedom of Expression and the Media
2003 was one of the most oppressive years for freedom of expression in Bulgaria. On 6 November, for the first time since the beginning of the democratic changes, the Council for Electronic Media (СЕМ) revoked the registration of a television broadcaster, effectively outlawing it and forcing it to stop transmitting.
The two most serious problems with freedom of expression were control of the authorities over media dependent on them and criminal prosecution for defamation.
On 11 December in the case of Yankov v. Bulgaria, the ECtHR convicted
Serious problems with the regulation of electronic media continued in 2003. CEM did not fulfill its basic functions connected with issuance of licenses for private operators and failed to implement its control functions on Bulgarian National Television. The parliamentary majority tried to enforce control over the media by the adoption of a new law regulating the electronic media. In February, ruling majority MPs tabled a draft act to parliament in an attempt to remove certain people from the media regulation and bring in new ones. The new draft act was strongly criticized by media organizations, and was ultimately rejected by parliament in May.
Another problem was the revocation of the license of Den TV in November. The formal reason was the spread of ethnic and religious hatred in one of the operator’s programs, “From Telephone to Microphone.” The program depended on the active participation of its viewers, where differences of political, ethnic, and religious belonging prevailed. Prior to revoking the license, СЕМ fined the operator 15,000 BGN (€7,500)—a sum that was far too high for Bulgarian standards. The fine gave rise to severe criticism against the CEM and the ruling majority, which resulted in the imposition of a second measure—revocation of the registration. This second measure, imposed without any monitoring of the effect of the fine, was obviously disproportionate. The ensuing reactions amongst the public and in the media led CEM to repeal the measure.
The change in the management and employees of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA) was another element of the policy of the ruling majority to control the media. From the end of 2002 to the beginning of 2003, the new Director General, Stoyan Cheshmedjiev, started to dismiss employees without announcing any grounds for doing so. On 10 February, 200 BTA employees organized protests against the dismissals that lasted a month and a half and ended with the resignation of the BTA director general. The new management reinstated most of those dismissed.
Criminal prosecution for defamation continued to be a problem. Different courts adopted different interpretations of freedom of speech principles. In some cases the courts repealed sentences imposed on journalists by lower instance courts. This was the case with the owner of Radio Montana Pavel Nikolov, fined by the local District Court, and with the journalist Ekaterina Djuburiya, who was acquitted in June.
In other cases, however, the courts passed heavy sentences, which had a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
There were no significant changes in 2003 connected with the exercise of the right to association and to peaceful assembly. Many groups gathered peacefully and organized public events, including against government policies. As in previous years, these two rights were restricted for unpopular groups and organizations.
Bulgarians identifying as Macedonians were discriminated against in exercising their right to association and to peaceful assembly. In 2003, they were able to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Yane Sandanski on 20 April, and the anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising on 2 August.
At the end of the year, the government drafted amendments to the Meetings, Rallies and Demonstrations Act that would provide for restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, including a ban on organizing public events of any kind around the parliament building, and such that involve the use of vehicles in populated areas and for blocking streets and roads, which “could present higher than normal problems to the other drivers”. The draft act was tabled in parliament in January 2004.
At the end of
The main problems included length of criminal and civil proceedings, low effectiveness of the execution of court judgments on civil cases, lack of an adequate information system to monitor development of cases, inadequate legal aid for civil and criminal cases, and corruption.
In April and
October, the ECtHR delivered judgments on the cases Kitov v. Bulgaria and S.H.K.
Helsinki Committee (BHC) survey among 620 inmates whose pre-trial proceedings
had commenced after
Legislation connected with the procedure for expulsion of foreigners was not amended after the 2002 ECtHR judgment on the case of Al Nashif v. Bulgaria. The ECtHR had established that the existing ban on judicial control on acts for expulsion of foreigners under the Foreigners Act violated article 13 of the ECHR.
