Human rights of children and minorities in Bulgaria need better protection

Strasbourg, 22/2/2012 – “The conditions of children in institutions and the protection of the rights of minorities remain issues of concern in Bulgaria. While the authorities have now adopted strategies and action plans to address these problems, it is crucial that these are implemented with strong determination” said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing his observations addressed to the government of Bulgaria.

In spite of some progress, the situation of children living in some institutions remains seriously substandard. “There have been allegations of cases in which children with disabilities were subjected to practices of malnourishment, violence, physical restraint and incapacitating drugs in the institutions where they lived. Medical assistance and basic needs were sometimes denied or provided too late”. The plans to phase out the system of institutional care of children should be pursued as a matter of priority.

The Commissioner expresses the hope that the new education law currently being prepared will ensure access to quality education also to those children with moderate, severe and profound intellectual disabilities living in “Homes for Mentally Disabled Children”. He stresses also that the discussion on a draft Child Protection Act is an opportunity to ensure a rights-based policy for the protection of all children in the country.

Roma in Bulgaria remain socially excluded and marginalised, with limited access to adequate housing, education and healthcare. “The new 2012-2020 National Strategy for Roma Integration should be given full implementation, including by achieving short-term goals, such as the improvement of housing and health conditions of many Roma living in settlements without a regular water supply, electricity, gas and heating”.

The Commissioner is also concerned that many Roma families continue to live in substandard conditions or are homeless as a result of forced evictions. “Forced evictions should be avoided” said the Commissioner, also recalling that “when this is not possible, international standards require the provision of adequate alternative accommodation, legal remedies, compensation and protection from homelessness.”

Commissioner Hammarberg further stresses the need to ensure that racist attacks against members of Roma communities are effectively investigated. He reiterates its recommendation to establish an independent police complaints mechanism for the impartial investigation of alleged police misconduct.

Finally, as regards the outstanding issues relating to the past practice of forced assimilation of Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin, the Commissioner welcomes the declaration adopted by the Bulgarian Parliament on 11 January 2012 condemning the assimilation process against the Muslim minority. The Commissioner recommends that a just solution for the victims of this practice be found, including on the issue of the pension rights of those ethnic Turks who had to leave for Turkey and whose premiums paid and time spent in Bulgaria are still not being accounted for.

Read the comments of the Bulgarian authorities.

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