Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Praise Bulgaria’s National Ombudsman, Ask about Racial Discrimination by the Police and High Unemployment in the Roma Community
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-third to twenty-fifth periodic report of Bulgaria, with Committee Experts commending the State on its National Ombudsman being officially accredited with “A” status, and raising concerns about racial discrimination by the police and high unemployment within the Roma community.
Yanduan Li, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, congratulated the State party on its National Ombudsman being officially accredited with “A” status, in accordance with the Paris Principles. The State party had made great efforts to meet the recommendations made by the Committee in this regard, she said.
Faith Dikeledi Pansy Tlakula, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about measures being taken to prevent racial discrimination by law enforcement officials, and to ensure accountability for such crimes. There were reports of persistent racial profiling, abuse of authority and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during detention and inside police stations against ethnic minorities and migrants, in particular the Roma. Impunity for such crimes was reportedly a widespread problem. Had any investigations been conducted against law enforcement officials in this regard?
Ms. Li said the informal Bulgarian economy attracted much of the Roma population, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups. In the municipal district of Stolipinovo, non-governmental organizations estimated the unemployment rate to be 80 per cent or above, compared to a general national unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent. How was the State party supporting the Roma’s access to formal employment? There were also reports about labour discrimination and exploitation of ethnic minority groups. What measures had the State party taken to tackle the situation?
Introducing the report, Yuri Sterk, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, said the Commission for Protection against Discrimination and the Ombudsman were undertaking efforts to improve their human rights protection systems. The Government updated on an annual basis the budgets of these institutions in accordance with their needs. Both institutions had recently registered a significant increase in the number of complaints submitted.
The delegation said that in 2022, there were 229 complaints regarding the activities of police officers. Problems had been identified in 12 of these cases. There were no cases involving racial discrimination. Complaints against the police force where violations were found concerned improper use of weapons or force and illegal detention. Disciplinary sanctions were issued to persons who violated the law. Serious cases were sent to the Prosecutor’s Office to start official investigations.
Mr. Sterk said that the national strategy of Bulgaria for the equality, inclusion and participation of Roma (2021-2030) promoted equality in employment, among other fields. The delegation added that the State provided employment counselling and vocational training for job seekers regardless of their ethnic origin. Around 22,000 members of the Roma community were registered with the National Employment Agency this year, and around 11,000 of those people had found work. The State gave employers incentives to hire people from vulnerable groups. A large campaign was conducted last year to break down stereotypes of the Roma in workplaces and attract Roma people to register with labour offices.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Li thanked the delegation for the responses it had provided. The dialogue had been open and candid, and had helped the Committee to understand the situation of the implementation of the Convention in Bulgaria. Ms. Li thanked all colleagues and stakeholders who had contributed to the dialogue.
Mr. Sterk, in concluding remarks, said the delegation had sought to stress Bulgaria’s strong record in promoting racial tolerance. The State’s policy aimed to prevent all forms of discrimination and hate speech. The dialogue had provided the State party with guidance in refining Bulgaria’s legal, institutional and policy framework. Authorities would carefully examine all the Committee’s recommendations and devise follow-up measures.
The delegation of Bulgaria consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Interior; Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Ministry of Health; State Agency for Refugees; Ministry of Justice; National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues to the Council of Ministers; Ministry of Education and Science; and the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Bulgaria after the conclusion of its one hundred and eleventh session on 8 December. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and eleventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 29 November at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fifteenth to seventeenth periodic report of Viet Nam (CERD/C/VNM/15-17).
The Committee has before it the combined twenty-third to twenty-fifth periodic report of Bulgaria (CERD/C/BGR/23-25).
Presentation of Report
YURI STERK, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, said that in 2023, Bulgaria was commemorating the eightieth anniversary of the salvation of almost 50,000 Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War. All Bulgarian citizens were provided with the opportunity to freely state their affiliation to a certain ethnic, religious, linguistic or other group. The protection of their rights and freedoms was guaranteed by the Bulgarian Constitution, the national legislation and Bulgaria’s international obligations. The Bulgarian Government pursued a consistent policy aimed at preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination.