Torture, Ill-Treatment and Police Misconduct
Legislative and practical guarantees for the protection of the right to life did not meet international standards. In February, parliament amended article 80 of the Ministry of Interior Act, which allowed use of firearms during the apprehension of an individual carrying out or who has carried out even a minor offence, or for the prevention of the escape of an individual, detained for even a minor offence. The amendment was insignificant and failed to bring the act in line with principle 9 of the UN Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. This serious legislative problem resulted in killings and crippling of individuals as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Roma were over-represented as victims of such incidents.
At least two people died as a result of excessive use of firearms by the police. Both cases were not properly investigated and the law enforcement officials responsible for them were not brought to trial.
On 9 October, the regional
police inspector in the town of
There were 10,066 persons deprived of
their liberty (including 325 accused and 1,536 defendants) in the country’s
prisons and labor-correctional hostels on
In spite of some positive changes, the problems with prison overcrowding remained. BHC monitoring revealed that the average space per inmate in the sleeping quarters was 1.3-2 m². Thus, in the Kremikovtsi labor-correctional hostel BHC researchers found 18-20 inmates occupying a 26 m² cell (1.3–1.4 m² per person). All inmates used the same bathroom and one lavatory. Limited corridor space had introduced the practice of keeping cells locked all day long. In December, the intolerable living conditions and the permanent locking of the cells were the main reasons behind the hunger strike staged by 19 inmates.
Lavatories were in a desperate state. Most wings for recidivists had two to four toilets per floor for 100 people. Inmates in prisons that had no lavatories in the cells had to use buckets during the night. Another problem in the prisons was the lack of adequate bed linen; mattresses, blankets, and uniforms were in a wretched state; lockers, tables and chairs were either in a bad state or missing altogether. The quantity of food continued to be meager and of bad quality, and medical care was unsatisfactory.
In 2003 the BHC published a comprehensive analysis of the disciplinary practice in Bulgarian places of detention. The main conclusions were that the lack of any clear legal procedures connected with the establishment of violations, imposition of punishments, appeal of punishments and long-term administrative isolation of prisoners created conditions for arbitrary decisions by the prison administration. Isolation in isolation cells and long-term isolation in some prisons could be classified as inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The same could be said about the conditions in some of the high-security zones for prisoners serving their sentence under stricter regimes and the ones with life sentences.
Another serious problem in some prisons was the problem with ill-treatment. During the first half of 2003 in the Burgas prison the BHC established a considerably greater degree of the use of physical force and auxiliary means against prisoners than in other prisons. As a result, the Central Penitentiary Administration carried out a check that established that the prison guards admitted to having used physical force and auxiliary means, but also observed the law in every case. The inspectors did not find any documents in the prison related to the dates and specific incidents that the BHC had reported on. Cases of use of force by the guards were also established in the Boichinovtsi Minor’s Correctional Institution. Only in one case a check revealed that the individual who filed the complaint had traces of violence on his body and that the guard had used a truncheon without properly registering this in a report. The guard was punished by placing him in a lower rank and giving him a warning of dismissal.
The 2002 changes and amendments to the Implementation of Sentences Act did not change the legal status of foreigners serving sentences in Bulgarian prisons. Thus, they were not eligible for, inter alia, placement in a labor-correctional hostel, irrespective of the length of the sentence and degree of reformation.
the last two years, several investigation centers in
bad living conditions in investigation detention centers gave rise to an
increased number of civil lawsuits by the accused against investigation
detention centers. One of the lawsuits was brought against the
Although in 2002-2003 the government undertook some urgent measures to improve the material conditions in the institutions for adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness, in 2003 the BHC again established serious problems in these institutions. Residents with developmental disabilities were not separated from mentally ill residents, who were in need of specific therapeutic care. Moreover, there was no differentiation between care for people with different degrees of developmental disabilities or mental illness. The fact that institutions were located far away from larger cities prevented residents from integrating into society and gave rise to problems with the material conditions, hiring of qualified personnel, and adequate medical care. Hygiene in some institutions was deplorable. Bed-ridden residents were in the worst situation, since in most institutions they were not properly attended to. Another serious cause for concern was the medical care available to the residents. The alarmingly high rate of illness and death cases among individuals with mental disabilities continued to be a cause for concern of local and international human rights organizations.
