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Title: Bulgaria Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 BULGARIA Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic ruled by a democratically elected government. President Zhelyu Zhelev, former chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was elected in 1992 to a 5-year term in the country's first direct presidential elections. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), heir to the Communist Party, and two nominal coalition partners won an absolute majority in preterm elections in December 1994 and formed a government in January. The judiciary is independent but continued to struggle with structural and staffing problems. Most citizens have little confidence in their legal system. Most security services are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police, the National Security Service (civilian intelligence), internal security troops, border guards, and special forces. A number of persons known to be involved in repressive activities during the Communist regime returned to senior-level positions in the security services in 1995. Some members of the police force committed serious human rights abuses. The post-Communist economy remains heavily dependent on state enterprises. Most people are employed in the industrial and service sectors; key industries include food processing, chemical and oil processing, metallurgy, and energy. Principal exports are agricultural products, cigarettes and tobacco, chemicals, and metal products. The transformation of the economy into a market-oriented system has been retarded by continued political and social resistance. Privatization of the large Communist-era state enterprises has been very slow and is the main reason for Bulgaria's economic stagnation. The Government is now developing a mass privatization program which, if successfully implemented, would partially address this problem. The service and consumer goods sectors in private hands continued to be the most vibrant. Although all indicators point to a reviving economy this year, the last several years' decline has affected the employment of people from ethnic minorities disproportionately. The annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $1,300 provides a low standard of living. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but problems remained in some areas. Constitutional restrictions on political parties formed on ethnic, racial, or religious lines effectively limit participation. There were several reports that police used unwarranted lethal force against suspects and minorities, and security forces beat suspects and inmates. Human rights observers charged that the security forces are not sufficiently accountable to Parliament or to society and that the resultant climate of impunity is a major obstacle to ending police abuses. Prison conditions are harsh, and pretrial detention is often prolonged. Mistreatment of ethnic minorities by the population at large is a serious problem, and both the Government and private citizens continued to obstruct the activities of some non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups. Discrimination and violence against women and Roma are serious problems. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were several reports of police officers using unwarranted lethal force against criminal suspects, as well as against members of minority groups whether or not suspected of any crime, resulting in three deaths. On February 11, a Rom was found dead in Gradets, near Sliven. A witness told a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) that a police officer had beaten the victim in the village center the previous day, and the deceased's family described numerous signs of severe beating. An investigation is in progress. During a March attempt to apprehend a man previously sentenced for committing theft, a police officer in Nova Zagora allegedly beat an 18- year-old Rom, then shot and killed the man's 22-year-old brother when the older brother intervened. Neither of the victims was being sought by the police. The alleged perpetrator, a police sergeant, has been charged with murder resulting from excessive use of force in self- defense. The investigation continues. A 22-year-old male died in April while in police custody, apparently as a result of beating. The deceased, an ethnic Bulgarian, had been arrested for alleged complicity in a burglary. Six policemen were arrested in this widely publicized case; one officer, a police lieutenant, remains under investigation, and the national police director resigned. No progress was made in the case of a detainee who died while in police custody following an August 1994 roundup of suspected criminals in Pazardjik, although the Government's investigation remains open. There was little progress in the September 1994 case of a detainee who died one day after being taken into police custody in Pleven, and there were no developments in the investigation of the 1993 incident in which police allegedly beat three escaped prisoners (two of whom reportedly died) upon recapture. In November Amnesty International (AI) sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior expressing concern about five incidents in which AI said that police officers opened fire on suspects in violation of U.N. basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials. Interior Ministry data on serious police violations over the 18 months ending March 31 show 18 deaths due to police negligence, 59 cases of physical injury, more than 60 charges of serious offenses, and 58 convictions of police officers on these and lesser charges during the period. The Minister of Interior publicly acknowledged that police abuses occur and made a commitment to address the problem; a number of cases are under investigation. However, the police have generally refused the requests of human rights groups to make investigative reports available to the public. The climate of impunity that the Government allows to prevail is the single largest obstacle to ending such abuses. