21 November 2017
The Committee against Torture this afternoon completed its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Yuri Sterk, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, said that since 2011 Bulgaria had strengthened the legal and institutional framework for the prevention of and protection against torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. In 2013 it had set up a National Coordination Mechanism on Human Rights to improve coordination among public authorities involved in the implementation of the tasks arising from Bulgaria’s obligations and commitments in the field of human rights. As for the situation of refugees and migrants, the activities carried out in 2015-2017 had been aimed at ensuring sustainability and increasing the capacity of the reception and accommodation of foreigners applying for international protection. The Government was strictly observing the principle of non-refoulement and it had provided asylum seekers with the right to formal education, as well as Bulgarian language courses. In the area of trafficking in human beings, Bulgaria had made significant progress and it had one of the most comprehensive institutional frameworks to combat trafficking in human beings in Europe.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts noted that the current Bulgarian Criminal Code still did not criminalize torture in accordance with the definition provided by the Convention, and that all crimes except war crimes and crimes against humanity were covered by the statute of limitations. Experts expressed concern about the forced return of illegally residing third-country nationals, extended detention of asylum seekers, overcrowding in detention centres for migrants, violence against migrants and private vigilante groups hunting migrants, and lack of protection for unaccompanied minors. They further inquired about the National Preventive Mechanism; access to a lawyer and medical examination for detainees; treatment of juveniles in police detention units, reformatories, and social pedagogical and correctional boarding schools; and lack of a nationwide uniform system for the compilation of statistical information against police officers related to ill-treatment, domestic violence and gender-based violence. Other issues that raised concerns were trafficking in persons; training programmes for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and prison staff on the Convention provisions; prison conditions and deaths in custody; redress, compensation and rehabilitation for victims of torture; anti-Roma attitudes and hate speech; and the protection of persons with disabilities and of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Sterk thanked the Committee for the open and inclusive dialogue. He said the Committee’s contributions would be a useful guidance in undertaking future steps towards the consolidation and improvement of Bulgaria’s legal and policy framework.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, suggested to the delegation to add figures of recorded injuries of inmates in their written replies. He expressed thanks for the diligent and organized manner in which the delegation delivered the replies. Mr. Modvig reminded the delegation of a follow-up report on urgent topics and an implementation plan for several recommendations.
The delegation of Bulgaria included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 22 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the initial report of Timor-Leste (CAT/C/TLS/1).
The sixth periodic report of Bulgaria can be found here: CAT/C/BGR/6.
Presentation of the Report
YURI STERK, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, drew the Committee’s attention to significant developments made by Bulgaria in the field of migration and trafficking in human beings. Since 2011 Bulgaria had taken a number of important practical measures to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the prevention and protection against torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. In 2013 a National Coordination Mechanism on Human Rights had been established. It improved the coordination among public authorities involved in the implementation of the tasks arising from Bulgaria’s obligations and commitments in the field of human rights. The Mechanism considered conclusions of and accession to new international instruments and recommended amendments to domestic legislation and administrative practices. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination and the Ombudsman invested continuous efforts to improve mechanisms for human rights protection. During the most recent meeting of the National Coordination Mechanism on Human Rights, the relevant Government bodies and the Office of the Ombudsman had taken the decision to undertake the necessary legal amendments in order to substantiate an upcoming application for re-accreditation to status A as the national authority on human rights.
As for the situation of refugees and migrants, in July 2016 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had conducted a mission to Bulgaria concerning migrants. As a result of the unprecedented migratory pressure faced by Bulgaria at the end of 2013, urgent measures had needed to be taken in order to meet the challenges of the crisis. The activities carried out in 2015-2017 had been aimed at ensuring sustainability and increasing the capacity of services for the reception and accommodation of foreigners applying for international protection. Bulgaria had also received funding from the European Union of 160 million euros for emergency measures. Some of those funds were designed to improve the conditions for specialized homes for temporary accommodation for foreigners in the villages of Busmantsi and Lyubimets. According to the Asylum and Refugees Act, foreigners had the right to apply for international protection in Bulgaria. Accelerated application procedures had been implemented in order to respond to the increasing migration flow. The Government was strictly observing the principle of non-refoulement and it had provided asylum seekers with the right to formal education, as well as Bulgarian language courses.
