Bulgaria is among European Union countries named in an Amnesty International report for lacking comprehensive provisions on hate crime as the laws do not cover offences against people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
The report was released on September 18, just days before Bulgaria’s annual Pride Parade, this year being held on September 21 and during which participants will call for justice for Mihail Stoyanov, murdered in 2008 in a park in Sofia because he was perceived to be gay.
The European Union (EU) and its member states are failing to tackle homophobic and transphobic hate crimes and to protect all individuals from discrimination, harassment and violence, Amnesty International said.
“Hate-motivated violence has a particularly damaging and long-term effect on victims. Yet, the EU as well as many of its members do not recognize crimes based on the perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as hate crimes in their legislation. This is unacceptable because sexual orientation and gender identity are protected grounds of discrimination in international human rights law,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe and Central Asia.
Amnesty International’s report, Because of who I am: Homophobia, transphobia and hate crime in Europe, highlights gaps in the legislation of many European countries where sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly included as grounds on which hate crimes can be perpetrated. The report also points out the inadequacy of current EU standards on hate crime for tackling homophobic and transphobic violence.
The discriminatory motive sets hate crimes apart from other criminal acts. It is crucial that when investigating and prosecuting criminal acts on the basis of the real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the victims the police and judicial authorities do whatever they can to unearth the motive behind them.
According to a recent EU-wide survey, 80 per cent of homophobic and transphobic violence is not reported to the police, often because of a fear of institutionalized homophobia and transphobia. In other cases, gay people do not report attacks against them because they are not openly gay and are afraid that their peers and families will find out.
Countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Latvia have no comprehensive provisions on hate crime as they do not cover offences against people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In other countries such as Croatia and Greece legislation on transphobic and homophobic hate crimes is not properly implemented and sometimes result in the homophobic or transphobic motive not being registered by the police or not being thoroughly investigated.
“The EU and its member states cannot fulfil their obligations to combat discrimination without adopting appropriate measures against all forms of hate motivated violence. The existing double standards convey the idea that some forms of violence deserve less attention and less protection than others. That’s unacceptable for a European Union that prides itself on promoting equality and inclusion,” Perolini said.
The Amnesty International report said that Bulgarian legislation does not include any provision on hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.
Homophobic motives can, at best, be prosecuted under the general aggravating circumstance of “hooliganism”. Hooliganism is defined as indecent acts, grossly violating the public order and expressing open disrespect for society (Article 325 of the Criminal Code).
The Bulgarian government initiated a discussion on amendments tothe Criminal Code in 2010 and a working group including civil society organisations was established with the aim of drafting a new Criminal Code.
A draft in May 2013 included sexual orientation but not gender identity among the lists of personal characteristics on the basis of which a hate crime can be perpetrated.
No data on homophobic and transphobic hate crimes is collected by the authorities.
The Mihail Stoyanov case, as recorded in the Amnesty International report
“In the early evening of September 30 2008, Mihail Stoyanov, a 25-year-old medical student, left his home in Sofia, Bulgaria, telling his mother Hristina that he would be back shortly.
That night he was brutally killed in Borisova Gardens, Sofia, because he was perceived to be gay.
The investigation of this crime resulted in the arrest of two suspects in 2010.
The homophobic motive was well established during the investigation, as confirmed by the Prosecutor in charge of the case to Amnesty International’s researchers in June 2012.
In fact, three witnesses testified that they were in Borisova Gardens, that they watched the two suspects kill Mihail and that they were all part of a group who claimed to be cleansing the park of gays and who attacked other men only because of their perceived sexual orientation.
The two suspects were initially held in custody and later under house arrest until April 2012 when they were both released on bail because the maximum period of pre-trial detention had elapsed.
The investigation concluded in May 2012. Almost five years after the murder, the trial of the two suspects has not yet started.
On December 17 2012, the prosecutor issued an indictment against the two suspects in Sofia City Court. The Court rejected the indictment on grounds of legal inconsistencies. As of August 2013, another indictment had not been issued.
The failure to bring those who killed Mihail to justice has been devastating for his mother, Hristina.
Although she is actively engaging in the investigation process by constantly seeking information and providing advice to the investigators, she now feels hopeless and abandoned by the authorities.
Those suspected of killing Mihail may be tried for murder committed on the basis of “hooliganism” and “in a particularly cruel manner”, two aggravating circumstances, but not for murder perpetrated on grounds of Mihail’s perceived sexual orientation.
Prosecuting this crime without including the hate motive means that the discriminatory aspect will remain unacknowledged.”