Bulgaria: Committee concerned about discrimination, corruption and treatment of refugees

Published on 18 Oct 2018, 01:59 PM

Human Rights Committees 124th session - October 2018

Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was killed on 6 October 2018. She was exposing corruption. Photo credit: BBC More information: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45777948

On 16 and 17 October 2018, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Bulgaria’s fourth report on the implementation of the ICCPR. Bulgaria emphasized in its opening statement that a national coordination mechanism on human rights was established in 2013. The Human Rights Committee congratulated the State for its recent election as a member of the Human Rights Council and thanked them for their timely cooperation with the Committee. However, the Committee was disappointed that few NGOs were present during the dialogue.

The Committee’s main concerns in Bulgaria were discrimination of women, Roma and LGBTI persons, corruption and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Other issues included detention conditions, ill-treatment by police officers, the vagueness of the definition of terrorism and the lack of an explicit definition of torture.

The webcast is available here: part 1 and part 2.  

"At this juncture, nothing testifies to the possibility that it could have anything to do with the journalistic activities of the victim. "

- State delegation, replying to the question whether an independent investigation will take place into

Discrimination of vulnerable groups: women, Roma persons, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities and persons with HIV/AIDS

Discrimination remains a challenge in Bulgaria. The Human Rights Committee has significant concerns regarding hostility and hatred based on sexual orientation and gender identity that is not often investigated, and the fact that gender identity is not included as a ground for discrimination in Bulgarian legislation. Moreover, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not included as aggravating factors for hate crimes. The Committee asked whether the State had plans to introduce them, to collect data and what other measures were being taken to tackle this issue. The state clarified that the judge can take these elements into account during a trial, even if they are not provided in the law. Moreover, the state accepted a UPR recommendation to include gender identity as a discrimination ground, but the implementation is still ongoing.

The Committee also asked about the rights of transgender persons and whether the state planned to recognize same sex unions or marriages. This was not answered during the dialogue.

Bulgaria was recently reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Human Rights Committee asked what the State’s timeline was to implement their recommendations. The State replied that a new law is in the process of being adopted, focusing on the social inclusion.

The Committee also noted that persons with HIV/AIDS are still very stigmatized in Bulgaria. Medical facilities are inadequate and doctors sometimes refuse treatment for fear of contracting the disease. The Committee asked whether the State planned to raise awareness among its population on this issue. The Government was committed to improve this by joining all major European and international initiatives on this issue.

Roma communities also face discrimination, and in particular forced evictions that disproportionately affect Roma persons, and de facto segregation in schools. The Committee made a reference to the media and the negative impact of the xenophobic and racist rhetoric in society. The State referred to the National Roma Platform, in which all relevant stakeholders participate and of which the goal is to contribute to Roma integration and to facilitate dialogue.

Women are underrepresented in politics, and in particular Roma women. Moreover, the wage gap between men and women in Bulgaria continues to increase. The Committee asked whether the State has taken measures to improve this. It also asked what was being done to tackle gender-based violence, including domestic violence and whether data about this issue is collected. The delegation stressed that gender equality was a priority in Bulgaria, and that the ministry of Justice drafted a set of legislative amendments to ensure the full protection of victims of domestic violence, by expanding definitions.

The delegation also said that the principle of equality is fundamental. All Bulgarians are free to state their sexual orientation and gender identity, prejudice and stereotypes are consistently combatted. Alleged manifestations of racism are closely monitored.

Treatment of refugees and asylum seekers

The Committee asked the delegation for a response on the fact that two Iraqis died on the Turkish side of the border, after being beaten by Bulgarian police, and reports of pushbacks to Turkey without having the opportunity to ask asylum. The delegation denied any allegations of ill-treatment or pushbacks: “We have not identified any cases of pushbacks along the Turkish border by Bulgarian border police. All officers are thoroughly trained.” They stressed that all migrants in Bulgaria may file an application for asylum, at the border or in reception centers.

The Committee also pointed to some issues in reception centers: lack of qualified interpreters, no complete medical examination, lack of basic services, lack of an adequate age assessment procedure, violence and discrimination against Afghans and Iraqis in the asylum process. The delegation replied that they cooperate closely with UNHCR, UNICEF and ICRC to improve the conditions. 

A new anti-corruption mechanism and the Marinova case

Several Committee members expressed concern about corruption. An anti-corruption mechanism was set up, but the surveillance possibilities seemed to be based on vague terms and do not need a clear and lawful purpose. They asked for clarifications.

The Committee was also worried about corruption within the justice system. These questions were not answered during the dialogue.

Several questions were asked about the Marinova case, in which a Bulgarian journalist that was reporting on corruption, was brutally murdered: whether an independent investigation was taking place, whether it had enough resources, whether the State will take measures to ensure the safety of journalists working on corruption etc.

The delegation answered that this case generated widespread public outcry in Bulgaria and internationally. The only information they stated they had, was that this murder was committed spontaneously, by sexual motives: “At this juncture, nothing testifies to the possibility that it could have anything to do with the journalistic activities of the victim. Although she hosted in her TV show journalists that were investigating various suspicious activities, possibly involving corruption or misuse of public funds, she was not directly dealing with such investigative activities. (…) All possibilities are still on the table and the investigation continues.”

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

By 2 November 2020, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Hate speech and hate crimes

  • Amend the Criminal Code and the Radio and Television Act to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as hate motives and grounds of discrimination, respectively;
  • Ensure that any advocacy of ethnic or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is prohibited in law and in practice
  • Ensure that persons responsible for such behaviour towards minority groups are held accountable, including State officials
  • Effectively enforce criminal provisions against hate crimes and hate speech by ensuring that such crimes are reported, investigated, prosecuted and punished with appropriate sanctions, and that victims receive full reparation
  • Strengthen the investigative capacity of law enforcement officials for hate crimes and criminal hate speech, including on the Internet
  • Strengthen the mandate and capacity of the Council for Electronic Media to prevent and sanction hate speech in the media.

National, ethnic and religious minorities

  • Ensure that all cases of hate speech, hate crimes and discrimination against religious groups are thoroughly and promptly investigated and sanctioned
  • Guarantee the effective exercise of freedom of religion and belief
  • Refrain from any action that may restrict freedom of religion and belief beyond the narrowly construed restrictions permitted under article 18 of the Covenant
  • Revise draft legislation targeting “extremist religious groups”
  • Clarify the vague definition of key terms, removing restrictions on preaching in languages other than Bulgarian
  • Ensure that any legal restrictions, including regarding access to foreign funding, are not used as a tool to curtail freedom of expression beyond the narrow restrictions permitted in article 19(3) of the Covenant
  • Remove the linguistic barriers that limit freedom of expression of non- Bulgarian speaking national minorities during the electoral process
  • Monitor closely the registration process of associations and refrain from any action that may restrict it beyond the narrowly construed restrictions permitted under article 22 of the Covenant.

Freedom of expression

  • Continue training police officers, judges and prosecutors in human rights standards relating to freedom of expression and assembly and the lawful use of force
  • Protect journalists against any form of harassment, attack or excessive use of force
  • Investigate such acts and bring those responsible to justice, including the recent murder of journalist Victoria Marinova
  • Increase media pluralism and the diversity of views and information accessible to the public, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on freedoms of opinion and expression
  • Ensure that any form of public funding for media and journalists is allocated in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner using objective criteria, and that no fines or other regulatory measures are imposed on the media other than in strict compliance with article 19(3) of the Covenant
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