Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

The most serious human rights abuses in Bulgaria continued to be directed primarily at ethnic minority groups, and especially Roma (Gypsies), during 1994. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued to receive many credible reports of violence against Roma, much of it committed by police officers and private security guards. For example, on August 4, 1994, the police carried out a large-scale raid in the Roma neighborhood in the town of Pazardzhik. As in a similar raid in the same neighborhood in 1992, the police brutalized innocent victims and intentionally damaged the property of Roma. Lyubcho Terziev, a Roma who was arrested during the raid, died while in detention. According to the official death certificate, his death was the result of "cardiovascular insufficiency." However, persons who saw Terziev's body reported that there was evidence he had been beaten on the head and that there were burn marks on his genitals.

In addition to the numerous cases of police and private security guard violence against Roma, in the period covered by this report the phenomenon of mob violence against Roma intensified. During the month of December 1993, the Roma neighborhood of Pobeda in Burgas was attacked on several occasions. In each of the attacks, the perpetrators wore helmets and threw molotov cocktails. On January 10, 1994, six Roma houses in the same neighborhood were set on fire. During that attack, a Roma teenager was also severely beaten and a four-year-old child was badly burned.

On February 25, a Roma soldier robbed and murdered a seventy-year-old ethnic Bulgarian in the town of Dolno Belotintsi. The murderer was arrested about three hours later, but vigilantes took reprisals against the entire ethnic group. That evening, a group of ethnic Bulgarian villagers attacked the homes of Roma living in the village, rounding up and beating many of them. The Roma were then forced to march to the next town, and in the following days, several Roma homes were set on fire or damaged.

On March 26, 1994, approximately fifty skinheads attacked the homes of Roma in the town of Pleven, beating residents and setting one house on fire. Victims' testimonies indicate that the police not only did not intervene to protect them, but actually participated in the beatings.

On October 17, Kiril Yosifov Yordanov, a Roma who had filed a complaint against the police in Pazardzhik for allegedly having beaten him, was again detained with three other Roma and beaten by the police. While the police were looking at Yordanov's passport, they found a telegram from the Human Rights Project about his lawsuit and a notification from the court regarding the date of the next hearing. The officers reportedly then asked Yordanov if he was "the brave guy who is suing us?" The police then started beating him and cursing him. His request to contact his lawyer was denied.

There is substantial evidence that during 1994 Bulgarian police and prosecutors have failed to investigate acts of violence promptly and thoroughly when the victim was Roma. Prosecutors have frequently decided that there was not enough evidence to open a formal investigation in cases where Bulgarian and international human rights organizations had documented substantial evidence of police brutality and misconduct. Frequently the testimony of Roma victims was not even taken or, if taken, was disregarded.

Police abuse and use of excessive force against minorities in general continued to be a serious human rights concern. In addition to the numerous cases of police brutality against Roma discussed above, there were numerous other reports of police abuse, especially directed at racial and ethnic minorities. For example, following the murder of two policemen by Iranian citizens in December 1993, the Bulgarian police shot and killed four Iranian citizens over the following two weeks. Reports indicated that the police made no effort to arrest the Iranians or to warn them before shooting. An investigation was still underway in early November 1994, with no results to date. In June, representatives from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms also submitted a series of complaints of police brutality against ethnic Turks to the Ministry of the Interior.

The Bulgarian government continued to restrict the free expression and association of certain Bulgarian citizens who identify themselves as ethnic Macedonians during 1994. On April 23, the authorities denied a request by members of United Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO Ilinden) for permission to assemble to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Yane Sandanski, a Macedonian leader from the beginning of the twentieth century. (OMO Ilinden has been denied registration by the government because it is considered a separatist organization.)

In addition, efforts to restrict the activities of certain "non-traditional" religious groups intensified during 1994. On February 3, the law governing nonprofit organizations was amended to increase the discretion of the executive branch, which was already quite substantial, to determine which religious groups should be granted legal status. Article 133a of the Law on Persons and the Family, as amended, stated that "nonprofit juridical entities which have religious or related activities or perform religious education should be registered under this chapter after the approval of the Council of Ministers." The law, which entered into force on February 21, did not specify the conditions under which religious organizations could be denied registration. It did not set out the procedure for implementing the law, nor establish an appeals process. Previously registered nonprofit organizations and religious foundations were given three months to re-register. As of the end of July, thirty-nine religious organizations had been denied registration and twenty-three had been re-registered.

Denial of legal status made it impossible for an organization to rent public lecture halls or sign contracts in the name of the organization. An unregistered organization was unable to open a bank account or publish journals or newspapers in the name of the organization and was denied certain tax advantages. The law effectively discriminated against non-traditional religious groups and prevented many of them from functioning as legal entities in Bulgaria.

Attempts to prosecute those accused of abuses during the communist era progressed slowly during 1994. The murder trial of three former guards at the Lovetch labor camp, which had started in 1993, continued. President Zhelev pardoned former Prime Minister Gueorgui Atanasov who, along with the former Minister of Industry Stoyan Ovcharov, was sentenced in 1993 to ten years and nine years of imprisonment respectively for misappropriation of funds. The pardon was due to Mr. Atanasov's poor health.

One encouraging step during the period covered by this report was the National Assembly's adoption of a new National Police Law on December 15, 1993. Among other things, the law, which entered into force on January 1, 1994, removed the police from the jurisdiction of the military courts, such that in the future, all allegations of police misconduct and brutality are now the responsibility of civil prosecutors and investigators.

Although the 1990 moratorium on the death penalty remained in effect during 1994, capital punishment remained legal and Bulgarian courts continued to issue death sentences. In January and February, the parliament discussed legislative initiatives to lift the moratorium, but they were never considered by the plenary hall of the parliament.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any instance in 1994 in which the government of Bulgaria had hindered human rights monitors in their work.

U.S. Policy

Bulgarian and U.S. officials held several high-level meetings during the year to discuss such issues as the Partnership for Peace initiative and the situation in the Balkans. However, the only significant public comment on human rights developments in Bulgaria were found in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. The section on Bulgaria was, for the most part, accurate and thorough in reporting on the human rights situation there.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concentrated its efforts during 1994 on encouraging international bodies to play an active role in ensuring that the Bulgarian government took the necessary steps to protect Roma from mob violence and to guarantee that the victims of such violence could obtain adequate remedy. To this end, we documented the Bulgarian government's tolerance for and acquiescence in the violence committed against the Roma minority. In May 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a mission to Bulgaria to investigate recent reports of police brutality and cases of mob violence against Roma. A report on the findings of the mission was released during the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE) Review conference in Budapest in early November. In addition, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki used the information contained in the report to urge representatives of the various member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union to initiate a dialogue with the government and to insist that concrete steps be taken by the government to address our concerns, targeting especially those countries that have close ties to Bulgaria and may therefore have more influence with the Bulgarian government. In November, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki called on the Council of Europe and the CSCE, among other things, to initiate a dialogue with the Bulgarian government and to insist that the Bulgarian government take concrete steps to address our concerns.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also raised with the Bulgarian government a number of other human rights concerns, including restrictions on religious freedoms and the arrests of several Macedonian leaders.

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