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution expressly prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Despite this prohibition, there were a number of credible reports describing police beating of Roma during arrests. In January and February, a riot control unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs shot and wounded at least 3 people and beat more than 10 during an operation in response to illegal felling of trees near Velingrad. All of the victims were Roma. No police officers were charged or investigated. In a Sofia neighborhood in March, police reportedly beat almost 40 Romani teenagers and young men in an incident following several confrontations between Roma and "skinheads." No police officers were investigated, despite numerous victims' accounts and a credible NGO report to law enforcement and other governmental authorities. Conditions in some prisons are harsh, including severe overcrowding, inadequate lavatory facilities, and insufficient heating and ventilation. Credible sources reported cases of brutality committed by prison guards against inmates; in some cases, prisoners who complained were placed in solitary confinement. The process by which prisoners may complain of substandard conditions or of mistreatment does not appear to function. The Government cooperated fully with requests by independent observers to monitor prison conditions. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution provides for access to legal counsel from the time of detention. Police normally obtain a warrant prior to apprehending an individual; otherwise, in emergency circumstances judicial authorities must rule on the legality of a detention within 24 hours. Defendants have the right to visits by family members, to examine evidence, and to know the charges against them. Charges may not be made public without the permission of the Chief Prosecutor. Pretrial detention is limited to 2 months under normal circumstances, although this may be extended to 6 months by order of the Chief Prosecutor, who may also restart the process. In practice, persons are often detained for well over 6 months. About one-third of Bulgaria's approximately 9,000 prison inmates are in pretrial detention. In the event of a conviction, time spent in pretrial detention is credited toward the sentence. The Constitution provides for bail, and some detainees have been released under this provision, although bail is not widely used. Neither internal nor external exile is used as a form or punishment. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Under the Constitution the judiciary is granted independent and coequal status with the legislature and executive branch. However, most observers agreed that the judiciary continued to struggle with problems such as low salaries, understaffing, and a heavy backlog of cases. Partly as a legacy of communism and partly because of the court system's structural and personnel problems, most citizens have little confidence in their judicial system. Human rights groups complain that local prosecutors and magistrates sometimes fail to pursue vigorously crimes committed against minorities. The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, and the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. The Government has not yet carried out several of the reforms provided for in the June 1994 judicial Reform Bill, including the establishment of separate supreme courts of cassation (civil and criminal appeal) and administration. Judges are appointed by a 25-member Supreme Judicial Council and, after serving for 3 years, may not be replaced except under limited, specified circumstances. The 12 justices on the Constitutional Court are chosen for 9-year terms as follows: a third are elected by the National Assembly, a third appointed by the President, and a third elected by judicial authorities. The Constitution stipulates that all courts shall conduct hearings in public unless the proceedings involve state security or state secrets. There were no reported complaints about limited access to courtroom proceedings. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them and are given ample time to prepare a defense. The right of appeal is guaranteed and widely used. Defendants in criminal proceedings have the right to confront witnesses and to have an attorney, provided by the State if necessary, in serious cases. The Constitutional Court is empowered to rescind legislation it considers unconstitutional, settle disputes over the conduct of general elections, and resolve conflicts over the division of powers between the various branches of government. Military courts handle cases involving military personnel and some cases involving national security matters. The Constitutional Court does not have specific jurisdiction in matters of military justice. A number of criminal cases against former leaders for alleged abuses during the Communist period were carried forward. Former dictator Todor Zhivkov is serving a 7-year sentence under house arrest for abuse of power involving personal expense accounts and state privileges. Legal review of his case continues; the most recent step was a Supreme Court hearing on September 15. Although the investigation continues, there was little progress in the case in which 43 former high-level Communists were indicted in 1994 for having given grant aid during the 1980's to then-friendly governments in the developing world such as Cuba, Angola, and Libya. Investigation also continues in a case begun in 1993 involving a charge of embezzlement for giving grant aid to Communist parties in other countries (the "Moscow case"), with no tangible progress. Some human rights observers criticized these and previous indictments, asserting that the activities in question were political and economic in nature, not criminal. One of the primary figures in these cases, former Prime Minister and once senior Communist official Andrei Lukanov, brought a complaint against these proceedings to the European Commission of Human Rights. Acting on his petition in January, the Commission ruled that Lukanov's appeal of the procedure by which he was stripped of parliamentary immunity was admissible before the Commission, but has not yet issued a decision on the merits of the case. Lukanov's appeals under two other articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were not admitted. There was no progress in a case begun in 1993 relating to the forced assimilation and expulsion of ethnic Turks in 1984-85 and 1989, nor in a trial relating to the notorious death camps set up by the Communists after they came to