Amnesty International Report 2006 - Bulgaria
|Publication Date||23 May 2006|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Bulgaria, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7a02.html [accessed 18 May 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.|
Reports of torture or ill-treatment of police detainees continued. Discrimination against the Romani community persisted, although legal action to enforce anti-discrimination legislation achieved favourable court rulings, including a landmark decision that established the right of Romani children to equality in education. Some residents of care homes for people with mental disabilities continued to live in conditions that amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. A court ruled that neglect by the state caused the deaths of 13 children deprived of food and heating at a care home in 1996 and 1997.
After a general election in June, a coalition government was eventually formed two months later, headed by Sergey Stanishev of the Socialist Party. The far-right party Ataka (Attack) saw a rapid rise in support, coming fourth in the poll.
Bulgaria made progress towards greater respect for human rights in an attempt to meet the criteria for membership of the European Union (EU), scheduled for 2007. Efforts were made to observe the rights of suspects in criminal proceedings, to end trafficking in human beings and to fulfil health rights. However, the European Commission expressed concerns about ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, discrimination against Roma and the living conditions of people with mental disabilities in its annual report, published in October, on Bulgaria's preparations for EU accession.
Police and prison abuses
The European Court of Human Rights gave a number of rulings that poor conditions of detention had amounted to cruel or degrading treatment. The Court also found in several cases that Bulgaria had violated the right to liberty and security of person, the right to a hearing within a reasonable time, and the right to fair trial.
Reports of torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued. Failure to respect the detainee's right to be questioned in the presence of a lawyer often contributed to such abuse.
- On 16 April Julian Krastev, aged 38 and homeless, was reportedly beaten to death by a police sergeant in the town of Varna. He had been living in a cupboard in the apartment block where the officer lived. Reportedly, the officer had been drinking alcohol and two police colleagues witnessed the assault. The officer was dismissed from the police and charged before the Varna Regional Military Court.
- In November, 39-year-old businessman Anguel Dimitrov died during a police operation in Blagoevgrad, according to the police from a heart attack during his arrest. Following public protests by his family, who claimed that the police were responsible for his death, an inquest was opened. In December, the findings of an autopsy revealed that he had died from a haemorrhage caused by a blow to the head. Although the Interior Ministry publicly accepted responsibility for the wrongful actions of the police and the Blagoevgrad police chief resigned, the Prosecutor's Office announced that there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.
The International Helsinki Federation, a human rights organization, reported inhuman conditions in several detention facilities, especially in Plovdiv and Nova Zagora. There were no effective mechanisms to respond to complaints of ill-treatment and violence between prisoners. Medical care in prisons was of poor quality and was not integrated within the national health care system.
Discrimination against Roma
The Romani community was most often targeted for ill-treatment by law enforcement officials and discriminatory treatment.
- In July the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights for the first time addressed the racial element in a case involving the deprivation of life. It upheld an earlier decision by the Court in the landmark case of Nachova v Bulgaria, which involved the 1996 killing of two unarmed Romani army deserters by a military police officer. The Court unanimously found the Bulgarian state responsible for the deaths of the two men, and for the failure to conduct an effective official investigation into allegations that the killings were motivated by anti-Roma racism.
- In June a court in Blagoevgrad ruled against a restaurant for refusing to serve a group of Romani customers in March 2004 while serving non-Romani people who had arrived later. The Romani group brought a complaint of discrimination after waiting for service for an hour, and the restaurant owner was unable to show that he had not treated them differently from others, as required under Bulgaria's comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
Forced evictions in Sofia
- On 31 August at least 24 Romani houses in the Hristo Botev municipality of Sofia were demolished, leaving some 150 Roma homeless. In September the authorities in Vuzrazhdane municipality subsequently warned Romani inhabitants to abandon their illegally constructed houses in Serdika district within seven days. However, a day before the scheduled demolitions, the Sofia District Court ordered the evictions to be postponed pending a decision on the Roma's legal entitlement to remain. The authorities had reportedly made no provision for compensation or alternative accommodation for those to be evicted.
- In October the Sofia District Court ruled that the Ministry of Education, the Sofia municipality and a Sofia school had segregated Romani children in violation of anti-discrimination legislation. It found that the school's students were all Romani, not through the choice of the students but because of failures by the authorities. The court held that substandard conditions in the school, lack of control over school attendance and lower educational requirements violated Romani children's right to equal and integrated education.
This was a landmark case for Bulgarian Roma, who faced discrimination in many spheres of public life, including education and employment. According to the European Roma Rights Centre, between 70 and 90 per cent of students in special schools for children with physical and developmental disabilities in Bulgaria were Roma.
People with mental disabilities
People with mental disabilities living in social care homes were not effectively protected from physical and mental abuse. The services they received did not meet international human rights standards or conform to best professional practice.
- The situation for former residents of a care home in Dragash Voyvoda, closed in 2003 following publicity about inadequate medical care and harsh living conditions, was only slightly improved in some of the homes to which residents had been transferred. Although their material provision had in most cases improved slightly, some still lived in conditions that amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. There was still no independent mechanism to ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of reported abuses against residents of mental health institutions.
- In June, Ivailo Vakarelski, aged 24, was found dead in the State Psychiatric Hospital in Karlukovo to which he had been admitted several days earlier. According to reports, his body showed extensive bruising. Hospital staff were said to have told his parents that an autopsy could only be performed if they paid for one, even though the hospital was obliged to perform an autopsy under the Health Care Act. The regional prosecutor ordered an investigation after the local prosecutor initially declined to investigate the death.
The International Helsinki Federation reported that many Bulgarian psychiatric hospitals and social care homes lacked facilities for adequate treatment or care for people with mental and developmental disabilities. Despite some improvements, food was insufficient, and treatment methods were not compatible with international obligations to provide the highest attainable level of health and life in dignity for people with disabilities.
- In May the District Court of Plovdiv acquitted three members of staff from a social care home in Dzhurkovo who had been charged in connection with the deaths of 13 children from hypothermia, malnutrition and lung diseases between December 1996 and March 1997. The court was unable to establish a causal link between the deaths and negligence by staff, but found that neglect on the part of the state had left the home without the means to pay for food and heating, resulting in living conditions that were cruel, inhuman and degrading.