Human Rights Developments

Despite some improvements in Bulgaria's overall human rights record, ethnically motivated violence and the failure of the authorities to provide redress for victims of such crimes continued to be a dominant human rights problem in 1995. There were also frequent reports of police misconduct and use of excessive force, as well as of government restrictions on freedoms of expression and religion.

Widespread impunity for crimes perpetrated by police officers remained common in 1995. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received numerous reports of police brutality, which is no longer a problem only for minority groups. For example, in a case reported by the Bulgarian daily Twenty-Four Hours, the sergeant who shot a man from Velingrad on June 6, 1993, escaped punishment for the killing when the Plovdiv Military Prosecutor's Office abandoned the indictment in 1995 for lack of sufficient evidence. However, the prosecutor had failed even to interrogate the victim before he died of his injuries months after the incident.

The Roma minority continued to be the target of much police violence. Anguel Anguelov, a Roma, was killed by a police officer in Nova Zagora on March 20, 1995. According to eye witnesses, Anguel was shot when he approached the police and asked why they were beating his brother. Similarly, in March, two Roma children from Vidin were severely beaten by two police officers from the regional police department. The two officers took the boys out of school and broke one boy's arm, allegedly because the two boys had harassed a colleague's son. As of November 1995, no charges had been brought against the police officers in either case.

In addition to numerous cases of police brutality, reports of xenophobic attacks and mob violence intensified during 1995. For example, on February 4, nine Roma from the village of Skobeleov were attacked by unknown people with guns and bats. Toma Yordanov Marinov was beaten to death during the incident. Similarly, four days before the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday on April 20, an arsonist destroyed the homes of at least seven Roma families in Sofia. According to witnesses, approximately one hundred Roma were in the houses; one man died from injuries suffered during the fire, and several others were injured. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received reports that, in these and other similar cases, the Bulgarian police and prosecutors failed to take prompt and forceful steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In addition, other groups not recognized in Bulgaria as national minorities confronted racial attacks. On June 15, a group of unidentified "skinheads" assaulted an African-American in the center of Sofia. Similarly, "skinheads" beat three Arabs in the city of Pleven on May 18.

During 1995, the Bulgarian government continued to restrict the free expression and association of certain Bulgarian citizens who identify themselves as ethnic Macedonians. As in previous years, the leaders of United Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO Ilinden) were banned from assembling at the Rozhen Monastery in April to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the death of Yane Sandanski, a Macedonian leader. In July, the members of OMO Ilinden were again banned from meeting at the Samuil Castle to commemorate, among other anniversaries, the foundation of the Republic of Macedonia. It was widely reported that a Bulgarian court upheld the ban stating that, "the territory of Bulgaria cannot be used as a place to celebrate events that have no relation to Bulgarian history."

The Bulgarian government continued to restrict religious diversity in 1995. Forty-five "non-traditional" religious groups have been denied legal registration since February 1994, when a new law on non-profit organizations was adopted. Legal registration is a prerequisite to being recognized as a legitimate denomination with contractual and organizational rights to, for example, rent public halls and publish materials in the organization's name. On February 24, police in Veliko Tarnovo disbanded a meeting of members of the "Word of Life" religious sect because the assembly was "illegal." Similarly, in July, an investigation was opened concerning two pastors of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Gueorgui Boyadzhiev and Elena Karinkiova, who were accused of representing and circulating information about an unregistered denomination.

Among some positive human rights developments in Bulgaria during 1995, the Council of Ministers amended the penal code on May 18, 1995, providing for life imprisonment as an alternative to the death penalty in certain cases. However, despite the continued enforcement of a 1990 moratorium on the death penalty, capital punishment remained legal.

The 1992 law for "Additional Requirements Toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying Commission," known as the "Panev law," was abolished in 1995. The Panev law barred former secretaries and members of the Communist Party from a variety of high-level positions. This law had carried with it an inherent presumption of collective guilt that conflicted with international human rights standards. The abrogation of the Panev law entered into force on April 3, 1995.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempt by the government to impede human rights activists in their investigations and reporting during 1995.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration failed publicly to raise human rights concerns, especially the deteriorating conditions for Roma, during its review of Bulgaria's Most Favored Nation trade status in June. Bulgaria is expected to be graduated to permanent MFN status in late 1995. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 was accurate and comprehensive in its portrayal of the human rights situation in Bulgaria.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued to focus attention on human rights violations against minorities in Bulgaria, especially the Roma. Following the release of "Increasing Violence Against Roma in Bulgaria" in November 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki raised concerns with the Bulgarian Embassy to the U.S. on the treatment of Roma and the failure of authorities to provide redress for the victims of these abuses. In late 1994, these concerns were raised with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. On December 29, 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also sent a letter to the Bulgarian ambassador to the U.S., Snezhana Botusharova, calling on the Bulgarian government to establish an independent commission to review cases of police brutality against Roma and determine whether investigatory, prosecutorial and judicial decisions have been influenced by the ethnicity of the victims. In December 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki invited Dimitrina Petrova, supervisor of the Human Rights Project in Bulgaria, to be honored for her work providing legal assistance to Roma victims of police violence at Human Rights Watch's annual tribute to human rights monitors.

This report covers events of 1995

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