Final report on the Bulgarian national campaign against domestic violence, carried out within the framework of the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence
The Bulgarian government supported the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence. On 8th March 2007, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy Mrs. Emiliya Maslarova officially opened, at national level, the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence. To organise the CoE national campaign, by order of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, an interministerial Working Group was set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, with representatives of various ministries1, government agencies2 and non-governmental organizations3, all of which are nationally represented, to disseminate the CoE campaign. The Working Group members took specific steps to carry out the Campaign goals and promote existing programs in support of the victims of violence and opportunities, providing assistance for such individuals.
1. Legislative and policy measures:
1.1. Bulgarian legislation and policies to combat violence against women:
Bulgaria is one of very few countries to have adopted, in 2005, the Act for Protection Against Domestic Violence, establishing the rights of domestic violence victims, protection measures and the procedure for implementing such measures. Under the Act, the perpetrators of violence are subject to civil and criminal prosecution. In cases of domestic violence, the victim is entitled to request protection from the Courts, and evidence is present for a direct and imminent threat to the affected person's life and safety, the victim may file an application with the police for urgent measures to be taken. The Interior Ministry bodies forward the application to the Court of Law, together with the perpetrator’s written explanation, if any, and the protocol of measures already taken, also stating the conditions for immediate court protection. The competent body to enforce the protection measure is the District Court of the victim's residence or the District Court of the District Police Station where protection was first sought.
The procedure for issuing a court order may be started by personal request of the victim, by request of the Social Assistance Directorate's Head, or by application of the victim's sibling or immediate family member. On the day the application or request is filed, the Court schedules an open court hearing to be held within 30 days. The Court decides on the application as part of the open hearing and, in case the application or request is granted, issues an Order of Protection. With such Order of Protection, the Court enforces one or more measures of protection.
The Court's decision may be appealed against before the District court within 7 days of its notification. The appeal petition is filed through the court that issued the decision, with copy to the other party. New evidence may be attached to such an appeal petition. The appeal procedure does not stop the enforcement of the order. The District Court deliberates on the petition, and within 14 days, in an open hearing at which the parties are summoned, issues a decision to continue, cancel or modify the decision being appealed. When modifying the previous order, the Court issues a new Order. The District Court's decision is final.
When the application or request contain evidence of a direct and immediate threat to the life or safety of the victim, the Regional Court, during a closed session and without summoning the litigants, issues an Emergency Protection Order within 24 hours of receiving the application or request. The Emergency Protection Order is in force pending the issuance of the Court's Protection Order, or refusal thereof.
The Protection Order is subject to immediate enforcement. Police organs monitor the order's enforcement. In case the Order is breached, the police body that registered the violation arrests the perpetrator and immediately notifies the Prosecutor's Office.
In implementation of § 2 of the APADV Concluding Provisions, on 19 October 2006 the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria approved a Programme for Prevention and Protection Against Domestic Violence. The Programme for Prevention and Protection Against Domestic Violence was drafted by an inter-ministerial group including experts from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Agency for Social Assistance, the State Agency for Child Protection, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education and Science and the NGO.
Based on the Programme mentioned, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy adopted respective Plans for combating Domestic Violence.
- In the field of Trafficking in women, in 2007 finally the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human beings was structured, a Secretary and the respective staff were appointed and a Plan for preventing and combating Trafficking in Human Beings was adopted. The first four local commissions under the Law on Comabating Trafficking in Human Beings are in a process of establishment. (In 2990 Bulgaria ratified the Convention of the CE for combating trafficking in human beings-in force since 1 February 2008).
On 1 January 2004, the Act on Protection Against Discrimination came into effect. The law governs the protection against all forms of discrimination and helps its prevention. The main goal of the Act is to ensure for every person the right of equality before the law, equal treatment and equal opportunities for participation in public life and effective protection against discrimination. The Act protects against discrimination all natural persons on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, associations of natural persons and legal entities when they are being discriminated against based on any of the criteria stipulated in the Act: sex, race, ethnicity, citizenship, origin, religion or belief, education, political affiliation, personal or social status, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, property status or any other characteristics listed in an Act or international treaty to which the Republic of Bulgaria is signatory. A dedicated Chapter of the Act stipulates the terms of reference and powers of the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination, as an independent specialised government body for discrimination prevention, protection against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities. The Commission is a budget-financed legal entity with its seat in Sofia, and is in charge of exercising control the enforcement and implementation of the Act on Protection Against Discrimination and other legal acts dealing with equal treatment. The Commission for Protection Against Discrimination: establishes violations of the Act on Protection Against Discrimination, enforces any sanctions envisaged under the law and applies measures of administrative duress, issues binding warrants on compliance with this Act and other acts dealing with equal treatment, maintains a public register of its enforced decisions and warrants, provides independent assistance to victims of discrimination at the time of filing of discrimination complaints, conducts independent investigation regarding discrimination, publishes independent reports and recommendations on any issues related to discrimination, etc.
