Amnesty International Report 2005 - Bulgaria
|Publication Date||25 May 2005|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - Bulgaria , 25 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/429b27d720.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
Covering events from January - December 2004
Living conditions and lack of adequate care in many institutions for people with mental disabilities continued to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. Placement of adults in social care homes was in violation of the right to be free from arbitrary detention. There were reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials; few perpetrators were brought to justice. Many of the victims were Roma who also suffered discrimination in other walks of life. Law enforcement officials continued to use firearms in circumstances prohibited by international standards, resulting in deaths and injuries.
The National Assembly failed to take measures that would have contributed to greater respect for basic human rights. In May and October it failed to elect an Ombudsman although the law establishing this office came into force in January. It also failed to appoint an independent body to monitor implementation of the anti-discrimination law adopted in September 2003. In October the Assembly rejected the Draft Law for Establishment of a Fund for Educational Integration of Minority Children, which aims to resolve the problem of segregated schools for Roma children.
People with mental disabilities
The living conditions and lack of appropriate care and treatment in the majority of 12 social care homes visited by an AI delegate in June were so inadequate that they amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The rules regarding placement of adults in social care homes had still not been brought into line with international standards to ensure an independent review of the placement decision and provide effective legal safeguards for the people concerned. The staffing in institutions was, to varying degrees, inadequate, particularly at night when lack of appropriate supervision and care endangered residents' physical well-being.
Little improvement was observed in the provision of medical, including psychiatric, care, and other therapies and activities. The process of transferring residents to institutions more appropriate for their needs, initiated in 2002 by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, had not been carried out thoroughly and systematically.
The authorities failed to exercise their supervisory function appropriately and effectively. They also failed to put in place legal safeguards to protect residents from abuse and to establish independent mechanisms for investigating incidents of abuse.
- On 24 February, in the early morning, Yoncho Filipov Lazarov, a resident of Govezhda, died after he was reportedly pushed by an agitated fellow resident. There were only two people on duty to care for more than 65 residents. The staff apparently made no risk assessment when returning the agitated resident to the dormitory and did not supervise him following his return.
It appeared that the order of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy prohibiting seclusion of residents was not being strictly enforced in all institutions. Also, there were no detailed guidelines regulating the use of restraint and seclusion methods in line with international standards and best professional practices.
No attempt was made to revise civil law regarding guardianship to bring it in line with international standards and to rectify the practice whereby an institution's director or another staff member is appointed as guardian of residents in their care.
Some effort was directed at arrangements to reintegrate into the community people who had been placed in institutions. In October, six women from "Kachulka village", a social care home for women with mental disabilities, were placed in a sheltered home in Sliven.
Other progress related to the care of children formerly in Fakia institution. In December 2003, 31 children were transferred to an institution in Mezdra, where living conditions and care, particularly medical care, were considerably better. However, inadequate staffing levels particularly affected children with complex needs in Mezdra and most other children's institutions.
In May the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about poor conditions in homes for people with mental disabilities and the insufficient measures taken by the authorities to address the situation. Similar concerns were expressed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in a report published in June on its visits to Bulgaria in April 2002 and December 2003.
Torture and ill-treatment
There were reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials that in some instances amounted to torture. Many of the incidents took place when the authorities failed to respect other rights of detainees, including the right to be questioned in the presence of a lawyer.
- In March, when Boris Daskalov refused to make a statement without his lawyer present, police at the Second Police Station in Plovdiv reportedly handcuffed his arms around his legs, inserted a wooden stick between his arms and knees, and suspended him between two chairs. According to reports, Boris Daskalov was gagged and beaten on the soles of his feet with rubber truncheons. He subsequently signed a statement written by the police and was released. In April it was reported that the Ministry of the Interior Inspectorate had initiated disciplinary proceedings against four police officers involved.
Investigations into most complaints of police ill-treatment were not prompt, thorough and impartial. In May the European Court of Human Rights made a ruling in the case of Girgina Toteva who alleged she had been beaten in a police station in Sevlievo in 1995 when aged 67. Following her complaint about the ill-treatment, she was charged with causing a police officer bodily injury and sentenced to six months' suspended imprisonment. The Court found that Girgina Toteva had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment by police officers and that the investigation into her allegations had been ineffective.
In May the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about "numerous allegations of ill-treatment of persons in custody that may amount to torture, in particular during police interviews, which disproportionately affect the Roma, and the lack of an independent system to investigate complaints..." It recommended the establishment of an effective, reliable and independent complaint system.
In addition to the police ill-treatment of Roma, there were several reports of racist assaults on Roma, most of them carried out by skinhead groups. Roma also suffered discrimination in other walks of life. In a report published in January the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) concluded that there was still discrimination against minority groups, particularly Roma, and expressed concern about the excessive use of firearms and force by the police against Roma. ECRI also highlighted the problem of segregation of Roma children in schools.
- In January, two police officers with a dog approached Assen Zarev, a Romani man who was playing with his five children in the Fakulteta neighbourhood in Sofia, according to the Romani Baht Foundation and the European Roma Rights Center, both non-governmental organizations. When Assen Zarev said he did not know the whereabouts of men being sought by the police, the officers reportedly set their dog on Assen Zarev, who was bitten twice. The officers reportedly hit Assen Zarev all over his body, threatened to shoot him, and took him to nearby woods where the ill-treatment continued. A group of people from the neighbourhood, mostly women, followed the police to protest against Assen Zarev's treatment. The officers reportedly fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and then released Assen Zarev. Four days later, 16 police officers returned to the Roma neighbourhood and arrested 17 men, saying that after the incident in the woods some of the Roma had assaulted the police. The 17 were verbally abused while being taken to the Third Police Station for questioning. They were released later the same day. An investigation into these incidents was initiated by the Sofia Regional Prosecutor, but its results were not known by the end of the year.
Unlawful use of firearms
At least two people were shot dead and several others were injured by law enforcement officials using firearms in breach of international standards. The authorities failed to revise legal provisions on the use of firearms or to ensure that investigations into reported incidents were carried out independently and impartially.
In February the European Court of Human Rights published its ruling in the case of Nachova v Bulgaria. The case concerned the July 1996 killing by a major in the military police of two unarmed Romani men in the village of Lesura. The Court found the state responsible for the deaths as well as the failure to conduct an effective official investigation. The Court also found a violation of the provision of Article 14 (prohibition of racial discrimination), concluding that the Bulgarian authorities had "failed in their duty... to take all possible steps to establish whether or not discriminatory attitudes may have played a role" in the shooting of the two Romani men.
- In March in Plovdiv, a 25-year-old Romani man was shot in the head by a police officer from the Sixth District Police Station, according to the local non-governmental Human Rights Project. The police stated that an officer, who had pursued and then caught a suspect who refused to stop for an identity check, shot the suspect in the head after he was threatened with a knife. The victim's family stated that he had never been involved in violence and was not known to carry a knife. The Interior Ministry reportedly initiated an investigation into the incident and temporarily suspended two officers from duty. The results of the investigation were not known by the end of the year.
Attack on freedom of religion
On 21 and 22 July police raided about 250 places of worship, monasteries and other properties linked to the Alternative Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and closed them down. Many priests and laymen arrested during the action were reportedly ill-treated and arbitrarily detained. The official Synod received additional state endorsement in the Denominations Act adopted in 2002, which had been criticized by the Council of Europe for imposing unacceptable restrictions on the right to freedom of religion.
AI country visits
AI delegates visited Bulgaria in June and went to 12 social care homes for children and adults with mental disabilities.