In 2020, amendments were adopted to the law on radio and television, which strengthened the powers of the media regulator and introduced stricter measures against the use of hate speech and incitement to violence in audio-visual media services. The new rules also applied to video sharing platforms. In July 2023, the Bulgarian National Assembly adopted a law on amendments and supplements to the Criminal Code, which envisaged heavier punishment when an act was committed based on racist or xenophobic motives. In 2023, the Criminal Procedure Code was amended to expand the list of procedural rights of victims, including victims of hate crimes, racism and xenophobia. Provisions governing hate speech and crimes against labour rights were amended to include grounds of “colour” and “origin”.
The Commission for Protection against Discrimination and the Ombudsman were undertaking further efforts to improve their human rights protection systems and focus on prevention and early engagement. In 2019, the Ombudsman was officially accredited by the United Nations Sub-Committee on Accreditation with the highest “A” status. The Government updated on an annual basis the budgets of these institutions in accordance with their needs. Both institutions had recently registered a significant increase in the number of complaints submitted.
The National Action Plan on Combatting Anti-Semitism (2023-2027) aimed at combatting anti-Semitism, preservation of traditions and cultural heritage, and education, research and commemoration. It included concrete measures, responsible institutions, measurable benchmarks and a monitoring mechanism.
The National Strategy of Bulgaria for the equality, inclusion and participation of Roma (2021-2030) aimed to ensure effective equality and reduce disparities between persons who self-identified as Roma and the rest of the population. The strategy promoted equality, inclusion and participation, and action in the spheres of education, health, housing and employment. In 2018, a special permanent mechanism for coverage, inclusion and prevention of dropouts was introduced. In June 2022, the Employment Promotion Act was amended to establish an electronic register with data on economically inactive persons. The number of Roma mediators was increased from 78 in 2020 to 89 at the end of September 2023. The project “Health for All” supported increased access to healthcare for vulnerable groups, in particular in the field of maternal and child healthcare. In the area of healthcare, the number of health mediators was increasing annually.
The principle of non-discrimination was explicitly stipulated in the law on asylum and refugees. Bulgaria had been facing several immigration challenges since 2014, exacerbated by the war of aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Since 24 February 2022, 2.1 million Ukrainians had entered Bulgaria, of which 171,571 were registered for temporary protection. Ukrainian citizens with temporary protection had full access to the labour market, social welfare assistance and social services, accommodation and education. In October 2020, the law on asylum and refugees was amended to include the identification and assessment of the needs of asylum seekers from vulnerable groups, and to provide unaccompanied minors with access to a lawyer. From 2021 to 2027, Bulgaria was implementing a national programme under the European Union Fund "Asylum, Migration and Integration", which provided for the financing of a wide scope of measures to ensure support for applicants for international protection.
Bulgaria was committed to taking targeted and effective measures to affirm the national values of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding; to address all forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and to implement the Convention.
Questions by Committee Experts
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, welcomed the high representation of women in the delegation. The Committee welcomed the measures taken by the State party to implement the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations. The State party’s common core document needed to be updated. International treaties promulgated by Bulgaria had primacy over domestic legislation. Were there examples of the direct application of the Convention in Bulgaria’s courts?
The Committee was pleased to see progress in legislative reforms allowing for victims of racial discrimination to claim reparation. However, there were reportedly shortcomings in the administration and functioning of the criminal justice system in dealing with cases of racial discrimination, including insufficient investigation and prosecution efforts and a lack of public awareness of the rights and remedies available. What measures had the State party taken to address the situation? What remedies had been received by victims of racial discrimination? Roma and non-citizens still faced discrimination in the criminal justice system, which hampered their ability to access justice. The State party had not distinguished between crimes of hooliganism and racist and xenophobic crimes in its legislation and data gathering processes. Why was this? There were reports that cases of racial discrimination were increasing in the State party. Did the State party have plans to adopt a unified national action plan against racism and racial discrimination with clear targets and with adequate resources for its implementation?