1.2 Amendments and supplements to Bulgarian legislation:
The effective enforcement of the Act on Protection Against Domestic Violence (APADV) is currently being deliberated, and by the end of May 2008, a draft act amending and supplementing APADV and other implementing legislation should be prepared. For this purpose, an inter-ministerial Working Group was set up under the Ministry of Justice. The suggestions for changes will be prepared by representatives of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Justice, representatives of the judiciary, of NGO who were involved in the drafting of the Law. The Working Group prepared a draft Act on Amendments to the APADV and the Criminal Code, thereby creating conditions for the implementation of Recommendation (2002) 5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of women against violence. In view of the findings when reviewing the petitions of domestic violence victims, the Ministry of Justice prepared a draft on amendments to the APADV envisaging that Article 3 therein be modified to expand the group of individuals against which the victim may seek protection. One of the proposals is to ensure that children can be protected from domestic violence in case the violent act was perpetrated by a person cohabitating on family basis with the child's parent. It is also envisaged to increase the period during which the victims may file an application for protection measures after having suffered domestic violence. The current period of one month is too short and, according to the psychologists specialised in this field, victims need a longer period of time to take such a step. Also considered are other proposals for possible amendments, more specifically in the field of rehabilitation programmes for victims and specialised programmes targeted at perpetrators. The proposals being discussed involve expanding the role and powers of police bodies, making a repeated act of domestic violence a criminal offence, and placing the services provided to domestic violence victims in the classifier of social services.
A draft Act on Equal Opportunities of Women and Men has been prepared and is currently being deliberated by the National Assembly. The Draft Act envisages policies and programmes at the national and local level for equality in the labour market, decision-making, and the prevention of violence against women.
2. Support and protection of victims:
Since the beginning of 2005, Bulgaria has been implementing its first National Action Plan to promote the equality of women and men, adopted by Decision of the Council of Ministers. The plan was drafted in compliance with the Beijing action platform adopted as part of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and represents a tool for implementing the government policy on gender equality in all areas of social, the economic and political life. The first national Action Plan contains measures to eradicate domestic violence and create an integrated system in support of the victims of violence. The second National Action Plan envisages information campaigns against domestic violence, ongoing training of magistrates (judges, prosecutors and investigators) to increase their awareness and improve their knowledge to help them correctly implement the legislation dealing with domestic violence, reporting of measures to combat domestic violence and providing protection to victims, as well as training of officials from agencies and directorates working with domestic violence victims.
On 19 October 2006 the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria approved a Programme for Prevention and Protection Against Domestic Violence, drafted by an inter-ministerial group including experts from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Agency for Social Assistance, the State Agency for Child Protection, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education and Science. The Working group drafted a Guidebook, containing advice to victims on how to receive fast and efficient protection in cases of domestic violence. The Working Group also included representatives of non-governmental organizations, active in the area. The Programme foresees the training of police officers, with the Ministry of Interior being among the leading partners; the deadline for his action is September 2008. The Ministry of Interior has taken the necessary steps to provide the training of police officers working on cases of domestic violence. An important aspect of the implementation of APADV by police bodies is the training of police officers in providing legal and psychological assistance to domestic violence victims with support from two non-governmental organizations - the Community Care Foundation "Diva" and the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation. The training helped achieve a better understanding of the police officer's powers when working on such cases, and from a tactical point of view, helped improve the police officers' efficiency by implementing various psychological techniques to facilitate communication with domestic violence victims. Police officers underwent training on how to approach the victim, how to receive more information from such victims, how to provide help, how to recognise the signs of violence, the typical behavioural characteristics of violence perpetrators. In compliance with the programme, a 24-hour national telephone help-line was set up to provide guidance to domestic violence victims; resources were also allocated to open temporary safe houses for victims of domestic violence in every regional centre. Initiatives were started in various municipalities organised by local authorities and local non-governmental organizations to jointly provide counselling to victims of domestic violence. The process is still in its initial phase, but the first very promising results are already visible in Sofia, Bourgas, Haskovo and other cities; this initiative is now to be disseminated to other municipal centres.
Both non-governmental organisations and representatives of local and national authorities are aware that the protection of victims requires an inter-disciplinary approach involving the police, social services, and non-governmental organizations, and constant coordinated activities.
Support was provided by the state, from the Social Assistance Fund at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy for support of the personnel in some crisis centres of NGOs, including for women victims of violence. For example the Fund supported partially a programme for interdisciplinary support and counselling of victims/psychological, legal, social workers in the town of Sofia, Burgas, Haskovo and Gorna Oryahovitza.