power in 1944. Police authorities concluded their investigation of the 1994 murder of a key witness in the latter case in February without definite result. In one of its first acts, the new Socialist-dominated Parliament repealed a controversial 1992 lustration act ("Law for Additional Requirements Toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying Commission"), known as the "Panev Law." The law had barred former secretaries and members of Communist party committees from positions as academic council members, university department heads, deans, rectors, and chief editors of science magazines, applying a presumption of guilt that conflicts with international human rights standards. There were no reports of political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, for the right to choose one's place of work and residence, and protects the freedom and confidentiality of correspondence. Human rights observers expressed concerns that illegal wiretaps may still persist but provided no tangible evidence. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice, although there were signs that it was seeking to increase editorial control over government-owned electronic media. The variety of newspapers published by political parties and other organizations represents the full spectrum of political opinion, but a notable degree of self-censorship exists in the press among journalists who must conform to what are often heavily politicized editorial views of their respective newspapers. National television and radio broadcasting both remain under parliamentary supervision. A September Constitutional Court ruling declared unconstitutional some portions of a "provisional" statute that had placed the electronic media under parliamentary supervision since 1990. In October Parliament passed legislation restoring its right to exercise control over the national electronic media; in December the Constitutional Court again struck down this provision. In November 34 journalists from a national radio station issued a declaration accusing radio management of censoring their work and threatening uncooperative journalists with dismissal. A month later, seven of the journalists were fired, provoking widespread public concern about freedom of speech and the establishment of at least two NGO's to monitor the issue. This ongoing dispute illustrates a growing concern about the lack of balance in the state-controlled news media. Some observers criticized changes in the senior leadership of the national electronic media and editorial control by a newly established board of directors of Bulgarian national radio, charging they were politically motivated. In September the Constitutional Court overturned a provision of the July Local Elections Act which prohibited journalists working for state-owned media and local electronic media from expressing opinions on parties, coalitions, and candidates in the October 29 local elections. There are two state-owned national television channels and a growing number of privately owned regional stations. Two channels broadcast in Bulgarian, while a third broadcasts Russian programming, and a fourth carries a mixture of Cable News Network International and French language programming. Bulgarian national television has been planning Turkish- language programming for at least 2 years, but broadcasts have not yet begun. Foreign government radio programs such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America (VOA) had good access to commercial Bulgarian radio frequencies, although in April the interim council for radio frequencies and television channels turned down a request by Radio Free Europe to add VOA programming on its frequency. After initial government approval in the fall of 1994 of an application to create a privately owned national broadcast television station, further progress has floundered, with no action being taken by the current Government. Television and radio news programs on the state- owned media present opposition views but are generally seen as being biased in favor of the Government. There are no formal restrictions on programming. Some political groups complained that coverage was one- sided, although they acknowledged that their representatives were interviewed regularly. Both television and radio provide a variety of news and public interest programming, including talk and public opinion shows. More than 30 independent radio stations are licensed. Some private stations complained that their licenses unduly restricted the strength of their transmissions in comparison to state-owned stations. Radio transmitter facilities are owned by the Government. Private book publishing remained lively, with hundreds of publishers in business. Respect for academic freedom continued. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The right to peaceful and unarmed assembly is provided for by the Constitution, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The authorities require permits for rallies and assemblies held outdoors, but most legally registered organizations were routinely granted permission to assemble. However, one non-Orthodox religious group reported difficulties obtaining a permit for an outdoor assembly, and several other religious groups also had difficulty renting assembly halls. In most cases, these religious groups had been denied registration by the Council of Ministers (see Section 2.c.). Vigorous political rallies and demonstrations were a common occurrence and took place without government interference. The Government has undertaken to respect the rights of individuals and groups freely to establish their own political parties or other political organizations. However, there are constitutional and statutory restrictions that limit the right of association and meaningful participation in the political process. For example, the Constitution prohibits organizations that threaten the country's territorial integrity or unity, or that incite racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. Some observers considered the Government's refusal since 1990 to register a Macedonian rights group, Umo-Ilinden, on the grounds that it is separatist, to be a restriction of the constitutional rights to express opinions and to associate. The group, which is seeking registration as a Bulgarian-Macedonian friendship society, was allowed to hold an outdoor public meeting in April, but police broke up attempts to hold a second public meeting in July. The Constitution forbids the formation of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines, and prohibits "citizens' associations" from engaging in political activity. Although these restrictions were used in 1991 to challenge the legitimacy of the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), that party is currently represented in Parliament, and its right to compete in the October 29 local elections was not questioned. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricts this right in practice. The ability of a number of religious groups to operate freely continued to come under attack, both as a result of government action and because of public intolerance. The Government requirement that groups whose activities have a religious element register with the Council of Ministers remained an obstacle to the activity of many religious groups. Dozens of articles in a broad range of newspapers depicted lurid and inaccurate pictures of the activities of non-Orthodox religious groups, attributing suicides of teenagers and the breakup of families to their activities. The Government refused visas and residence permits for foreign missionaries, and some came under physical attack in the street and in their homes. Members of the Mormon church reported continued acts of harassment and assault, including some perpetrated by the police themselves. The police response was indifferent despite the expressed concern of the Government about such cases. In February the Supreme Court ruled that a mother and supporter of the nonregistered community of Christ's Warriors be denied parental custody of her 4-year-old son because she had taken the boy to religious meetings of the community. The court grounded its decision on "educational qualities" claiming that "it is obvious that the child's presence at such a public place is harmful to his mind and his health as a whole." At the Department of Theology of Sofia University, all students have been required to present a certificate of baptism from the Orthodox Church, and married couples to provide a marriage certificate from the Orthodox Church, in order to enroll in the Department's classes. Authorities initiated an investigation of the case of the April 1994 shooting death of Yordan Tsolov, an Orthodox priest in Surnitsa, about which charges of police complicity were raised by a human rights organization and the press in 1994. Several religious groups appealed the denials of their registration by the Council of Ministers under a 1994 amendment to the Families and Persons Act. Most of the appeals were denied by the Council of Ministers. Following the Supreme Court's April decision to affirm the Council's denial of registration to the "Word of Life" group, the press reported that the group was banned and that the police would seek out and stop religious gatherings of the group, even if held in private homes. Some observers made credible charges that the police sought to break up meetings of non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups which were denied registration. The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion. A number of major religious bodies, including the Muslim and Jewish communities, receive government financial support. There was no evidence that the Government discriminated against members of any religious group in restituting to previous owners properties that were nationalized during the Communist regime. For most religious groups which were able to maintain their registration, there were no restrictions on attendance at religious services or on private religious instruction. A school for imams, a Muslim cultural center, university theological faculties, and religious primary schools operated freely. Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were freely imported and printed, and Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish publications were published on a regular basis. However, during compulsory military service most Muslims are placed into labor units where they often perform commercial, military, or maintenance work rather than serve in normal military units. The mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) protested this practice (see Section 5). A significant proportion of Muslims considered the current Government's approval of the statutes of the Muslim faith and its registration of a new Chief Mufti and new head of the Supreme Theological Council, all developed at a November 1994 Islamic conference, to be government interference in the affairs of the community. A rival Chief Mufti, elected at an alternative Islamic conference in March, appealed the Government's actions unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court. The schism which opened in the Orthodox church in 1992 persisted. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country and the right to leave it, and these rights are not limited in practice, with the exception of limited border zones off limits both to foreigners and Bulgarians not resident therein. Every citizen has the right to return to Bulgaria, may not be forcibly expatriated, and may not be deprived of citizenship acquired by birth. A number of former political emigrants were granted passports and returned to visit or live. As provided under law, the Chief Prosecutor restricted foreign travel by Lukanov (see Section 1.e.) and also by Ivan Slavkov, son-in-law of Todor Zhivkov, due to outstanding investigations of them. Observers criticized the lack of time limits on such inactive investigations and questioned whether the travel restrictions were not being used punitively. The Government has provisions for granting asylum or refugee status in accordance with the standards of the 1951 U.N. Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. Domestic and international human rights organizations expressed concerns over the Government's handling of asylum claims and reported that there may be cases in which bona fide refugees are forced to return to countries where they fear persecution. The Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees asserts that it gives a fair hearing to all persons seeking asylum or refugee status but admits that there may be cases which do not come to its attention before the applicant is returned to the country from which he or she entered Bulgaria. The Bureau is still seeking to establish registration and reception centers blocked in 1994 by skinheads and local citizens groups and has identified some new sites for the centers. