The Romani community continued to face multiple and widespread discrimination, as well as the threat of forced eviction from their homes. The prolonged detention of asylum-seekers contravened EU legislation. The European Court of Human Rights found that Bulgaria had violated the prohibition of torture and degrading treatment in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Following parliamentary elections, a new minority government was appointed under Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in July. The ruling Citizens for European Development party was supported by three smaller parties including the far-right Attack party, which had a history of anti-Roma and anti-Turkish speech.
Discrimination – Roma
The Romani community continued to suffer discrimination in education, housing and health care. In January, in shadow reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), several domestic and international NGOs highlighted frequent forced evictions of Roma. Roma in informal settlements often lacked security of tenure, exposing them to the threat of forced evictions and destitution. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance reported in June that discrimination against Roma was widespread and included restrictions in access to public places.
Right to adequate housing
- In September almost 50 Romani homes were demolished and the families forcibly evicted in the town of Burgas. The local council’s decision to demolish houses illegally built on municipal or private land left almost 200 people, who had lived in the area for several years, without accommodation. The NGO the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that police used disproportionate force during the demolitions. Despite claims by the Mayor of Burgas that the families would be provided with alternative low rent council accommodation, no alternative housing was provided; the evicted Roma were only advised to apply for municipal housing. In September members of the community, represented by the NGOs Equal Opportunities Initiative and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, submitted an individual complaint against the forced eviction to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Right to health – access to social assistance
In April, the European Committee of Social Rights found Bulgaria in violation of the European Social Charter. In response to a complaint filed by the European Roma Rights Centre and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Committee ruled that the government had failed to ensure sufficient access to social assistance for people without adequate resources. The NGOs criticized an amendment to the Social Assistance Act which reduced the period in which unemployed people could obtain social assistance. They stressed that the amendment would have a disparate and unjustified effect on Roma who had been over-represented among beneficiaries. The Committee established that “adequate benefits” had to be payable to any person who was without adequate resources and in need, and that access could not be made subject to time limits, as that might leave an applicant without basic means of subsistence.
Detention without trial
Bulgaria was again found in violation of the right to a public hearing within a reasonable time under the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Criminal proceedings against Valentin Ivanov took more than eight years, commencing in May 1992 and ending in November 2000. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that this exceeded the “reasonable time” requirement, and noted that it had frequently found violations of the same right in cases against Bulgaria in the past.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Bulgaria was found to be in violation of the prohibition of torture or degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.
- In January the European Court of Human Rights found that there had been a violation of the prohibition of torture and a lack of effective investigation into injuries, demonstrating that Georgi Dimitrov had been ill-treated in police custody. Arrested in 2001 on charges of fraud, he alleged after his release from prison in 2004 that he had been beaten by police officers.
In March the CERD expressed concern about ill-treatment and excessive use of force by the police against minority groups, particularly Roma. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the European Roma Rights Centre submitted a shadow report to CERD in which they cited cases of police ill-treatment of individuals or use of disproportionate force by the police against Romani communities.
- In August the Military Court of Appeals upheld the 16 to 18-year sentences imposed on five “anti-mafia” police officers convicted in 2008 of beating to death 38-year-old Angel Dimitrov in the city of Blagoevgrad. The police officers appealed against their sentences to the Supreme Court of Cassation.
Mental health institutions
NGOs continued to be critical of the admission procedures and living conditions in social care institutions for people with mental illnesses.
- The European Court of Human Rights in November heard two cases regarding placements and living conditions in care homes in the towns of Pastra and Pravda respectively. In both cases, it was claimed that individuals had been deprived of legal capacity and forcibly placed under guardianship. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture had recommended closure of the Pastra institution in 2003 because deficiencies in its living conditions and care amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, and the government had indicated its agreement with the recommendation in 2004.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Asylum-seekers continued to be detained for periods of several months, or even years.
- The European Court of Justice in November ordered the immediate release of Said Kadzoev, an asylum-seeker of Russian nationality and Chechen origin who would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment if forcibly returned to the Russian Federation. In a landmark ruling, the Court found that the exception to the 18-month limit on the detention of asylum-seekers, proposed by the Sofia City Administrative Court, would contravene the EU directive on standards and procedures for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. Said Kadzoev was detained in 2006, and had remained in custody in spite of his lawyers’ applications for less severe measures. The Court said that asylum-seekers should not be detained as a punishment for not possessing valid documents or for aggressive behaviour.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
The second lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride march was held in Sofia in June. In the run-up to the march, the leader of the far-right party, the Bulgarian National Union, announced a “week of intolerance” as a response to the event. The march was protected by the police and no incidents were reported.