In the area of trafficking in human beings, Bulgaria had made significant progress. It was one of the countries in Europe with the most comprehensive institutional frameworks to combat trafficking in human beings. It had penalized trafficking in line with the highest international legal standards, and it had gone further to ensure more severe punishments in cases where the victim was a child. The National Commission to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings had made the early identification of victims in mixed migration flows one of its priorities, and it had partnered successfully with United Nations bodies and international humanitarian organizations. A National Referral Mechanism for Support to Trafficked Persons in Bulgaria had been set up in July 2016. Its main objective was to guarantee respect for the human rights of the victims, including unconditional support, security and safety, confidentiality and protection of personal information and a non-discriminatory approach.
Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Bulgaria, noted that the current Bulgarian Criminal Code still did not criminalize torture in accordance with the definition provided by the Convention against Torture. Currently, all crimes except war crimes and crimes against humanity were covered by the statute of limitation. The draft of the Criminal Code had not been voted on in Parliament yet. What was the status of criminalizing torture and did the definition of torture cover all the elements contained in article 1 of the Convention? What was the status of the draft Criminal Code and when would it be adopted by Parliament?
Turning to the National Preventive Mechanism, Ms. Racu inquired about the number of visits carried out by the mechanism to police detention units, migrant and refugee detention facilities, psychiatric institutions and social care homes during the reporting period. What measures had the State party taken to ensure that the National Preventive Mechanism was allocated sufficient resources to permit its effective functioning? How many recommendations related to the prevention of torture and the protection of persons deprived of liberty had been issued and how many of them had been implemented by State authorities?
As for forced return of illegally residing third-country nationals, Ms. Racu inquired whether the Ombudsman was monitoring the forced return operations. What was the justification for not allowing the monitoring of psychiatric institutions, social care homes for adults with mental disabilities and juvenile reformatories?
Ms. Racu raised concern about the lack of access to a lawyer during administrative detention, which was reminiscent of the Soviet era. During the administrative police detention, the right to access to a lawyer was triggered after the detained person specifically requested legal services. It was a common practice that the first interrogation was conducted without the presence of a lawyer. Detainees had access to legal aid if and only after they were charged with a criminal offence. There was an obvious link between the access to a lawyer and the risk of being ill-treated. What were the steps that the State party was going to take in order to ensure the effectiveness of the system for free legal representation throughout the criminal procedure, including at the initial stage of police custody?
Ms. Racu inquired about any recent developments on ensuring the notification of rights to suspects and accused persons by providing them with a written form setting out their rights in a straightforward manner and which the detained person would be allowed to keep. As for the access to a medical doctor, medical confidentiality and the recording of injuries continued to be routinely ignored in practice. How was the State party ensuring medical examination upon admission to police detention units? Were the medical doctors performing those examinations on admission to pre-trial detention centres reporting to prison authorities or to a specific health authority? Were there any specific registers?
Despite the existence of legal regulations for the recording of injuries found on persons admitted to investigation detention facilities, injuries had almost never been mentioned and any description of injuries had been extremely cursory. Many allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment had been reported in Sofia, Burgas and Varna prisons, such as mass beatings of prisoners in cells. Was data available on cases of use of force and special means by the police during the reporting period? A particular concern was the treatment of juveniles in police detention units, in reformatories and social pedagogical and correctional boarding schools. How many investigations had been launched in such cases?
Unfortunately, a nationwide uniform system for the compilation of statistical information against police officers related to ill-treatment had still not been put in place. It seemed that the Ministry of the Interior had no policy regarding the investigation and punishment of law enforcement officers in cases where they exceeded their powers. Even in those few cases in which a violation of the law had been found, the penalty was usually diminished. What was the State party’s assessment of the situation regarding the investigation of complaints on ill-treatment and torture against police officers? What steps had been taken by the Bulgarian authorities in order to establish fully independent police complaints bodies, which were adequately resourced and would ensure that the allegations of police ill-treatment were investigated promptly and effectively? Were accurate statistics available on the number of complaints investigated during the reporting period, including the number of disciplinary and criminal punishments?