As in previous years, the situation of minors in schools for children with anti-social behavior—the social-pedagogical boarding schools and educational boarding schools—did not improve. The procedure for placement in these institutions violated international fair trial standards by allowing arbitrary placements by an administrative procedure, the lack of adequate judicial control and legal defense. Most boarding schools could not satisfy the children’s basic needs for food, clothes, shoes, and teaching aids. The educational process was of very low quality. In some boarding schools, placement was done for purely social, rather than educative reasons, owing to which 80 percent of the children were of Roma origin.
In 2003 no
measures were taken to change the legislation regulating involuntary
accommodation in a psychiatric institution to perform phychiatric
tests to determine if a person is mentally ill, in accordance with the
judgment of the
Placement in social institutions for mentally disabled persons continued to pose serious problems from the point of view of safeguards against arbitrary restrictions of the right to personal liberty. Such placements were carried out with an administrative order, without judicial control, and they were frequently arbitrary.
In April, amendments were adopted to the Child Protection Act according to which children can be accommodated in institutions only by a court decision.
The procedure for placing children in juvenile correctional facilities was not reformed during the year. Placement was still carried out on the basis of decisions of local commissions for combating anti-social acts carried out by minors; the presence of attorneys was not allowed. In September, a draft bill on amendments to the Act on Combating Minors’ Anti-Social Acts was tabled in parliament. It improves the procedure for placement in these institutions, but does not provide a clear definition of “anti-social acts.”
At the end of
2002, the parliament adopted a new Denominations
Act. This imposed restrictions on the right to profess a religion and
set a discriminatory framework for functioning of denominations in comparison
to non-religious organizations. It gave a privileged position to the Bulgarian
Orthodox Church, which received its legal status by virtue of the act, while
other denominations were given their status by Sofia City Court. The aim of the
new law was to overcome by administrative means the schism in the Bulgarian
Orthodox Church by giving official status to one of the branches in it, that of
the Patriarch Maxim. The attempt
in July to repeal part of the provisions of the Denominations Act by the
In 2003 the application of the new act revealed several serious shortcomings. The Synod of Patriarch Maxim did not apply for re-registration, which would have legitimized it as the representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. In September, the court terminated the registration procedure of the so called “alternative synod” on the grounds of lack of legitimacy. Thus, at the end of the year both synods remained without registration.
of the unresolved problem with its legitimacy, the synod of Patriarch Maxim
used force and other unlawful acts in its attempts to take over the property of
the alternative synod. According to claims made by the alternative synod, in
the period 2002-2003 representatives of the Synod of Maxim had illegally
taken over at least six churches and one monastery. In the most drastic case in
The Muslim denomination did not succeed in registering the leadership with Fikri Sali as Chief Mufti, elected in December. Former Chief Mufti Nedim Gendjev, who claimed to have organized a legitimate Muslim conference on the same day and place, challenged his election before the court. The court froze the denomination’s bank account until the conflict was resolved.
The re-registration of the other denominations went smoothly. Several were registered during the year, bringing the total number to 36 (including the unregistered Orthodox denomination). Registration of the local chapters of denominations however was problematic. Although the Denominations Act did not require this, in many municipalities unlawful ordinances continued to exist, which tied the carrying out of activities to being registered locally. Thus, almost all large denominations had unregistered local chapters, which was a serious hindrance to their work.
non-traditional denominations in
year, BHC received information about restrictions of the religious rights of
some Muslim denominations that were not traditional for
Representatives of several Protestant groups complained of discrimination in paying local taxes, which were the same as for industrial enterprises, while Orthodox Churches either paid nothing or considerably less. Non-Orthodox denominations owed taxes on donations from abroad, including humanitarian assistance and books.
