WORLD REPORT 2001 - Bulgaria

Human Rights Developments

Abuses against Roma and restrictions on Islamic practitioners, and trade in arms in violation of a U.N. embargo offset improvement in other fields in Bulgaria, notably in freedom of expression.

Roma were victims of police brutality and violent attacks by private citizens who acted with impunity. Numerous cases of police ill-treatment include the beating of two young Roma, Marin Ivanov and Marin Gheorghiev, in the police station in Silistra, on November 18, 1999. Sixteen-year-old Tsvetalin Perov suffered third-degree burns on April 29, 2000, in police detention in Vidin, after being beaten and losing consciousness. On 5 July Traicho Liubomirov, a nineteen-year-old Rom, was shot dead upon arrest on suspicion of car theft in Sofia. The authorities acquiesced in the harassment and discrimination against Roma by private citizens. Ethnic Bulgarian residents in a neighborhood of Burgas signed a petition on November 4, 1999, calling for the expulsion of Roma and the demolition of Roma houses. Villagers in Mechka refused to allow Roma in public places and threatened them with expulsion after an unresolved murder on April 4, 2000.

The Parliament failed to adopt legislation of any kind to prevent discrimination against Roma in education, health care, regional, urban planning, or other areas, although such changes were envisaged by the Framework Programme for the Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society, adopted by the government in April 1999.

On February 29, the Constitutional Court banned the Macedonian minority-based OMO Ilinden-Pirin party, which had been registered in the winter of 1999. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee criticized the move and rejected the court's allegation that the group was advocating the secession of Pirin.

On January 8, six Islamic preachers were expelled for preaching without a permit under articles 22 and 23 of the Denominations Act (1949), despite a 1992 ruling by the Constitutional Court that these articles were unconstitutional. On August 9, Ahmad Naim Mohammed Musa, a citizen of Jordan and permanent resident of Bulgaria, was expelled from the country for allegedly preaching "radical" Islam. The chief mufti denied that Musa carried on any religious activities, and human rights groups stated that the government's accusation was based upon claims that a foundation Musa headed had provided assistance to the chief mufti's office, helping the office obtain financial independence from the state.

On January 12, the Bulgarian Parliament abolished the penalty of imprisonment for libel or slander, but replaced it the following day with heavy fines. President Stoyanov vetoed the bill providing for the fines. On June 1, 2000, a company owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch was awarded a license for the first private nationwide television channel. License applications by two Bulgarian companies were pending as of September.

In a report published in March, a U.N. Security Council committee investigating violations of sanctions against Angola's UNITA rebel movement found that Bulgaria had supplied weapons and training to the rebels. Bulgaria set up a commission of inquiry into the charges; on May 9 the commission announced that it had found no evidence of a violation of the embargo. (See Arms chapter.)

Defending Human Rights

Local nongovernmental organizations continued to report vigorously on human rights abuses in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) covered a wide range of issues. The Human Rights Project addressed freedom of conscience and religious freedom, while the Tolerance Foundation focused on the situation of Roma. Women's human rights activists continued to press for state action to protect women from domestic violence, advocating for changes in the penal code to criminalize domestic violence. On November 9, 1999, four members of the parliament submitted a draft Denominations Act prepared by leading human rights groups. The parliament rejected the draft on February 2, 2000.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

On December 8, 1999, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights welcomed Bulgaria's extensive efforts to comply with its obligations under the covenant. It expressed concern, however, with continued discrimination against the Roma in education, social benefits, access to land, and other areas. The committee also criticized restrictions on the right to strike and the lack of opportunities for minorities to receive education in their own languages.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Hans Van der Stoel delivered a report on the situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area in March 2000. The high commissioner criticized employment discrimination in Bulgaria and pointed out that fourteen Romani men reportedly died in police custody between 1992 and 1998. Although the report noted that disproportionate numbers of Romani children are sent to "special schools" for mentally disabled children, it concluded that the practice is less prevalent than in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Council of Europe

On January 26, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly ended a three-year monitoring procedure for Bulgaria, on the grounds that the country was committed to democratic reform and made major steps forward on the road to democracy. A final report by the Council of Europe rapporteurs acknowledged democratic achievement in Bulgaria but also called for improvements in the independence of the judiciary and the media, the rights of minorities, the functioning of local self-government, and for additional efforts to combat corruption and police brutality. In the case of Velikova v. Bulgaria, regarding the 1994 police beating and death of a Roma man, Slavcho Tsonchev, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on May 18 that Bulgaria had violated the right to life and the right to an effective remedy.

European Union

In December 1999, the European Council opened negotiations for Bulgarian accession to the European Union. On July 5, the European Parliament recommended to the E.U. council that Bulgaria be taken off the list of countries whose citizens need a visa to enter the E.U. border-free territory. President Stoyanov expressed concern on July 6 that Bulgaria was regarded as an outsider in the E.U. enlargement process.

United States

During a November 1999 visit, President Clinton encouraged Bulgaria to persist in building a free society and, in apparent disregard of ongoing abuses, hailed the country's tolerance toward various ethnic groups, but he also raised arms trade concerns with the Bulgarian prime minister. Prior to the visit, the United States extended a U.S. $25 million grant to Bulgaria to mitigate the effects of the Kosovo crisis and to ease the social burden of economic reform.