Turning to the protection of refugees and migrants, Ms. Racu reminded that all migrants arriving in Bulgaria in an irregular manner were served with an expulsion order and a detention order. Asylum seekers were held in detention for extended periods of time, despite the fact that their detention was prohibited under national law. The level of overcrowding in migrant detention facilities was very high, especially in Elhovo, Busmantsi and Lyubimets. In line with 2016 amendments to the Law on Asylum and Refugees, for the first time the State Agency for Refugees was allowed to develop and administer places of detention for asylum seekers. There was no established procedure to identify persons in situations of vulnerability who required specific attention and protection. A number of reports indicated incidents such as pushbacks, physical abuse such as beatings, and theft by the police. In addition to the abuse by law enforcement officers, private vigilante groups were actively involved in hunting migrants near the Bulgarian-Turkish border. It was regrettable that there were no known instances of successful criminal prosecution of public officials for abuse of migrants and there appeared to be near total impunity of public officials for acts of abuse.
As children represented a large share of the total flow of migrants, the Government had an obligation to ensure child-friendly conditions. Reception centres had inadequate provisions for unaccompanied children. The authorities routinely failed to provide adequate access to legal representation, translation, health services and education, psychosocial support and a safe and secure environment. Had there been any recent changes in the legislation or practices aimed at improving the situation of migrants and asylum seekers, including that of unaccompanied children? How many complaints had been submitted by migrants and how many of them had been investigated? What steps was the State party taking to ensure that the detained unaccompanied migrant children were not kept in the same room as adult males? In its latest report on Bulgaria, Amnesty International noted that Bulgaria had violated the principle of non-refoulement in August 2016 when it had secretly handed Abdullah Buyuk to the Turkish Government.
Turning to domestic violence and gender-based violence, Ms. Racu reminded that domestic violence was not qualified as a criminal offence and that it was still not included in the Criminal Code. Bulgaria did not gather statistical information about victim-offender relationships, which made it impossible to estimate the share of domestic violence among crimes. Women remained the most common victims of sexual or domestic abuse. Particular deficiencies had been registered in the work of police officers and prosecutors who failed to investigate and charge perpetrators who violated protection orders. What steps had been taken by the Government to ensure protection for victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence? How many centres were fully functional and capable of providing services and support for the victims of domestic violence, including legal aid and psycho-social assistance?
As for trafficking in persons, the Committee remained concerned about the gaps in the implementation of laws and strategies; the lack of preventive measures to address the root causes of trafficking, especially with respect to Roma women; and the scarcity of shelters for women victims of trafficking. Were there any relevant figures of legislative changes aimed at improving the situation of victims of trafficking?
KENING ZHANG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Bulgaria, asked the State party about training programmes for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and prison staff on the Convention provisions. Did medical personnel receive training on the Istanbul Protocol? Was there a methodology to assess the effectiveness and impact of such training on the reduction of cases of torture and ill-treatment? Had law enforcement officers, social workers and medical personnel received training on how to detect and adequately advise victims of domestic violence?
Mr. Zhang voiced concern about prison conditions and deaths in custody. Had there been any changes in the use of solitary confinement? What was the outcome of the 166 criminal investigations into the deaths of 238 children with mental disabilities who had died between 2000 and 2010? Was an update available on the plans to expand the average cell space per person to four square metres, to increase prison staff and to abolish the 24-hour work shifts? What was the current status of the implementation of the plan to improve everyday life of persons with disabilities?
