ECRI: Bulgaria failed to implement recommendations regarding fight against hate speech

Written by on May 17, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on ECRI: Bulgaria failed to implement recommendations regarding fight against hate speech

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has criticized Bulgaria for implementing its recommendations only in part. In September of 2014, the E.U. body had strongly recommended “that the authorities urgently organise an awareness-raising campaign promoting a positive image of and tolerance for asylum seekers and refugees and ensuring that the public understands the need for international protection.”

In the final months of 2013, the ECRI recalls, there had been “an explosion of xenophobic hate speech, fueled by certain politicians, against refugees who had entered the country in large numbers as a consequence of the conflict in Syria”, a statement said. By “certain politicians”, the commission most likely means so-called patriots, who by now are part of the Bulgarian government.

Two and a half years after making its recommendations, the ECRI now notes “that the situation for asylum seekers and refugees has not improved since then and that organised anti-migrant protests have sparked tensions between local residents and refugees.”

Even the Harmanli Scandal made it into the ECRI’s statement. The organisation said, riots had broken out in the Harmanli refugee reception centre “when quarantine measures had been put in place, reportedly to stop the spread of infectious diseases following complaints from locals.” Shortly after the Bulgarian authorities had turned the refugee center into a jail, by locking it, it turned out there were no dangerous diseases which could have harmed locals.

“Regrettably, no relevant information indicating implementation of the above recommendation was provided by the authorities”, the ECRI said. Therefore, it concluded “that its recommendation has not been implemented.” In view of the high levels of intolerance for asylum seekers and refugees in Bulgaria, the ECRI called upon the authorities to take urgent action.

In its report on Bulgaria, the commission had also recommended that the Bulgarian Commission for Protection against Discrimination produces and publishes information about discrimination, which would explain the procedures for discrimination complaints in a variety of languages used in the country and disseminates it widely. According to ECRI, booklets and information leaflets about the Anti Discrimination Act were only available in Bulgarian and some in English. Also the only language permitted for filing complaints was Bulgarian. The E.U. organisation therefore voiced concerned that this hindered access to justice for the most vulnerable groups in the country.

All in all, Bulgaria had implemented the recommendations in part, the ECRI stated. It remained unclear which parts of the recommendations, apart from printing some booklets or leaflets about discrimination, Bulgaria supposedly did implement, since no awareness-raising campaign has been developed, organised or implemented.

ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national and ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language. It prepares reports and issues recommendations to member States.

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com