Ms. Li congratulated the State party on its National Ombudsman being officially accredited with “A” status, in accordance with the Paris Principles. The State party had made great efforts to meet the recommendations made by the Committee. The number of complaints of discrimination had increased from 2017 to 2019. How many of these cases concerned racial discrimination? How had the State followed up on these complaints? Was the Commission for Protection against Discrimination a State organ? How did the State guarantee its independence? It was not financially independent from the State. Who had the power to appoint its leader and recruit its staff members? How were duties divided between the Ombudsman and the Commission?
The State did not gather any information on the racial or ethnic origin of individuals, as the State party reasoned, “this presented highly sensitive personal data”. Could the State party provide indicators of ethnic diversity if available, and information on the ethnic composition of the prison population?
FAITH DIKELEDI PANSY TLAKULA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee recommended that the Act on Protection against Discrimination and other laws be amended to include the definition of hate speech in line with article 4 of the Convention. The Committee noted that the amendment to the Criminal Code was adopted by the National Assembly on 11 November 2022. Did the amendment to the Penal Code include the definition of hate speech in line with the Convention? Had the State party amended the Act on the Protection against Discrimination to include a definition of hate speech in line with the Convention?
The Ombudsman had observed in 2022 that hate speech was increasingly used in society and there had been a lack of action to prevent it. What powers had been granted to the Council for Electronic Media to address hate speech? What investigations had it conducted into incidents of hate speech? What measures had been adopted to address hate speech and hate crimes on the Internet, including on social media platforms, and hate speech by political parties, particularly during election campaigns? Ms. Tlakula called for information on investigations, prosecutions and convictions of politicians and public figures for hate speech. What measures had been taken to implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning cases of hate speech?
What measures were being taken to prevent racial discrimination, including racially motivated violence and racial profiling, by law enforcement officials, and to ensure accountability for such crimes? The Expert called for information on the number of complaints, investigations and convictions regarding incidents of discrimination, police violence and brutality. There were reports of persistent racial profiling, abuse of authority and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during detention and inside police stations against ethnic minorities and migrants, in particular the Roma. Impunity for such crimes was reportedly a widespread problem. Could the delegation comment on these allegations? Had any investigations been conducted against law enforcement officials in this regard? What were their outcomes?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said that in the Committee’s previous concluding observations, it had called on the State party to bring its Ombudsman in full compliance with the Paris Principles. It was commendable that the State party had done this. What efforts had been made by the State party to extend the powers of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, and what had the results of these efforts been? The Committee had also urged the State party to refrain from engaging in pushbacks and refoulement; investigate all allegations of violations of asylum seekers’ rights by border officials; and stop the practice of placing undocumented asylum seekers in involuntary detention. The Committee would assess efforts in this regard in the dialogue.
A Committee Expert raised questions on the intent of COVID-19 prevention measures targeting Roma persons specifically, and measures taken in response to racist hate speech occurring at football matches.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the Convention was part of domestic legislation and took precedence over any conflicting legislation. Several court decisions had directly implemented the provisions of the Convention. Sixty training events on fighting racial discrimination and implementing the Convention had been held for members of the judiciary. There had been two cases involving racial discrimination decided on in 2021 and one in 2022. Measures had been taken to ensure that the Penal Code addressed all forms of racial discrimination given in the Convention. Recent amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedural Code were made in 2023. They included heavier penalties for crimes committed with racist motivation. Qualifying provisions on murder and bodily harm grouped crimes of hooliganism, racial discrimination and sexual crimes together as the most severe crimes, punishing such crimes with up to life imprisonment.
The Government had an action plan on executing the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments on cases involving hate speech. The judgements were translated into Bulgarian, forwarded to relevant State bodies, and incorporated in training of judges and magistrates. An international conference to discuss measures to stop hate speech was recently held in Sophia.