Mr. Zhang reminded of reports that criticized prison hygiene, medical services, social and correctional work, the risk of violence, and the quality and quantity of food. It was estimated that some 6.8 per cent of the prison population was drug dependent. More than a third of interviewed prisoners had reported problems in accessing a lawyer. Some 16 per cent had claimed that the police had beat them during arrest, whereas 22 per cent had stated that the police had used physical force to obtain confessions. Recent surveys had revealed that more than 70 per cent of detainees did not have access to a lawyer from the very outset of the criminal proceedings. Could the delegation update the Committee on the 10 criminal proceedings relating to acts of violence at arrest and detention places that were pending before courts, and information on allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the results of any investigations, or disciplinary and criminal proceedings?
Turning to redress, compensation and rehabilitation, Mr. Zhang noted that the State party had failed to provide any statistical data and examples of cases in which victims of torture and ill-treatment had received adequate redress and compensation, or cases where evidence obtained as a result of torture had been held inadmissible.
Were efforts being made to ensure that violent acts motivated by a victim’s national or ethnic identity, including discrimination and hate speech, were systematically investigated and prosecuted, and that the perpetrators were convicted and punished? What was the status of the criminal investigation of attacks by supporters of the Ataka party against members of the Muslim community in May 2011? There was a concern that public institutions could “buy” the media and influence editorial content through a provision in the law that allowed direct public procurement of media airtime without transparent selection procedures. The Council for Electronic Media, which oversaw the work of the radio and television broadcasting operators in Bulgaria, was seen as complicit in the impunity for public incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence.
Mr. Zhang asked the delegation to update the Committee about anti-Roma attitudes and hate speech, as well as about proceedings to demolish their illegally built houses without providing adequate alternative shelters. During 2016, numerous protests and demonstrations had taken place targeting mainly refugees or Roma, in which hate speech had often flowed into direct calls to violence. Such public incitement to hatred and violence had not been prosecuted by the authorities.
In January 2016, Human Rights Watch had released a report describing cases of 59 asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan being pushed back to Turkey, with 46 of them claiming to have been robbed and beaten by border guards. Civil society had expressed concern that the Government had no administrative mechanism for early identification, referral and provision of adequate services to vulnerable asylum seekers, such as minors, persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, and survivors of rape, torture and other forms of severe physical or sexual violence. Civil society had expressed concern that the Government had viewed migrants and asylum seekers more as a national security matter than as vulnerable persons in need of humanitarian assistance. Could an update be provided on the current situation of treatment of asylum seekers and migrants, including the fate of more than 400 migrants arrested for deportation after the clash with the police in November 2016 in the camp near Harmanli?
Concerns were also expressed that the country’s infrastructure did not provide persons with disabilities with adequate access to education, healthcare and community-level social services. Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were often housed in institutions located in remote areas, which made the hiring of qualified staff difficult. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons faced social discrimination, particularly in employment. It was common for those suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex to be fired, and such persons were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.
Questions by Committee Experts
Experts inquired about the remaining number of underground prisons in Bulgaria. As for inter-prisoner violence, did the State party monitor sexual violence and had any persons been charged and punished? Was there video surveillance in places of detention?
Why did the State party not collect data based on race and ethnicity? As for private vigilante groups hunting migrants in Bulgaria, what was the Government’s attitude and actions towards those groups? Had the Government investigated and prosecuted any members of such groups?
Experts inquired about the use of solitary confinement, including for asylum seekers, and the recommendations made by the Committee six years ago to reduce periods of solitary confinement.
Turning to the system for early detection of victims of torture in the context of mixed migration flows, did the State party intend to establish such a mechanism? What was the number of stateless persons in Bulgaria? What was the status of special temporary housing for foreigners and what was being done to avoid ill-treatment in those centres?
How were the provisions of the Law on Terrorism and the state of emergency applied, and how did the State party ensure that human rights standards were observed in a state of emergency?
In a country governed by the rule of law, there should be no place for vigilante groups, Experts observed. It seemed that it was more difficult for minorities to have access to justice in Bulgaria.
Replies by the Delegation
YURI STERK, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, expressed satisfaction that Committee Experts had relied on information provided by national and international non-governmental organizations to form their questions. There was an efficient system of monitoring the implementation of human rights in Bulgaria and to discuss openly challenges and problems.