In May, parliament passed amendments to the Act for Substitution of Military Service with Alternative Service. This reduced the length of alternative service from twice the length of military service to one and a half times its length. The length of alternative service cannot be increased as a disciplinary measure. The law, however, introduced some restrictions. Decisions for substitution of the military service with alternative and imposed disciplinary punishments were excluded from judicial control. Old discriminatory provisions remained in force: inability to carry out alternative service in NGOs, prohibition of religious and atheistic propaganda, a ban on membership in trade unions and participation in trade union activities, and prohibition of standing candidates for elective posts.
National and Ethnic Minorities, Aggressive Nationalism and Xenophobia
There were no
significant changes in the situation of ethnic minorities in
The Act on Protection from Discrimination, adopted in September, marked a progress in the legal framework for protection from ethnic discrimination. It set up a special body with effective powers to investigate and punish discrimination and changed the burden of proof of discrimination in accordance with European Commission Directive 2000/43 and Directive 2000/78.
continued to be subjected to discrimination in the spheres of employment,
healthcare, education, housing, and the criminal justice system. In the winter
of 2002-2003 companies supplying territorial electricity periodically cut off
the electricity to Roma neighbourhoods. This was a collective punishment, since
bill-paying customers had their electricity cut off alongside all others.
Protest organisers in
There was no progress in implementing the declared government policy of desegregation of Roma education. In 2003 several desegregation projects continued to work, financed with donor funding, not state funds.
In September, the government announced its Action Plan on the Framework Programme for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society, which specified its engagement in several areas. The funds set aside for regulation of Roma neighborhoods and houses in them were not sufficient to address the scope of the problem. In addition, the action plan did not provide for the opportunity to pay for the transport of Roma children who travel to integrated schools outside Roma neighborhoods.
During the year, in several large cities, including Sofia, radical racist youth groups committed acts of violence against Roma and colored foreign citizens.
All aspects of the right to asylum deteriorated during 2003. This was partly due to the entry into force in 2002 of the Asylum and Refugee Act, which revoked the responsibility of border police to carry out accelerated procedure. The National Border Police terminated BHC’s access to the places for detention of foreigners who had entered the country’s territory illegally, thus banning the possibility of offering assistance to detained individuals. In this way, the state violated the rights of asylum seekers to have access to a refugee determination procedure. Sending them back violated the principle of non-refoulement of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.
The BHC received information of asylum seekers returning uncontrolled on a daily basis to the country or to the borders of the country they were fleeing from.
In January, the National Border
Police Division –
In April, a Georgian family was
kept for four days together with their small child between the Bulgarian and
Turkish borders, and were not allowed onto the territory of the country in
spite of having filed asylum applications. They were returned to
The state administration made some efforts
to carry out accelerated procedure at the centers for administrative detention of
Nevertheless, in August 2003,
an Iranian couple seeking asylum – Tairebe Pairadvand Sabzali and her husband
Gassem Akbari – who were fleeing
The registration of asylum applications at the State Refugee Agency continued to be carried out only from Monday to Wednesday. During the two remaining work days and on weekends, newly-arriving asylum seekers in Bulgaria was not able to register and ran the risk of being detained and even taken away to the border in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
In 2003 the State Refugee Agency stopped
offering protection to refugees from
The system of refugee protection demonstrated its inadequacy during the year with the revocation of refugee status in one case.
In May, the State Refugee
Agency withdrew refugee status from the
Ethiopian, Feisa Yoldu Reffu, which had been granted in 1996. This was done on
the basis that he had acted against the Principles of the United Nations and
carried out crimes against peace and humanity in violation of article 1F(a) of
the Convention on the Status of
Refugees for belonging to the Ororo Liberation Front and for inciting
ethnic hatred to other members of the Ethiopian Refugee Community in Bulgaria.
Reffu’s conflicts with Ethiopian refugees were of an ideological, political and
household nature and in no way constituted crimes against humanity. This
application of one of the convention’s excluding clauses was accepted by two
panels of the
The government had still not prepared reports before the respective UN bodies on the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.
