Recourse availabe to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted or abused by police while in custody; existence of a police complaints mechanism (1999-March 2005) [BGR43405.E]

This Response incorporates sections of BGR33063.E of 10 October 1999.

Information on the recourse available to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted or abused by police while in custody was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Legal Mechanisms

A September 2001 article from the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, in discussing the general police complaints mechanism in Bulgaria, noted the following:

Article 131 of the Bulgarian Penal Code stipulates that State representatives and members of the police force who cause physical harm to others shall be penalized (278). In January 2000, the Police Act allowed police to carry out their own official investigations of "minor crimes against individuals and/or property," prior to that criminal evidence gathered by police had to be reexamined by the State prosecutor (278). Under Article 45 of the Bulgarian Constitution, citizens have the right to lodge complaints with the relevant State body; the 1988 Law on the Liability of the State for Damages Caused to Citizens, "incurred due to unlawful acts, actions or inactions of State bodies and officials" (279). Furthermore, since 1998, police can be detained and investigated without approval from the Minister of the Interior (279). In fact, the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights stated that "[i]t is legally obligatory for the authorities in Bulgaria to investigate complaints of police misconduct and reply to the complainant" (280).

Police Complaints in Practice

According to the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, a victim of criminal police behaviour can complain to the Military Prosecutor (Sept. 2001, 279). The journal noted that despite "frequent reports of ill-treatment," complaints were rarely lodged against police because victims were afraid of police harassment and they did not think that their complaints would result in penalties against perpetrators, a finding allegedly supported by lawyers and non-governmental organizations (Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights Sept. 2001, 280). For instance, the journal noted that in 1999 "only 42...complaints" were lodged against police for excessive or unlawful use of force (ibid., 280).

In addition, the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights indicated that the duration of the investigation of complaints is unlimited (ibid., 281). A 1998 survey found that in some areas military investigators were biased in favour of the police and would conduct unfair investigations (ibid., 281). The Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights noted that criminal investigations against police were "ineffective" and that the police complaints mechanism was "inaccessible or unreliable" (ibid., 284). Country Reports 2004 cited human rights groups as claiming that "police abuse were very seldom properly investigated, nor were offending officers consistently punished" (28 Feb. 2005, Sec 1.c).

In a 9 March 2005 telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) indicated that no separate procedure existed for women who are victims of police abuse: they must simply make a complaint to the prosecutors, who will decide if the case merits prosecution. The Director further stated that he was not aware that such incidents of police abuse against women were particularly common, although they do occur occasionally. He added that only in rare cases would a woman actually make a complaint: not only do Bulgarian women infrequently complain about rape because of the stigma involved, but they also do not complain about the police for other reasons, including the fear of being targeted.

In 24 February 1999 correspondence about domestic violence in Bulgaria, a psychologist with the Animus Association Foundation in Sofia stated that

The Bulgarian society is a patriarchal one. Violence against women is a common thing. In some communities it has almost become a norm. Usually it remains concealed and not talked of. One of the reasons about this is the restricted alternatives women have very few alternatives for help. They have little trust in the Bulgarian institutions. As far as violence against women this lack of trust is justified. The society mostly has a victimising attitude towards women victims of violence (domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking and forced prostitution). This is the attitude women usually face when they seek help from the institutions.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Animus Association Foundation (AAF) [Sofia]. 24 February 1999. Correspondence from a psychologist.

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC). 9 March 2005. Telephone interview with the director.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. "Bulgaria." [Accessed 1 Mar. 2005]

Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights [Utrecht]. September 2001. Vol. 19, No. 3. Niels Uildriks. "Dealing with Complaints Against the Police in Romani, Bulgaria and Poland: A Human Rights Perspective."

Additional Sources Consulted

The Animus Plovdiv Foundation, Sofia, could not provide information.

Attempts to contact the Gender Project for Bulgaria Foundation in Sofia were unsuccessful.

The Bulgarian Association of University Women, in Sofia, did not respond to requests for information.

The Directorate of National Police Service, in Sofia, did not respond to requests for information.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), Coalition for Gender Equality, Commission of the European Communities, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), European Women's Lobby, European Women's Resource Centre (Euro ERC), Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Institute for Global Communications (IGC) Women's Net, International Helsinki Federation (IHF), International, Regional, and National Developments in the Area of Violence Against Women, Network of East-West Women, Network of European Women's Rights, Open Society Foundation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Sofia Echo, South Eastern European Women's Legal Initiatives (SEELINE), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United States Department of State, Women Against Violence in Europe, Women's Aid International, Women's Alliance for Development (Sofia), Women's Human Rights Resources, World News Connection (WNC).

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