The delegation noted that Bulgaria was aware of the importance of the legal definition of torture. Judicial reform was a complex matter and Bulgaria envisaged setting up a new penal policy and a new penal code as a matter of priority. The introduction of torture as a separate crime had been delayed. In 2013 a definition of torture had been drafted in the penal code in order to meet international standards. However, some proposals had been criticized by civil society organizations and the Government was still working on their improvement.
YURI STERK, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, clarified that the National Preventive Mechanism (the Ombudsman) conducted regular visits to places of detention, prisons, educational boarding schools for children, psychiatric facilities, and refugee centres. It issued numerous recommendations which were also shared publicly. Its budget was constantly increasing. Mr. Sterk reiterated that the Office of the Ombudsman was talking very seriously the recommendations of the Accreditation Committee in view of ensuring compliance of the mandate of the Ombudsman with the Paris Principles. The institution was currently undergoing a process of legal amendments for its upcoming reaccreditation to status A.
The delegation stated that police officers should use force in proportion to the legitimate aim. There had to be a proper balance between the use of force and circumstances under which the force was used. The obligations imposed by the Ministry of the Interior aimed to protect public order and security, and to ensure the life and health of the person against whom the action was taken, as well as to protect the lives of police officers. It was unacceptable to use force against unarmed persons or those who posed no threat. The Internal Security Directorate carried out investigations in case of misconduct. The Prosecution Office was obliged to start criminal proceedings in cases of grave misconduct. A roadmap of certain actions had been compiled for complaints against police.
As for the measures taken against coerced confessions or testimonies, it was punishable as a grave crime with a prison sentence from three to 10 years. The new regulations of the Ministry of the Interior from 2017 concerned integrity tests for police officers. That approach would assess disciplinary practices and potential risks of misconduct.
Turning to detainees’ rights, the delegation explained that the rights of detainees were clearly listed in the law, such as the right to legal aid and medical attention, to notify family members or friends, and to have an interpreter. There had been no complaints about the provision of legal aid. Obligatory initial medical checks were provided. Medical records were confidential and the State Prosecutor was immediately notified about potential traces of torture or ill-treatment. At least once year, each detainee was subject to mandatory free-of-charge medical screening. Inmates had medical insurance covered by the State budget. Medical specialists visited prisons to provide specialized medical services.
Judges and prosecutors had received training on domestic violence, namely on proceedings for the protection from domestic violence, access to justice for children, and on the protection of victims of crime. Trainings on the United Nations basic principles on the use of force, as well as on the Council of Europe conventions, had been organized for police officers. Special attention was given to the right to life and prohibition of discrimination. There had been dozens of courses to improve professional qualifications of police officers. Another category of training had been provided for police investigative officers, namely on child friendly hearings.
As for prison conditions in Bulgaria, the delegation noted that prisons were an environment where it was very easy to violate the rights of persons. The material conditions in prisons had substantially improved. The problem of violence in prisons had been overcome. As for the so-called underground prisons, they were detention centres and Bulgaria had closed them. There was only one remaining in the town of Gabrovo. Solitary confinement was not used for minors and migrants. It was a measure of last resort that could last up to 14 days. The Government had improved conditions on solitary confinement and there was running water and toilets almost everywhere. As for the 24-hour shifts for prison staffs, they were due to objective circumstances. Handcuffs sometimes had to be used in hospitals in order to protect hospital staff.
Despite budgetary restraints, the improvement of material conditions in prisons was a priority. The minimum cell space could not be less than four square metres per inmate. The prison capacity was some 9,000 places, whereas the total prison population amounted to approximately 7,000. Several prisons had been renovated and many more activities were planned, namely the construction of a new prison in Kremikovtsi.