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens have the right to change their government and head of state through the election of the President and of the members of the National Assembly, although the constitutional prohibition of parties formed on ethnic, racial, or religious lines has the effect of circumscribing access to the political process (see Section 2.b.). Suffrage is universal at the age of 18. The most recent parliamentary elections took place in December 1994. President Zhelev was elected in 1992 in the first direct presidential elections. Local elections were held in the fall. With the exception of the mayoral election in Kurdjali, all major political parties accepted the results and agreed that the elections were conducted in a free and orderly manner. In the ethnically mixed city of Kurdjali, in a politically charged atmosphere, the Socialist Party challenged in court the narrow runoff victory of the MRF candidate, questioning the registration of several hundred voters. After lengthy delays the court took up the case, but it has not yet ruled, and the elected mayor has not been allowed to take office. There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in government. A number of women hold elective and appointive office at high levels, including a cabinet-level post and several key positions in the Parliament. However, women hold only about 14 percent of the seats in the current Parliament. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigations of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Local and international human rights groups operate freely, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. At the initiative of several groups concerned with children's rights, the Government conducted a dialog with them on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government was particularly cooperative in allowing an NGO committee to survey prison conditions. However, the Government is otherwise often reluctant to provide information or active cooperation. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution provides for individual rights, equality, and protection against discrimination, but in practice discrimination still exists, particularly against Roma and women. Women Domestic abuse is reportedly a serious problem, but there are no figures, official or otherwise, on its occurrence. The courts prosecute rape, although it remains an underreported crime because some stigma still attaches to the victim. The maximum sentence for rape is 8 years; convicted offenders often receive a lesser sentence or early parole. Marital rape is a crime but rarely prosecuted. Courts and prosecutors tend to view domestic abuse as a family rather than criminal problem, and in most cases victims of domestic violence take refuge with family or friends rather than approach the authorities. No government agencies provide shelter or counseling for such persons, although there is a private initiative to address the problem. Many of the approximately 30 women's organizations in Bulgaria are closely associated with political parties or have primarily professional agendas. Of those which exist mainly to defend women's interests, the two largest are the Women's Democratic Union in Bulgaria, heir to the group which existed under the Zhivkov dictatorship, and the Bulgarian Women's Association, which disappeared under communism but has now reemerged and has chapters in a number of cities. The Constitution forbids privileges or restrictions of rights on the basis of sex. However, women face discrimination both in terms of recruitment and the likelihood of layoffs. Official figures show the rate of unemployment for women to be higher than that for men. Women are much more likely than men to be employed in low-wage jobs requiring little education, although statistics show women are equally likely to attend university. Women, in the main, continue to have primary responsibility for child-rearing and housekeeping even if they are employed outside the home. The liberal provisions for paid maternity leave may actually work against employers' willingness to hire and retain women employees, especially in the private sector. Children The Government appears to be committed to protecting children's welfare. It maintains, for example, a sizable network of orphanages throughout the country. However, government efforts in education and health have been constrained by serious budgetary limitations and by outmoded social care structures. Groups that exist to defend the rights of children charge that an increasing number of children are at serious risk as social insurance payments fall further behind inflation and are often disbursed as much as 6 months late. The vast majority of children are free from societal abuse, although skinhead groups have beaten some Romani children; the homeless or abandoned were particularly vulnerable. Some Romani minors were forced into prostitution by family or community members; there was little police effort to address these problems. People with Disabilities Disabled persons receive a range of financial assistance, including free public transportation, reduced prices on modified automobiles, and free equipment such as wheel chairs. However, as in other areas, budgetary constraints mean that such payments have fallen behind. Disabled individuals have access to university training and to housing and employment, although no special programs are in place to allow them to live up to their full employment potential. To date little effort has been made to change building or street layouts to help blind or otherwise physically disabled persons. At the end of the year, Parliament passed legislation requiring the relevant Ministry and local governments to provide a suitable living and architectural environment for the disabled within 3 years. Also, policies of the Communist regime which separated mentally and physically disabled persons, including very young children, from the rest of society have persisted. Religious Minorities Bulgarian Muslims or "Pomaks" constitute a sizable minority, comprising 2 to 3 percent of the population. Bulgarian Muslims are a distinct group of Slavic descent whose ancestors converted from orthodox Christianity to Islam. Most are Muslim, although a number have become atheists or converted to Christianity. Reports continued that some Muslim religious figures refused to perform burial services for Muslims with Slavic names, a practice which some observers saw as an encroachment on religious freedom. There were a series of acts of vandalism directed at Jewish institutions. