FECL 11 (December 1992/January 1993):

BULGARIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN BULGARIA

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee has published a report (13 October 1992) on the development of the human rights situation in this country after the parliamentary and municipal elections of October 1991, which had brought the first noncommunist government to power. The report was sent to PFE by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee's secretary, Krassimir Kranev.
In the following, we publish a synopsis of the report.

 

Background

The elections held in Oktober 1991 were won by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), which detains 45.8 percents of the seats in the present parliament. The former Communist, now Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which controlled the first post-Communist constituent parliament, gained 44.2 percent of the seats.

The third political formation in Bulgarian politics, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), a political organization made up largely of Bulgarian Turks, Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks) and gypsies, won 10% of the seats. The new UDF government relies on MRF support for a majority in Parliament, facing BSP opposition.

Under UDF government a number of human rights instruments were signed and ratified, among which the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorizing the filing of complaints by individuals, the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights and its Optional Protocol No.1. Bulgaria also recognizes the competence of the European Commission on Human Rights to consider individual complaints and accepts compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court for Human Rights.

Progress was made on a number of practical problems, in particular relating to the rights of Bulgarian Turks. However, a number of serious human rights problems continue to exist in Bulgaria. In certain areas the situation has even deteriorated as compared to the pre-election period. The negative tendencies are the result of both the passivity of the government in cases of human rights violations, that continue to exist, and new policies which have contributed to additional situations of noncompliance with international norms.

 

1. Minority rights

The minority rights record of the country (especially with regard to the Bulgarian Turks) has improved.

Optional Turkish language education has been introduce in public schools. A significant number of MRF members were elected in local administrative bodies, including 27 municipal mayors and 650 town and village mayors. Kurdzhaly, the main city in the region most densely populated by ethnic Turks elected a Turkish mayor. The circulation of minority literature (including newspapers) increased, programs in Turkish are under preparation at public radio and TV. Action has been taken on the critical question of the restauration of property of the Bulgarian Turks.

Moreover, cultural organizations of Turks, Armenians, Gypsies, Jews and Karakachani can now function freely.

Despite such progress, serious minority right problems remain:

Ban on parties: The new Constitution limits the right of association and applies discriminatory standards banning parties formed on an "ethnic, racial or religious basis" (Art.11, .4). It also bans the political activity of "citizens associations", including trade unions (Art.12, .2). On the basis of Art.11, .4 the Democratic Roma Union (one of the Gypsy organizations), as well as UMO, the organization of Macedonians) were denied a political status before the October elections. Using the same provision, a group of deputies attacked the constitutionality of the MRF, but a non-verdict decision by the Constitutional Court resulted in the maintenance of the status quo. It did not preclude the participation of the MRF in the policital process and the election of its deputies remained unhampered, but the decision does not reaffirm the political rights of the MRF under the Constitution and thus leaves the problem of minority rights unresolved. In its non-verdict decision the Constitutional Court introduced the idea that the "basis" of a party, falling under the restriction of Art.11, .4, is determined not only by its membership, but also by its voters - a position which opens a possibility for arbitrary decisions of the courts and empowers official institutions to interfere in the right to choose beyond the framework of the constitutionally guaranteed secret ballot.

Discrimination against Gypsies: There have been a number of discriminatory actions, especially in the sphere of labor relations. Complaints of discrimination in hiring and dismissing are particularly widespread among Gypsies.

According to certain estimates, about 70-80% of Gypsies of working age are presently unemployed. Indeed, Gypsies tend to be among the first employeees discriminated against because of ethnic prejudice.

Complaints were also registered against the segregation of the school system. It is a common practice to establish special "Gypsy schools" in areas populated by Gypsies, while placing "Bulgarian" children of the same area in separate schools which denie access to Gypsy children.

The treatment of Gypsies is presently the number one minority problem in Bulgaria. Massive unemployment, coupled with severe economic and social problems they already face forces many Gypsies towards criminal activities. A long-standing ethnic bias against Gypsies is frequently expressed in the media. A number of dramatic clashes occurred between the police forces and local Gypsy communities.