In December 2015 the National Assembly had initiated a judicial reform, according to which a judicial review of magistrates had been launched. Since 2017, the Inspectorate of the Supreme Judicial Council had been assigned to conduct inquiries into judges’ conflict of interest. As for domestic violence and gender-based violence, it was a priority for all Bulgarian institutions. In order to implement the principles of the Istanbul Convention, the Bulgarian authorities continued to work on amendments on gender-based violence and on the establishment of specific protection measures. The Government was considering the expansion of some aspects of the Criminal Code to criminalize discrimination and attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Turning to the situation of migrants and asylum seekers, the delegation explained that specialized homes for the temporary accommodation of migrants housed more than 16,000 persons in 2016, leading to overcrowding of some 150 per cent. Currently, due to the decrease in migration pressure, there was no overcrowding. The Elhovo reception centre had been closed due to renovation, whereas Busmantsi and Lyubimets were in operation. Bulgaria strictly complied with the principle of non-refoulement and it ensured the protection of the human rights of all migrants on its territory. Every foreigner had an opportunity to apply for international protection.
As for the case of Abdullah Buyuk and his extradition to Turkey, he had been found to have no grounds to stay in Bulgaria. He could have received a refugee or humanitarian status, but he had not asked for them. On violence against migrants and asylum seekers, the delegation noted that the Bulgarian authorities were guided by respect for the protection of human rights; disciplinary measures had been taken against border police. Eight cases had been forwarded to the Directorate of Internal Security. As for private vigilante groups hunting migrants, the Bulgarian authorities had strongly condemned such groups and it had taken all the necessary measures against them. Since then no more similar violations had been reported on Bulgarian borders.
The best interest of the child was the guiding principle that was applied in the protection of unaccompanied minors. A draft project for the creation of a temporary accommodation centre for unaccompanied minors was in the works.
The Government of Bulgaria recognized the vulnerability of Roma to trafficking in persons. The National Anti-Trafficking Commission was currently conducting a mapping study to uncover the root causes of trafficking among the Roma community. The Government was funding a large number of services for victims of trafficking, including five shelters across the country. Psychological, educational and legal assistance was also provided to children victims of trafficking. No victim of trafficking had been denied assistance due to the lack of capacities. Bulgaria was mostly a transit country of trafficked persons from the Middle East to the European Union, which was why training on early identification of victims of trafficking had been organized. The Government had also conducted information campaigns about trafficking in migrant reception centres.
Compensation and redress for victims was regulated by the Act on Support and Financial Support for Victims of Crimes. As for the juvenile justice system, the Bulgarian authorities were aware of the need to reform it. A new legislative framework would introduce new principles for working with children, such as deferring criminal measures in favour of a reformation approach through education. A National Reformation Office would be set up under the Ministry of Justice.
As for counter-terrorism legislation, the delegation stated that the Bulgarian Constitution guaranteed finding a proper balance between protecting human rights and maintaining public security. Bulgaria had fully implemented provisions on the protection of private data.
DEYANA KOSTADINOVA, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations at Geneva, said that all the homes for children and youth with mental disabilities had been closed down and replaced by community-based social services. As for the situation of adults with disabilities, long-term care institutionalization for them would also be replaced by community-based social services close to the family environment. The Government was fully committed to cooperate with treaty bodies and non-governmental organizations in order to address the remaining challenges. Many legislative amendments had been adopted in order to honour the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The amount of disability pensions would be reduced, but they would be increased for those who really needed them. Corporal punishment of children was prohibited by the Family Code and the Law on Domestic Violence. There were 23 crisis centres for children victims of trafficking and violence.
Follow-up Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Bulgaria, said she remained concerned about the speed of the adoption of the draft new Criminal Code. Ms. Racu observed fewer visits to police detention units by the National Preventive Mechanism, even though they remained the main subject of complaints. How many visits had been held recently?
Ms. Racu reiterated her question about the adequate staffing of the Ombudsman and the National Preventive Mechanism. As for fundamental legal safeguards for detainees, there was not much detail about improvements. It was important to have the feedback of those who were in detention. Why did they still send complaints to the European Court of Human Rights? What steps had been undertaken to ensure the confidentiality of medical examinations and to undertake early identification of crimes of torture?
Ms. Racu remained concerned that the use of excessive force had been on the rise, and that there had been no investigation into such cases. Another important problem was the situation of juveniles in police detention units.