3. Data collection
Pursuant to the Act on Protection Against Domestic Violence, the Ministry of Justice collects statistical data on cases filed and court decisions issued under the Act. Such statistics does not provide a complete picture of the situation, but nevertheless helps in deciding on adequate action. From the 114 cases filed in 2006 and the first half 2007 under Art.4, Para. 2 in connection with Art.18 of the Act on Protection Against Domestic Violence, in which a direct imminent threat was present to the life and safety of the victim, the Regional court in closed hearings, without summoning the litigants, has issued an Emergency Protection Order in the 85 of the cases (74,56%). In the remaining cases, no evidence was found on direct and imminent threat to the life and safety of the alleged victim. Non-governmental organisations, for their part, collect their own individual statistics on the number of cases in which they provided services. In this way, the total number of domestic violence victims cannot be established. This shows the need for a database of such cases to be set up. For Ministry of Interior officials, in particular, as it is their duty by law to monitor the enforcement of protection orders, the creation of such a database is needed as a matter of urgency. It would facilitate their work in the prevention stage for domestic violence victims. The MoI started a process to set up the database, but unfortunately, due to inadequate financial resources, it has not been completed.
Representatives of the non-governmental organisation “Human Right Protection”- Minnesota, U.S.A., carried out a monitoring exercise in June on the activity of officials at the Regional Police Department in Bourgas as regards the implementation of the APADV the good practices of the Demetra Association in limiting the number of domestic violence cases. The inspection covered not only the activity of the Police Department, but also of judges, the prosecution, and volunteers from the Demetra Association. The overall results from the monitoring in Bulgaria will be published in a report on the situation of the “domestic violence” issue in the country. Monitoring of the RPD-Bourgas established that the largest number of domestic violence cases registered in the Burgas area are in the city of Bourgas, Nesebur and Pomorie. The multidisciplinary teams of specialists helped bring the legal process to completion in a timely manner. Within the shortest possible deadlines the Regional Court initiated proceedings that, in over 70 % of cases, were finalised in favour of domestic violence victim. The non-governmental organisation agreed, upon completing the overall monitoring in the country, for the results to be provided to the National Focal Point on domestic violence. The study summary was provided to the Working Group set up by Order of the Minister of Interior in charge of drafting the amendments to the Act on Protection Against Domestic Violence and other implementing legislation.
During the National Campaign a survey mandated by the Parliament was conducted by the National Centre for Study of the Public Opinion.
4. Awareness-raising activities:
At the official opening of the national campaign on 8 March 2007, members of the Working Group established it as their goal and responsibility to increase the public awareness and sensitivity. Various discussions, meetings, conferences and other initiatives were organised during the past year, to give more visibility to the „domestic violence” problem in the eyes of institutions, the media, and citizens.
On 12 December, 2007, a National Conference entitled „No To Domestic Violence” was held in Sofia, organized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the Information Office of the Council of Europe in Sofia with the participation of parliamentarians, representatives of the Ministries of Justice, the Interior, Health, the Agency for Social Assistance as well as Sofia Municipality and the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria and other NGOs, working in this field. The Conference aimed at fostering the joint efforts of the legislative, the executive, the local authorities and the non-governmental sector in combating domestic violence. There were presentations of the good practices of the ministries involved as well the public opinion poll towards the issue and were discussed necessary legal amendments. The main issues discussed were related to the planned measures and activities aiming the prevention and combating of violence against women. The key role of the state was again emphasised, as the main guarantor for the implementation and enforcement of various government policies and programmes in this aspect. It is the responsibility of the State to initiate changes in legislation and their efficient enforcement, as well as to create the necessary environment for the prevention of, and protection against, domestic violence. As regards the provision of services, the key role of the NGO sector was emphasised. The NGO sector plays an important role as partner of the government institutions. No less crucial is also its role in the process of policy-making. Also underlined was of the role of the media as partner to government institutions and non-governmental organisations in publicising their efforts to bring about a change in public attitudes.
To mark the International Family Day on 15 May 2007, the Ministry of Health launched a Campaign to provide psychiatric assistance to victims of domestic violence. The initiative was carried out in support of the Council of Europe Campaign and in implementation of the commitments arising from the Programme For The Prevention Of And Protection Against Domestic Violence 2007-2008 adopted by the Council of Ministers. For the first time in Bulgaria, national -wide psychiatric and health assistance is available for victims of domestic violence; to help achieve this, 21 various hospitals around the country agreed to provide free-of-charge psychiatric assistance to domestic violence victims. Three of the healthcare establishments were in the capital, Sofia, while the remaining were in 12 of the larger cities. The Agency for Social Assistance under the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy informed the families on its database experiencing such problems of the counselling being provided. The Police General Directorate provided to Regional Police Directorates information on the addresses of healthcare establishments, medical specialists and reception hours. The non-governmental organisations Bulgarian Gender Studies Foundation and the Animus Association also joined the initiative and provided free services to victims: psychological, social and legal counselling.