The heaviest clashes took place in Haskovo, Pazardjik and Plovdiv (see FECL No.8,p.5).

Macedonians: While the Traditional Macedonian Organization (TMO) representing the moderate part of the Macedonian movement was registered, the United Macedonian Organization (UMO) was refused registration as a private association before the October elections, because its goals were considered to be "separatist" and in violation of the constitutional prohibition against groups and actions promoting ethnic and religious conflicts. Peaceful rallies of the organization were dispersed by police with the participation of the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Mr. Tatarchev, in person.

 

2. Discrimination based on political opinion

After the elections of October 91 the government undertook a purge of the "former rulers" at all levels of administrative and economic hierarchy (see FECL.No.8,p.4). The mechanisms of the purge were diverse.. There were many direct discharges on the grounds of "lack of qualification", "trade union demands due to a bureaucratic attitude to the needs of workers" or "partial liquidation of the enterprise". There were also instances of blackmail to force resignations, including those demanded by specially organized mass protests. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry for instance fired more than 200 because of there alleged connections with different structures of the former regime.

In August 1992, the Defence Minister Staliiski issued an order revoking recognition of higher education of all army officers who had completed less than four years of military school. Their appointments or promotions were banned. The obvious goal was to remove the older generation of officers considered to be sympathisers of the BSP. This practice is currently recognized publicly by all political forces.

Despite protests voiced by the BSP, the use of job terminations based on political views and past political affiliations is common. Former communists and sometimes also sympathizers of other, smaller but non-governmental parties, were removed from office, as well as people with no party affiliation whose political views were not approved.

"Decommunization" is carried out in a more consistent manner by the introduction of special legal provisions.

The first such provision was included in the Banks and Lending Act in March 92: Persons who in the last fifteen years have been elected to the bodies of the former Bulgarian Communist Party and some satellite organizations above municipal level, as well as employees of state security, salaried and unsalaried, are banned from managing bodies of any bank. No procedure was established to verify disqualification, nor was there any possibility of appealing against the disqualification ruling. The Constitutional Court however declared this provision unconstitutional and in breach of non-discrimination standards including those of the ILO Convention ratified by Bulgaria.

This has not prevented the parliament from further introducing or considering similar provisions in legislation on pension (reduced or minimum pensions for persons having served in high-level positions of the former Communist Party) and five further "decommunization" bills barring persons considered to be closely associated with the former regime from positions in science, education, state and municipal enterprises.

One bill envisages restrictions including involvement in any type of private activity (including nonprofit organizations) for persons such as paid secretaries of the former Communist Party above the municipal level and other former party officials.

According to the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, this type of legislation is in breach of international conventions, in particular with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Indeed, the "decommunization" bills discussed are applying what amounts to a criminal penalty on a collective basis, without the due process protection afforded to accused criminals. Establishment of collective guilt also permits retroactive punishment, while ignoring the presumption of innocence.

 

3. Freedom of religion

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is guaranteed by the new Bulgarian Constitution. But the 1949 Religious Law governing religious affairs has not been changed. It gives broad possibilities for governmental interference with religious affairs, in particular through provisions for mandatory registration of the religions with a special Office of Religious Affairs which is part of the executive branch. The office is empowered to refuse registration without judicial review, to dismiss religious officials, to ban the distribution of religious literature and to prohibit communication with religious groups abroad.

Using regulations of this law the new government removed a number of clergymen in different religions from their positions.

Meanwhile the attack against the old leadership of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Muslim religion by private groups, supposedly inspired by the Government, continued. In March 92, a pro-government group occupied the building of the Chief Mufti with the active help of the police. Similar "street action" was undertaken against members of the orthodox church. These actions were inspired by a letter of the General Prosecutor, Mr. Tatarchev, urging the police to assist what he later called the "decommunization of the Bulgarian Church".

