Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov has lodged a challenge in the Constitutional Court to amendments approved by Parliament in September lifting the statute of limitations for prosecutions of crimes committed by Bulgaria’s Communist Party regime between 1944 and 1989.
The National Assembly voted on September 17 2015 to remove the statute of limitations for the prosecution of crimes committed by the communist regime.
The statute of limitations was removed for serious crimes committed between September 9 1944 and November 10 1989 by officials of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
In Parliament, which has a total of 240 members, the amendment to the Penal Code drew 111 votes in favour, 30 against and there were seven abstentions.
The amendments were put forward by GERB and the Reformist Bloc, centre-right partners in the current coalition government that has been in office since November 2014.
Tsatsarov’s office said on December 22 that it was challenging the law in the Constitutional Court because it violated basic constitutional principles.
Any legal provision that a crime other than a crime against peace and humanity would not be bound by a statute of limitations was unconstitutional, Tsatsarov said.
He cited Article 31 of the constitution, which contains the provisions that “anyone charged with a crime shall be brought before a court within the time established by law” and “there shall be no limitation to the prosecution and the execution of a sentence for crimes against peace and humanity”.
According to Tsatsarov, the legislature could increase the time limit in a statute of limitations, but could not remove it.
The Prosecutor-General also argued that the legislation was in conflict with article 4 of the constitution, on the rule of law.
This, he said, requires the legislature to be consistent and predictable and to prevent the creation of mutually contradictory legislation.
Providing for discontinued cases to be resumed threatened the credibility of Bulgarian law and the stability of the legal system in the country.
Tsatsarov also pointed to what he called mutually exclusive provisions in a single act of legislation, which was “clearly contradictory to the rule of law”.
He said that the persons to whom the law removing the statute of limitations would apply were not clearly defined. First, he said, it was not clear who was described in the clause referring to members of the governing bodies of the Bulgarian Communist Party, as well as third parties entrusted with the functions of senior officials or the party. Tsatsarov added that in the period covered by the law, the Bulgarian Workers Party (Communists) had changed its name in 1948 to the Bulgarian Communist Party.
He added that the amendments led to discrimination on the grounds of political principle, which was prohibited by the constitution. He said that perpetrators of a crime would be treated differently on the basis of whether they were members of the governing bodies of the Bulgarian Communist Party or not.
Tsatsarov cited articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) saying that this kind of retroactive law, establishing corpus delicti or increasing penalties and other sanctions, was impermissible.
He said that the Constitutional Court had held consistently that it was not permissible to give retroactive effort to any law by which acquired rights would be taken away.
The Constitutional Court has opened a case at Tsatsarov’s request and appointed a rapporteur.