US State Dept criticises Bulgaria on prisons, judiciary, corruption, people-trafficking and violence against minorities
The most significant human rights issues in Bulgaria in 2017 included harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities; lack of judicial independence; corruption in all branches of government; trafficking in persons; and societal violence against ethnic minorities, according to the US State Department’s annual report on human rights practices.
Conditions in most prisons were harsh, with problems including violence against inmates, overcrowding, prison staff corruption, and inadequate sanitary, living, and medical facilities, the report, released on April 20, said.
It said that the Committee against Torture (CAT) of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had noted the lack of improvement of material conditions at the Sofia, Bourgas, and Varna Prisons.
While Bulgarian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. “Corrupt practices included bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading.”
NGOs stated that the government lacked sustainable anticorruption mechanisms. In November the European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism report concluded that “progress in tackling high-level corruption … has continued to be a challenge” and the country had “a very limited track record of concrete cases leading to final convictions in court.” According to NGOs, government agencies did not apply a systematic approach for collaborating with civil society.
The Bulgarian constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability continued to be pervasive problems, the report said.
“Public trust in the judicial system remained extremely low because of the perception that magistrates were susceptible to political pressure and rendered unequal justice,” the US State Department report said.
Bulgarian media often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language.
“Nationalist parties, such as Ataka and the Patriotic Front, based their political campaigns on strong anti-Roma, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric.”
On October 25, the Bourgas Regional Court convicted Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov over statements he made in 2014 while he was a member of the National Assembly. The court ruled that Simeonov’s statements against Roma represented abuse and degrading treatment and sentenced him to cease his breach-of-law behaviour and refrain from similar infractions in the future.
In June, citizens, journalists, academics, and human rights activists signed a petition to the prime minister protesting Simeonov’s appointment in charge of demographic policy and ethnic integration and demanding his resignation.
In June, an incident in which ethnic Roma and members of the local youth rowing club clashed in Assenovgrad sparked a series of protests that lasted more than two months.
NGOs accused the government of being unwilling to address anti-Roma attitudes and hate speech.
The May CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) report expressed deep concern at the increase in incidents of hate speech and hate crime “targeting Turks, Roma, Muslims, Jews, persons of African descent, and migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers,” the State Department report sid.
The lack of prosecutions for hate crimes remained a problem, as did short and suspended sentences given to those convicted. An exception was the conviction of Ivan Nikolov, by the Pazardjik District Court on June 30, for the racially motivated murder of an elderly Romani couple. Nikolov was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the report said.
(Photo, of Sofia Central Prison: Bin im Garten)