The second and third consolidated reports on the convention were presented in 1998 and the government was obliged to report on the implementation of the convention and the committee recommendations after this period. In addition, the Bulgarian state had undertaken the obligation to present a report on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in connection with the upcoming review under the UN convention. The only adopted documents relating to women’s rights continued to be a Decision of the Council of Ministers of July 1996 for adoption of a national action plan and the respective measures of the government for implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.
The Bulgarian government was also obliged to implement those obligations under the Revised European Social Charter. In the summer, the first highly critical report of the Committee of Experts was received, which included criticism of areas such as equal pay for men and women and sexual harassment at work.
During 2003, the following achievements in the sphere of legislation and to a certain degree in the sphere of equality policies were achieved:
· The adoption of an Act for Protection from Discrimination in September 2003, which provided for the setting up of a commission for protection from discrimination, including gender discrimination;
· The adoption of an Act for Combating Trafficking in People, effective as of January 2004;
· NGOs proposed a draft law against domestic violence, which was to be discussed in parliament;
· A Consultative Commission for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women and Vulnerable Groups in the Sphere of Employment was established at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy; it was made up mainly of women’s NGOs. In addition, the government adopted a National Employment Plan, focusing, inter alia, on encouraging equal opportunity policies between men and women.
However, women continued to suffer discrimination in many sectors of public life, including limited access to some spheres of employment. Trafficking continued to be a serious problem, and the corruption of law enforcement authorities continued to hinder any successful attempts to address the issue. Almost no significant success was achieved in combating domestic violence.
Rights of People with Disabilities
Although 2003 was the European Year of People with Disabilities, discrimination against them continued. The most serious problem was that of individuals placed in institutions run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP). Many of these places were warehouses for people located in far-off locations with no meaningful activities or adequate medical and other care.
BHC visits to these institutions during the year also revealed a lack of adequate medical care and abuses in the care of both relatives and directors of the institutions. During the year, the routine practice to place residents under guardianship on the basis of a 1999 letter from the MLSP continued. No changes were made to the legal framework regulating the means of physical restraint. As a result, this practice of illegal seclusion continued in some institutions.
People with physical disabilities were faced with serious problems in accessing many public areas. The inability to use public transport, to go to work or school, inaccessible pavements and lifts, etc., drove them to isolation and severe emotional trauma. The larger part of disabled people could not vote in local elections because voting stations were inaccessible. Thirty lawsuits were filed in 2003 in connection with inaccessibility to public areas.
 Based on the
 Case of Yankov v. Bulgaria, Application No.
 See Human Rights in
 See section on Protection of Minorities, Aggressive Nationalism and Xenophobia.
 See Human
 Case of Kitov v. Bulgaria, Application No. 37104/97, Strasbourg, 3 April 2003, at http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/hudoc/ViewRoot.asp?Item=0&Action=Html&X=325170821&Notice=0&Noticemode=&RelatedMode=0; Case of S.H.K. v. Bulgaria, Application No. 37355/97, Strasbourg, 23 October 2003, at http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/hudoc/default.asp?Cmd=Query.
 See also section on Torture, Ill-Treatment and Police Misconduct.
 BHC, Disciplinary Practice in Bulgarian Places of Detention, 2003; BHC, Human Rights and the Activities of the Bulgarian Police, 2004 (available in Bulgarian on the BHC website, at http://www.bghelsinki.org).
 Case of Yankov v. Bulgaria, Application No.
 Case of
M.C. v. Bulgaria, Application No. 39272/98,
 BHC, Disciplinary Practice in Bulgarian Places of Detention, 2003.
 See also section on Torture, Ill-Treatment and Police Misconduct.
 Case of
Kepenerov v. Bulgaria, Application
 More about the restrictive and discriminatory provisions of the new law is available in: Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2002, Annual Report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, March 2003, at http://www.bghelsinki.org; Krassimir Kanev, “The New Bulgarian Religious Law: Restrictive and Discriminatory”, in: European Yearbook of Minority Issues, Vol. 2, 2002/3.