Torture and mistreatment

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The excessive use of force, auxiliary means and firearms is a serious problem in Bulgaria. In their campaign against organised crime and corruption, law enforcement bodies violate the law on many occasions by using torture, inhuman or degrading treatment against people detained on the suspicion of having committed crimes. Officers often use video cameras to document arrests of people sprawled on the ground, half-naked, handcuffed, and give those images to the media, many of which gladly broadcast them.

Between 1998 and 2010, ECtHR delivered 27 judgments in favour of the applicants (including one by the Grand Chamber) in 26 police brutality cases in respect of Bulgaria. The pertinent national legislation gives carte blanche to excessive use of firearms. According to art. 74 of the Ministry of Interior Act, law enforcement officers are allowed to use firearms to detain a person who is committing or has committed ‘a crime of a general nature’, as well as to prevent the escape of a person, who might not present any threat. The flawed article also legitimises any shot, produced by police officers, at virtually anyone who does not stop upon their warning.

The enactment of this provision constitutes an obvious breach of art. 6, para. 1 of the ICCPR that ‘no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life’. In many of its judgments in respect of Bulgaria, ECtHR has cited the act as conflicting with other international law norms that protect the right to life and guarantee protection from inhuman or degrading treatment. Art. 74 of the Ministry of Interior Act also does not comply with Principle 9 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

At the beginning of this year, BHC initiated its campaign to stop police violence. At one of the roundtables in Sofia, representatives of the legislative, executive and judiciary, alongside with various human rights organisations, reached consensus that the state needs to carry out legislative reforms to address the serious problem of police violence and arbitrariness.

As a result of this campaign, on May 2011, the Ministry of Interior announced the establishment of a working group (including BHC and the Open Society Institute), which by the end of July 2011 will suggest legislative amendments of the abovementioned flawed act.

You can read more on the torture and inhuman treatment problematic in BHC’s annual report, on the website of our campaign against police brutality and in the sections below.