Bulgaria's President Zhelev opposed these actions and asked the Constitutional Court to make a binding interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution on freedom of religion and, in an interview, declared the very existence of an Office of Religious Affairs "unacceptable". In its following decision the Constitutional Court declared state intervention in the inner organizational life of religions unwarranted and a number of provisions of the Religious law unconstitutional. However the decision fails to consider the questions of mandatory registration and of the very existence of the Office of Religious Affairs and thus does not settle the problems raised by recent actions of the government in seeking to control religious leaderships in the country.

 

4. Problems of the judicial and Criminal Justice Systems

Among the first actions taken by parliament after the Oktober 92 elections was the amendment of the Law on the Supreme Judicial Council, the body authorized under the new Constitution to appoint, promote, release from office and lift the immunity of judges, prosecutors and examining magistrates. The amendments resulted in the creation of a new Supreme Judicial Council with a large progovernment majority. The new Council immediately started a purge of the judiciary. The purge aimed not only at persons connected with the former totalitarian regime, but also at magistrates "unpopular" with the new government for having upheld the principle of the independence of justice. In one case, Prosecutor General Tatarchev obtained the dismissal of Tatiana Doncheva, a Sofia prosecutor, officially because of "lack of professional qualities and morals". As a matter of fact, Mrs. Doncheva had drawn the government's ire with an article in a law magazine criticizing the use of political standards in the removal of magistrates.

Trials of leading representatives of the former regime: The expressed wish to punish former government officials for their participation in violations of human rights is welcomed as a positive development by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. But it suspects that in some cases nothing more than political motives stay behind the charges.

In one case, Andrei Lukanov, the former Deputy Prime Minister in the last Communist government and later Prime minister of the first BSP government after the free elections of June 1990, was deprived of his immunity as a deputy, arrested and accused with charges which were widely believed to be politically motivated.

Charges include "abuse" of public funds for Third World countries during the Communist rule. No evidence was shown that Mr. Lukanov has taken some personal advantage or that he acted outside the framework of a government institution.

The parliament decided on deprivation of immunity without any serious consideration of the accusations and Mr. Lukanov was detained on remand without any evidence that he is going to escape from justice or to commit some crime.

Capital punishment: Influential deputies of the pro-governmental majority in parliament have proposed the lifting of a moratorium on capital punishment. The moratorium had been introduced by the former parliament in July 1990, immediately after the first free elections after 45 years of communist rule. The motive for the new proposal for abolishing what is no more than a temporary suspension of executions was "the growing rate of crime in the country", which according to the authors of the proposal was encouraged by what they called the "communist maffia".

A draft law provides for amnesty for those sentenced by the "people's Court - a special tribunal created in 1944 to judge war criminals and crimes against humanity perpetrated under the fascist regime in the beginning of the 1940s.

The submitted draft has to a great extent a symbolic meaning. Under certain conditions it could be interpreted as a willingness to grant amnesty to persons guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

 

5. Freedom of expression and information

Freedom of press and other media is guaranteed by the new Constitution.

Since, there have been no seizures or restrictions of any publications, although some of them are very aggressive. Only in one case was there an attempt, by the way of an administrative order (refusal to print the paper on the state-owned printing press), to stop the publication of a newspaper.

With respect to the radio and television media however, the government seems willing to gain total control over programs after a period of genuin pluralism during 1990 and 1991.

The staffs of the small number of programs dissenting from basic governmental policy are often threatened with banning from the air and the government continues to exercise control over allocating broadcasting frequencies and access.

There is a widespread belief that this control affects the program content.

 

Source: Report on Human Rights in Bulgaria after the October 1991 elections, 15 pages, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 13.10.92 (available at PFE, Nicholas Busch) Contact: Bulgarian Helsinki Committee: Pravda Spassova (Chairperson), Georgi Abramov str. 122, Entr.A, Apt 23, 1404-Sofia, Bulgaria, tel: +359/2/595495, or: Krassimir Kanev (secretary), Zh.K. "Nadezhda", bl. 636-B, ap. 85, 1404 Sofia, Bulgaria.