Bulgarian Helsinki Committee's Annual Report: Bulgaria Faced Serious Challenges in the Sphere of Human Rights in 2015

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Sofia, 31 March 2016

In 2015, Bulgaria faced serious challenges in the field of human rights, among which three stand out: discrimination and violation of the rights of ethnic minorities and refugees, problems in the places of detention, restrictions on the freedom of speech. These are part of the conclusions of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee's annual human rights report presented today at a special press conference in Sofia.

In 2015, nationalist parties of neototalitarian type (both in government and in opposition) became the main sources of incitement of hate, discrimination and violence against Roma people, Muslims and refugees. This was carried out systematically and included further disseminated by the media and other public forums. On a number of occasions there was racist instigation from the parliamentary tribune. These actions went unpunished and contributed to the establishment of an atmosphere of intolerance towards certain ethnic and religious groups, as well as refugees“, said BHC's Chair Krassimir Kanev.

Due to this country context and atmosphere, a number of forced evictions of dozens of Roma families took place, thus creating a humanitarian crisis that threatened the lives and health of many people, many of whom were children. At the same time 2015 saw the introduction of restrictive policies regarding asylum seekers and refugees fleeing armed conflict and other situations of violence.

The situation in the places of detention, the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary remain areas in which no substantial progress was made. Discrimination against ethnic and sexual minorities, women, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups continues to be widespread, poorly recognized and addressed by the authorities.

BHC identifies the following main problems regarding human rights in Bulgaria in 2015:

  • The national system for asylum and international protection once again underwent significant changes in a relatively short period of time. Access to territory for asylum seekers in Bulgaria remained difficult and obstructed by the authorities as they continued applying tactics aimed at pushing back asylum seekers. Physical force and firearms were often used by law enforcement agencies to intimidate and push back migrants. In October 2015 a 19-year-old Afghan man was shot dead by a border-police patrol. The following pre-trial proceedings were terminated by the prosecution as they concluded that no crime had been committed.

  • Bulgaria was repeatedly criticized by various European institutions and organizations about the conditions in the places of detention. Among them were the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They expressed their concern regarding the overpopulation, poor hygiene and inadequate access to medical care in the places of detention as well as the lack of an effective domestic remedy.

  • In 2015, the collapse of the freedom of expression in Bulgaria continued andthe country's position in Reporters without Borders’ press freedom index further plummeted, reaching 106th placeKey issues in the area are theenormous pressure on media and journalists from various sources, heavy censorship and self-censorship, the strong economic and political dependence of the media, non-transparent ownership and funding and ineffective media self-regulation.
  • The judicial reform was de facto abandoned after Constitutionalamendments, a product of backroom political bargaining, were passed in DecemberThey reversed the logic of the proposed changes by reformatting quotas in the Supreme Judicial Council. An accountability mechanism for the Chief Prosecutor was also noted implemented.
  • The process of deinstitutionalization was marked by regressIn the first five years of the deinstitutionalization process, the state closed 87, or more than half of all 137 institutions for children, but the total number of children in formal care (outside of their families and placed in specialized institutions, residential community services, or foster families) increased in five years by 1 086 – from 7 150 to 8 236. BHC registered information regarding harmful practices of neglect and abuse of children in centers for family-type accommodation.
  • In 2015, the government prepared and introduced in Parliament the long-awaited draft law on gender equality, which will not achieve its declared objectives due to formalism, lack of substantive provisions and performance guarantees. A step forward was the public statement in early 2016 that the government will sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
  • By the end of 2015 a bill for individuals and support measures was drafted. It reforms the system of deprivation of legal capacity, but its move to the Parliament was blocked by opposition from several institutions, including the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy.
  • During the year public figures and media outlets continued fueling Islamophobia. A number of Muslim temples were vandalized. The Prosecutor's office continues not to pursue such incidents as hate crimes.
  • In the past year the Bulgarian Prosecution continued its systematic practice of not forming pre-trial proceedings for statutory hate speechas well asclassifying crimes, clearly motivated by racism, homophobia or religious intolerance, as ordinary crimes.
  • The past year has shown no progress towards equality of non-heterosexual and transgender people. The messages and issues raised by activists from this community continued to suffer media blackout and institutional indifference.

Download the report here [in Bulgarian].