Update to BGR20136.E of 17 March 1995 on the functioning of the military court and on due process during a court martial, including the constitution/selection of the tribunal, the ranks of the judges, on whether the accused is represented by counsel and, if so, on whether counsel is assigned or whether the accused can choose his/her counsel, and on whether there is a right of appeal to a higher level of military court or to a civilian court; and the prosecution and punishment of Roma, particularly regarding the use of "punishment camps" [BGR37806.E]

According to a paper prepared by the Military Attaché at the Embassy of Bulgaria in Italy, the military judicial system in Bulgaria has been part of the State's judicial system since 1994 (Giustizia Militare n.d.b). Military courts are attached to civil courts (CSD Mar. 1999 3b). However, unlike in the civil system where the lowest courts occur at the Regional Court level, the first instance of the military courts occurs at the District Court level and is mainly designed to try crimes committed by military staff, including police personnel (Country Reports 2000 Feb. 2001, section 1e; CSD Mar. 1999), or by civilians employed by the armed forces (ibid). Military courts can consist of either one judge and two jurors or three judges and four jurors, depending on the circumstances (Giustizia Militare n.d.a). Military judges are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and are given a military rank by the Minister of Defence (ibid). Military service personnel, from sergeants to generals, are appointed to five-year terms as jurors by the General Assembly of Judges of the Court of Military Appeals (ibid).

Rulings may be appealed to the Military Court of Appeal/Military Appellate Court (CSD Mar. 1999; Giustizia Militare n.d.b.), which, except as provided otherwise by law, sits as a panel of three judges and is chaired by a Presiding Judge (Giustizia Militare n.d.b.). Decisions reached by the Military Court of Appeal may themselves be appealed by the Court of Cassation (CSD Mar. 1998). However, judgements rendered by the Court of Cassation are final with regard to both civil and criminal matters (Giustizia Militare n.d.b.).

No further reference to the Military Court system in Bulgaria, including on the prosecution and punishment of Roma, could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

However, according to a September 1999 report published by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a 1999 survey conducted among prisoners in state prisons found that Roma are "disproportionately represented" among those who did not have access to legal representation during criminal proceeding; 64 per cent during preliminary investigations and 48 per cent during trial (BHC Sept. 1999). A survey of prisoners conducted by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in December 2000-January 2001 found that 61 per cent of Roma, compared to 53 per cent of the Bulgarian respondents, stated that they did not have access to a lawyer during pre-trial proceedings (Mar. 2001 IV).

According to a report by the European Roma Rights Center, Roma are reportedly detained on remand more often and for longer periods of time than non-Roma, with investigations lasting several months to more than a year (ERRC Dec. 1997; CEDIME-SE Aug. 2000).

As well, Roma have been found to be over-represented among the prison population and are more likely to receive harsher sentences compared to other Bulgarians for the same offences (BHC Sept. 1999). Based on interviews conducted with prisoners, a document published by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), posited that the large number of Roma in prison could be explained by two factors: the imposition of stiffer sentences for repeat offenders, even in instances of relatively minor crimes; and the allegedly discriminatory practices of the criminal justice system, whereby Roma are sentenced and given longer prison terms simply for being Roma (Dec. 1997).

No reference to "punishment camps" could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. For information on prison conditions in Bulgaria please refer to Section IX of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee's Annual Report, Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2000.

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 to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC). March 2001. Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2000. http://www.bghelsinki.org/2000.html [Accessed 12 Sept. 2001]

_____. September 1999. "Report on the Implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities: Bulgaria." http://www.bghelsinki.org/frames-special.htm [Accessed 13 Sept. 2001]

Centre for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE). August 2000. Minorities in Southeast Europe: Roma of Bulgaria. http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/pdf/cedine-se-bulgaria.roma.PDF [Accessed 12 Sept. 2001]

Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). March 1999. "Bulgaria: Legal and Judicial Reform." http://www.csd.bg/jri/resources/assesment.html [ Accessed 17 Sept. 2001]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/eur/index.cfm?docid=705 [Accessed 14 Sept. 2001]

European Roma Rights Center (ERRC). December 1997. Profession: Prisoner -Roma in Detention in Bulgaria. http://errc.org/publications/reports/bulgaria.pdf [Accessed 12 Sept. 2001]

Giustizia Militare. n.d.a. "Military Criminal Jurisdiction Abroad." http://www.giustiziamilitare.difesa.it/seminario/introduction.htm [Accessed 14 Sept. 2001]

_____. n.d.b. Nedelcio Bogdanov. "Military Judicial System in Bulgaria." http://www.giustiziamilitare.difesa.it/seminario/delegati_internazion.../bulgaria_english.html [Accessed 17 Sept. 2001]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases


Oral sources:

Unsuccessful attempts to contact European Roma Rights Centre

Unsuccessful attempts to contact Inter Ethnic Initiative for Human Rights Foundation

Unsuccessful attempts to contact Human Rights Project

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International

Balkan Human Rights Web Pages

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Central Europe Online

Central Europe Review

European Roma Rights Centre

Human Rights Watch

International Helsinki Federation

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Rom News

UN News

World News Connection