Amnesty International Report 2004 - Bulgaria
|Publication Date||26 May 2004|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2004 - Bulgaria , 26 May 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/40b5a1ee8.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Covering events from January - December 2003
Conditions for people with mental disabilities living in social care homes were frequently inhuman and degrading. Many residents were abused by staff, who in some institutions imposed unacceptable practices of restraint and seclusion, or by other residents. Police ill-treatment and torture of detainees were widely reported, and at least one person died in custody in suspicious circumstances. The victims were often members of the Roma community, some of them children. The officers responsible were rarely brought to justice. At least three people were shot dead and others injured by police officers using firearms in breach of international standards on the use of force.
There were no significant improvements in respect of basic human rights. However, two important new laws offered future safeguards. In May the National Assembly adopted the legal framework, to enter into force in January 2004, for establishing the Office of an Ombudsman. The Office will investigate complaints about violations of human rights by state and municipal bodies and by individuals providing public services. In September a comprehensive anti-discrimination law was adopted, which established an independent Commission to provide protection against discrimination and a system of sanctions.
People with mental disabilities
Children and adults with mental disabilities still suffered inappropriate treatment and poor living conditions in social care homes. New practices were introduced and additional resources provided in some institutions, but the government failed to propose systematic reforms, implement effective measures or demonstrate its political will to combat the stigma of mental disability.
In January an amendment to the Law on Social Support gave government greater responsibility for funding social care homes. Officials acknowledged, however, that allocated resources were usually sufficient for only basic food and heating.
An April amendment to the Law on Child Protection required the placement of children in specialized institutions to be decided by the courts, once all other possibilities for keeping them at home were exhausted. Regulations revised in May for the placement for adults, however, failed to provide safeguards against arbitrary detention and to ensure due process. Placements are decided by government officials and there is no provision for scrutiny by an independent or judicial body, for the person concerned to be legally represented or for periodic review.
The government closed a number of institutions where conditions were particularly harsh. Their residents were transferred to other facilities that were only marginally if at all better and were in similarly remote and inappropriate locations.
- In April representatives of AI and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), a local human rights organization, visited four of the five institutions where 70 men were transferred in September 2002 from a social care home in Dragash Voyvoda. Their living conditions were only marginally improved. All remained without therapy other than drugs or rehabilitation. At least 18 of the men had mental health disorders, yet they had been sent to homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
- Vasil Malinov, a 32-year-old man with intellectual disabilities at a care home in Batoshevo, shared a room with four other men, some reportedly suffering serious mental illness. Around 100 residents were locked in two buildings at night, allegedly with only a nurse and an orderly on duty. On 18 March staff found Vasil Malinov bruised and battered. After medical treatment he was returned to the same room, where three days later he was found dead.
- In June a three-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, living in a social care home in the capital, Sofia, had to have his right hand amputated after it had been roped to the bed to stop him putting it in his mouth. Four nurses and orderlies were reportedly suspended from duty and five other staff members faced disciplinary sanctions.
- In September, after 29 women with mental disabilities were found in a seclusion ward of a social care home, some of them in cages, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy reportedly prohibited establishments under its authority from using such practices.
Torture and ill-treatment
Numerous incidents of ill-treatment by the police, sometimes amounting to torture, were reported. In most cases, suspects were not allowed to contact a lawyer or family member. Officers reportedly punched and kicked them, or beat them with cables or electric truncheons, to obtain confessions. Injured detainees often alleged that they were denied access to a doctor or adequate medical care. Officers reportedly beat some suspects in the presence of investigators. In some instances reported by the BHC, police impunity was apparently facilitated by the failure to properly register the arrest and arraignment of the alleged victim of torture or ill-treatment. Investigations into complaints were often not independent or impartial. Prosecutors sometimes questioned suspected perpetrators only and not witnesses.
- In May, 19-year-old A.K. (full name withheld) was reportedly beaten with truncheons, punched and kicked all over the body by four police officers while detained for questioning for two days at police headquarters in Blagoevgrad. After he was transferred to an Investigation Detention Facility, a doctor noted injuries to his chest and face but failed to record A.K.'s statement on how they came about.
- In October, 21-year-old Iliya Yordanov died in custody in Plovdiv five days after he was arrested for alleged possession of heroin. Information was not available on the cause of death; however, an investigation was initiated by the military prosecutor, who has jurisdiction to investigate police misconduct. The day before he died, doctors reportedly examined him twice, established that he was suffering from drug withdrawal and diabetes, but did not record the treatment they prescribed or its administration.
Ill-treatment of Roma
Members of the Roma community were reported to have been ill-treated by the police, including with resort to firearms in circumstances not permitted by international standards on the use of force.
- In March, two Romani men (names withheld), gathering firewood in the forest near Lukovit, were stopped by two police officers and several forest guards. One man was reportedly knocked unconscious with a rifle butt, handcuffed, beaten, and prodded with an electric baton, while the second was made to dig a pit as "a grave for the two of [them]", then beaten, according to reports. Three more Romani men, arriving on the scene in cars, were allegedly shot and injured with rubber bullets and assaulted. Four of the men obtained forensic medical certificates, which described injuries consistent with their allegations, and a complaint was filed with the military prosecutor in Pleven.
Unlawful use of firearms
The police shot dead at least three people and injured several others in circumstances that did not meet the requirements of international human rights standards on the use of force and firearms. The authorities failed to revise legal provisions on the use of firearms or to ensure that investigations into the incidents were carried out independently and impartially.
Violence against women
No legislation provided specific protection to women from domestic violence, a serious abuse that was officially perceived as belonging to the "private sphere" and thus not requiring state intervention. An inter-ministerial working group set up in 2002 made little progress in drafting new legislation. There were no official statistics on the number of reported incidents of domestic violence but research conducted by local NGOs indicated that the problem was widespread.
AI country visits
Representatives of AI visited Bulgaria in April and June and visited seven social care homes for children and adults with mental disabilities. In April AI and the BHC organized a training program for staff in social care homes in Rusokastro and Fakia in the Burgas region, and facilitated a meeting between managers of the homes and regional and local government officials.