Bulgarian institutions are ready for participation in different international projects that would create on opportunity to improve the existing programmes for prevention and care for domestic violence victims in Bulgaria, projects that would improve the dialogue between the network of non-governmental organizations and government agencies to reduce all forms of violence against women in Bulgaria.
Many NGO events were organized as well, and namely a big International Conference on Legal Reforme on DV took place in February 2008, were more then 20 countries from Eastern Europe were participants and where the Monitoring Report of the BGRF and the Advocates from Minesota was launhed.
On 9 April 2008, the Bulgarian Parliament with the participation of representatives of the Ministries of Labour and Social Policy, of Justice, of Interior, of Health and NGOs, working in this field, will hold a Round Table4 to discuss the present situation around the domestic violence issue from the point of view of mechanisms to provide support to victims. The Round Table will focus on the joint efforts of the legislative, the executive and the non-governmental sector in combating domestic violence.
In 2007 was launched a series of training sessions for developing multi-institutional teams consisting of local police inspectors, social workers, social pedagogues, prosecution, judges and NGOs, for support of victims of domestic violence. The training is conducted by professional psychologists with extensive experience in the work with victims of domestic violence. The methodology is based on the approbated manual for police officers and social services workers. The contents cover the mechanisms of violence and the work of specialists to identify it; the diversity team approach towards identified violence and the role of the different members of the team to work both with the victim and the perpetrator. Central part of the training session is dedicated to the exchange of experience among the institutions and brainstorming how each institution can contribute to combat domestic violence.
October-December 2007 – trainings in Razgrad, Veliko Turnovo, Pleven, Ardino. Nearly 100 local professionals passed this training in 2007.
20 March 2008 – Silistra. The training was attended by 20 trainees.
In 2008 the trainings will be held in every town visited by the Photo Exhibition before its opening.
At the closing of the Bulgarian Campaign, a publication will be printed, containing the major presentations of the legislative and the executive initiatives and the NGO best practices.
Assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign
The Task Force will partly base its assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign to combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence on the following indicators. Please respond by ticking on the boxes.
1. Is any and every act of violence against women criminalised in your country?
Every act of domestic violence against women penalised, in particular:
a. all forms of physical violence to spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants, genital mutilation - homicide, bodily harm kidnapping, illegal constraint
b. psychological violence to spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants – threat, compulsion, insult
c. all forms of sexual assault to spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitant, rape within marriage – fornication, rape
d. all sexual acts against non-consenting persons - fornication, rape
e. forced marriages - using violent means to enter matrimony
Some of the offences are penalized as a crime of general nature, where the competent state body is obligated ex officio to institute penal proceedings without complaint from the victim, but in some cases in accordance with Art.161 of the Penal Code, the penal prosecution shall be instituted on the basis of complaint by the victim.
2. Is violence committed by a partner or former partner punished more severely than violence among strangers (eg. gender based violence as such or the abuse of power will be considered an aggravating circumstance)?
3. Are victims enabled to seek justice in a human manner (eg. specialised courts on domestic violence, specialised units within the police, the public prosecutor or the judiciary)?
There are not yet specialized units in these institutions, the civil protection orders in Sofia are issued by the matrimonial division and in other locations- by the courts dealing with all types of cases; the specialization in the police is being discussed but the prosecutors’ role has not being defined and regulated and the prosecution in cases of VAW is a very weak point in the system
4. Does a national emergency 24/7 help-line exist free of charge for victims of domestic violence in your country?
A 24-hour national telephone help-line was set up to provide guidance to domestic violence victims; resources were also allocated to open temporary safe houses for victims of domestic violence in every regional centre. Initiatives were started in various municipalities organised by local authorities and local non-governmental organizations to jointly provide counselling to victims of domestic violence. The process is still in its initial phase, but the first very promising results are already visible in Sofia, Bourgas, Haskovo and other cities; this initiative is now to be disseminated to other municipal centres.
5. Have safe shelters been set up for victims of domestic violence in an adequate ratio in your member state? 5
The process is still in its initial phase, but the first very promising results are already visible in Sofia, Bourgas, Haskovo and other cities; this initiative is now to be disseminated to other municipal centres.
6. Is administrative data being collected on victims of domestic violence?
The Ministry of Justice collected random data from the courts about the civil protection orders procedure in 2007 but not in a systematic way.
7. Is domestic violence considered as a human rights violation to be addressed in your legal system?
YES q X NO q