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Ethnic Turks comprise about 10 percent of the population. Although estimates of the Romani population vary widely, several experts put it at about 6 percent. These are the country's two largest minorities. There are no restrictions on the speaking of Turkish in public or the use of non-Slavic names. A defense bill before Parliament renewed controversy over the issue of language. The bill declared Bulgarian to be the official language in the armed forces and the language in which military duties were to be carried out. Members of Parliament of the mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to affirm the constitutional right to use the "mother tongue," for example, in personal conversations and correspondence. The motion was rejected, but use of the mother tongue is not prohibited in the military, and Turkish is freely spoken in off- duty situations. Voluntary Turkish-language classes, funded by the Government, continued in areas with significant Turkish-speaking populations, although some observers complained that the Government was restricting the availability of training for teachers and discouraging the optional language classes in areas with large concentrations of Bulgarian Muslims. Some ethnic Turkish leaders, mainly in the MRF, demanded that Turkish-language schooling be made compulsory in ethnic Turkish areas, but the Government resisted this. In the 1992 census approximately 3.4 percent of the population identified itself as Romani. The real figure is probably about twice that high, since many persons of Romani descent tend to identify themselves to the authorities as ethnic Turks or Bulgarians. Romani groups continued to be divided among themselves, although several groups had some success presenting Romani issues to the Government. As individuals and as an ethnic group, Roma faced high levels of discrimination. Attacks by private citizens on Romani communities continued to occur in 1995. The most serious were a series of attacks in two Romani neighborhoods of Stara Zagora in March and April. A group of young men wielding bats and sticks reportedly damaged the property of 11 Romani families in March, and a group of young people wearing masks allegedly beat 2 Romani women on school grounds in April. Police have identified the alleged perpetrators of the March incident, and an investigation is underway. An arson investigation resulting from the February 1994 incident in Dolno Belotintsi was suspended later that year because of the reluctance of the sole witness to testify. A human rights NGO was able to gather new evidence implicating individuals in the crime and has asked the Chief Prosecutor to resume the investigation; no action has yet been taken. Authorities often fail to aggressively investigate cases of assault or other crimes against Romani individuals, although there was some improvement in their responsiveness to inquiries of human rights organizations. Roma encounter difficulties applying for social benefits, and rural Roma are discouraged from claiming land to which they are entitled under the law disbanding agricultural collectives. Many Roma and other observers made credible allegations that the quality of education offered to Romani children is inferior to that afforded most other Bulgarian students. The Government took some steps to address the problems faced by Roma. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology convened a forum in July to discuss the education of Romani children, during which representatives of the President's office, concerned ministries, and human rights organizations discussed pedagogical issues. The Council of Ministers disbanded the interagency Ethnic Affairs Council established in 1994, replacing it with a National Board on Social and Demographic matters with broader responsibilities. Some observers expressed concern over onerous requirements for admission of NGO's to the board. For example, NGO's must have established branches in more than one-third of Bulgarian municipalities. The Ministry of Education continued its program to introduce Romani- language schoolbooks into schools with Romani populations and issued follow-on textbooks for the program. The program has had mixed success, partly due to a lack of qualified teachers. Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem, especially for Roma. Employers justify such discrimination on the basis that most Roma have relatively low training and education. Supervisory jobs are generally given to ethnic Bulgarian employees, with ethnic Turks, Bulgarian Muslims, and Roma among the first to be laid off. During compulsory military service most Roma (and Muslims--see Section 2.c.) are shunted into labor units where they often perform commercial, military construction, or maintenance work rather than serve in normal military units. The MRF protested this practice, as did human rights groups and labor observers who cited it as a violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) accords. There are only a few ethnic Turkish and Romani officers in the military. Thousands of Bulgarians, mainly in the southwest, identify themselves as Macedonians, most for historical and geographic reasons. Members of the two organizations which purport to defend the interests of ethnic Macedonians, Umo-Ilinden and Tmo-Ilinden, are believed to number in the hundreds (see Section 2.b.). Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The 1991 Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form or join trade unions of their own choice, and this right was apparently freely exercised. Estimates of the unionized share of the workforce range from 30 to 50 percent. This share is shrinking as large firms lay off workers, and most new positions appear in small, nonunionized businesses. Bulgaria has two large trade union confederations, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB), and Podkrepa. CITUB, the successor to the trade union controlled by the former Communist regime, operates as an independent entity. Podkrepa, an independent confederation created in 1989, was one of the earliest opposition forces but is no longer a member of the Union of Democratic Forces, the main opposition party. In February a third trade union confederation, the Community of Free Union Organizations in Bulgaria (CFUOB), was admitted to the National Tripartite Coordination Council (NTCC), which includes employers and the government (see Section 6.b.). CITUB and Podkrepa filed a joint complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO) against the Government's selection of CFUOB as the labor delegate to the 1995 ILO conference. The ILO found that the Government had unilaterally imposed rotation of the labor delegate among three trade union organizations without consulting the other two. The 1992 Labor Code recognizes the right to strike when other means of conflict resolution have been exhausted, but "political strikes" are forbidden. Workers in essential services are prohibited from striking. There was no evidence that the Government interfered with the right to strike, and several work stoppages took place. The Labor Code's prohibitions against antiunion discrimination include a 6-month period of protection against dismissal as a form of retribution. While these provisions appear to be within international norms, there is no mechanism other than the courts for resolving complaints, and the burden of proof in such a case rests entirely on the employee. The ILO in 1993 requested further information on lustration proceedings, measures directed at compensating ethnic Turks for abuses under the previous regime, efforts taken to improve the economic situation of minorities, and measures to promote equality between men and women in workplace opportunity. At year's end, the ILO was still reviewing the information provided to it by the Government, including information provided this year on efforts to improve the situation of minorities. The ILO has not yet issued opinions or recommendations on these matters. There are no restrictions on affiliation or contact with international labor organizations, and unions actively exercise this right. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Labor Code institutes collective bargaining, which was practiced nationally and on a local level. The legal prohibition against striking for key public sector employees weakens their bargaining position; however, these groups were able to influence negotiations by staging protests and engaging in other pressure activities without going on strike. Both CITUB and Podkrepa complained that while the legal structure for collective bargaining was adequate, many employers failed to bargain in good faith or to adhere to concluded agreements. Labor observers viewed the Government's enforcement of labor contracts as inadequate. Only the three labor members of the National Tripartite Cooperation Council are authorized to bargain collectively. This restriction led to complaints by smaller unions, which may in individual workplaces have more members than the NTCC members. Smaller unions also protested their exclusion from the NTCC. There were no instances in which an employer was found guilty of antiunion discrimination and required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. International labor organizations criticized the "national representation" requirement for participation in the National Tripartite Coordination Council as a violation of the right to organize. The same obligation of collective bargaining and adherence to labor standards prevails in the export processing zones, and unions may organize workers in these areas. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Many observers agreed that the practice of shunting minority and conscientious-objector military draftees into work units which often carry out commercial construction and maintenance projects is a form of forced labor (Section 5). d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The Labor Code sets the minimum age for employment at 16; the minimum for dangerous work is set at 18. Employers and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) are responsible for enforcing these provisions. Child labor laws are enforced well in the formal sector. Underage employment in the informal and agricultural sectors is increasing as collective farms are broken up and the private sector continues to grow. In addition, children work on family-owned tobacco plantations. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The national monthly minimum wage was approximately $38 (2,555 leva) at year's end. The minimum wage is not enough to provide a wage earner and family with a decent standard of living. The Constitution stipulates the right to social security and welfare aid assistance for the temporarily unemployed, although in practice such assistance is often either late or not disbursed. The Labor Code provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours with at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The MLSW is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. Enforcement has been generally effective in the state sector, although there are reports that state-run enterprises fall into arrears on salary payments to their employees if the firms incur losses. Enforcement of work conditions is weaker in the emerging private sector. A national labor safety program exists, with standards established by the Labor Code. The Constitution states that employees are entitled to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions. The MLSW is responsible for enforcing these provisions. Under the Labor Code, employees have the right to remove themselves from work situations which present a serious or immediate danger to life or health without jeopardizing their continued employment. In practice, refusal to work in situations with relatively high accident rates or associated chronic health problems would result in loss of employment for many workers. Conditions in many cases are worsening owing to budget stringencies and a growing private sector which labor inspectors do not yet supervise effectively. (###)
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