It was regretful that Bulgaria had not introduced a nationwide database on the investigation of complaints against law enforcement forces. It was an imperative norm for each State party to the Convention.
On asylum seekers, Ms. Racu regretted the lack of information about the identification of victims of torture among foreigners. There was a lack of medical staff and interpreters for migrants. As for private vigilante groups hunting migrants, what was the number of investigations and punishments?
KENING ZHANG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Bulgaria, welcomed the closing of underground detention centres, of homes for children with disabilities, and of the Elhovo reception centre for migrants.
Mr. Zhang reiterated his concerns about anti-Roma attitudes and hate crimes. What statistical data was available on compensation and redress for victims of crime?
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
Experts inquired about the calculation of prison capacities in Bulgaria, as well as about the precarious situation of asylum seekers, particularly those most vulnerable. Was there a system to detect victims of torture among migrants?
Had there been any prosecutions or convictions of private vigilante groups hunting migrants? Had there been any public officials who had endorsed private vigilante groups?
Experts also raised concern about the excessive use of medication and use of restraints in psychiatric institutions.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the number of medical staff who had reported to the public prosecutor, and asked for a clarification about the overall prison population.
Replies by the Delegation
YURI STERK, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, said that the delegation had taken note of the Committee’s recommendation to Bulgaria to accelerate the adoption of the new Criminal Code. As for the functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman, Mr. Sterk said that it had made 12 visits in 2016 and 33 in 2017. The current staffing of the Office of the Ombudsman amounted to six persons. Further increase of its budget would be on the agenda of the Government. Mr. Sterk noted that the leadership of the country had strongly condemned the activities of private vigilante groups hunting migrants.
The delegation explained that access to justice to victims was provided through new forms of legal advice and facilitation. Legal aid had been extended to a wider category of persons. The legal assistance system had been made more easily accessible to vulnerable groups. Every citizen could benefit from oral counselling and could obtain consultation upon proof that his or her monthly income was below the national poverty line.
Confidentiality of medical examinations of detainees or inmates was guaranteed by law. A limited group of persons had access to those records. According to new legal provisions, a registry of injuries was kept in each prison. Medical personnel immediately reported every case of violence against detainees to the public prosecutor. Every three months reports were presented to the Deputy Minister of Justice.
On the prosecution of law enforcement officers who had committed acts of violence against migrants, the delegation stated that in 2015 three complaints of abuse of migrants had been received. But no misconduct had been ascertained. Five complaints had been received in 2016 and disciplinary measures had been taken against two officers. Since the beginning of 2017 no complaints had been received.
As for adequate legal aid and medical attention for asylum seekers, the delegation stressed that the Government was committed to the protection of the human rights of all migrants on its territory. The authorities had to make a decision on the granting or refusal of refugee status within two months. Migrants’ access to justice was safeguarded at the border through information leaflets in different languages. The Migration Directorate was working with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee to provide legal assistance to asylum seekers.
Turning to the question about hate crimes, the delegation noted that Bulgaria was pursuing a consistent policy aimed at eliminating any discrimination. The Prosecutor’s Office conducted investigations on all racially motivated crimes. In 2013 the police had recorded 651 hate crimes, 617 in 2014, and 704 in 2015. Specialized training on hate crimes had been conducted. The Bulgarian authorities closely monitored all manifestations of racism and intolerance against any person.
YURI STERK, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, thanked the Committee for the open and inclusive dialogue, which assisted the delegation in assessing the progress achieved. Mr. Sterk assured that the Government of Bulgaria remained fully committed to continuing interinstitutional coordination and the dialogue with stakeholders in order to ensure the necessary follow-up to the review process. He added that the Committee’s contributions would be a useful guidance in undertaking future steps towards the consolidation and improvement of Bulgaria’s legal and policy framework.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, suggested to the delegation to add figures of recorded injuries of inmates in their written replies. He expressed thanks for the diligent and organized manner in which the delegation delivered their replies. Mr. Modvig reminded the delegation of a follow-up report on urgent topics and an implementation plan for several recommendations.
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