Bulgaria’s government should “step up its efforts to fight the hate speech prevailing today in Bulgaria, in particular against Roma, LGBTI people and other minority groups,” the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatović said after a five-day visit to the country.
Hate speech and hostility against Roma persisted, with little if any response from the authorities: “The lack of reaction to some very serious instances of hate speech by some high-level politicians, which systematically go unsanctioned, is worrying,” Mijatović said on December 2.
Mijatović was referring to instances when Roma had to leave their homes following anti-Roma rallies in several villages, including in Voyvodinovo.
“Such disastrous events illustrate the highly detrimental impact that hate speech can have on the lives of people and communities. I call on the authorities to urgently address the situation of the persons affected,” she said.
“There is a need for a political and cultural shift as regards the treatment and image of minority groups in Bulgaria. Recognising racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance for all offences and implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, including those on forced evictions and the registration of associations of persons identifying as a minority are among the immediate steps which the government should take.”
She also touched on the issue of the Istanbul Convention, which became the subject of heated controversy in Bulgaria in 2018.
“The public debates which started a few years ago around the ratification of the Istanbul Convention propagated disinformation and reasserted age-old stereotypes about gender roles in society. The withdrawal by the government of the Child Protection Strategy and the current debates on the possible delay of the entry into force of the recently adopted Law on Social Services follow the same line,” Mijatović said.
She urged Bulgaria’ government to re-open the debate on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, adopt the Child Protection Strategy and ensure the timely and effective implementation of the Law on Social Services.
“As a matter of urgency, the authorities should increase the number of shelters and other social services available to victims of domestic violence,” she said. Mijatović the only crisis shelter for women victims of domestic violence currently operating in Sofia as part of her trip.
She said she was also concerned by the climate of increased hostility against human rights defenders, in particular women’s and LGBTI rights activists, as well as the continuous deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria.
(Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg. Photo: Council of Europe, CC BY 3.0)