The Commission for the Protection against Discrimination was carrying out an awareness raising campaign and engaging in dialogue with various stakeholders on preventing discrimination. Parliament elected five of the Commission’s members, including its President, and the President of the Republic directly appointed its four other members. Both the President and Vice-President of the Commission belonged to the Roma community. The Commission had regional offices, where it received complaints of discrimination. Its decisions on such complaints could be appealed. From 2020 to 2023, it had received 122 complaints related to ethnic origin and around 20 concerning race, issuing 13 decisions on the complaints related to ethnic origin and one related to race. The Commission also trained other institutions on the implementation of legislation on discrimination and certified private entities that implemented the law appropriately. A project with a budget of 1.6 million levs was in place to strengthen the mandate of the Commission.
There was a system to collect statistics on crimes committed on ethnic and racial grounds. There had been six crimes against racial equality in 2023. In the Census, information on ethnicity was provided on a voluntary basis. The results of the Census were made public. The State party was discussing whether to develop a national action plan against racism or to treat such occurrences in the context of the State’s efforts to fight discrimination.
The Labour Code included provisions prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination. Employers who received complaints of harassment from workers were obliged to immediately carry out investigations to determine liability and punish perpetrators. Employees had the right to file complaints concerning workplace harassment before the courts to obtain redress.
Countering hate speech and hate crimes was a priority of the police. The police’s capacity to combat online hate speech had been strengthened through the establishment of a directorate on cybercrimes this year. Measures had been taken to delete discriminatory content and hate speech on the internet. Bulgaria’s police academy trained officers on human rights subjects and protection from discrimination.
A project had been set up to counter discrimination against the Roma and enhance dialogue between the police and the Roma community. Police officers worked with representatives of Roma communities every day. A manual on protecting the human rights of the Roma had been developed, and over 300 officers had been trained on protecting their rights. In May last year, the national strategy for Roma was adopted. Indicators on the implementation of the strategy included data on ethnicity.
In 2022, there were 229 complaints regarding the activities of police officers. Problems had been identified in 12 of these cases. There were no cases involving racial discrimination. There were measures implemented to limit free movement in a district in Sophia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police and health mediators were deployed to protect health in this district for a limited period. Perpetrators of racial discrimination occurring at football matches were punished with financial sanctions and bans from going to matches.
Questions by Committee Experts
FAITH DIKELEDI PANSY TLAKULA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that she was not happy that the State party grouped hate speech with hooliganism in legislation. She said she appreciated steps taken to train police to prevent racial profiling. She called for more information on the 12 cases in which there had been violations by the police.
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, called on the State party to reference the Committee’s general recommendation 36 on racial profiling.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said racial profiling was not practiced by Bulgarian police. There was no database that collected information on perpetrators’ racial or ethnic affiliation. The provisions of article four of the Convention on hate speech had been incorporated into the Penal Code, which was the main law used to address hate speech. This amendment made the amendment of the Act on the Protection against Discrimination unnecessary.
Questions by Committee Experts
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said Bulgarian officials had refused to recognise the existence of a minority of self-identifying Macedonians and Pomaks within Bulgaria. The registration of Macedonian organizations had been refused by the Registry Agency. Macedonian minorities had lodged five new cases with the European Court of Human Rights in 2022 alleging violations of the right to freedom of assembly and association. Courts had continued to deny registration to the political party “OMO Ilinden”, which sought legal recognition of a Macedonian ethnic minority in Bulgaria. Why was this? Did the State party plan to take measures to overcome the language difficulties marginalised groups faced in electoral campaigns? What measures were in place to ensure that minority ethnic groups were adequately represented in the parliament and the civil service? What percentage of staff of local and central governments, the judicial system and the military were ethnic minorities?
The informal Bulgarian economy attracted much of the Roma population, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups. There were also reports about labour discrimination and exploitation of ethnic minority groups. The high rate of informality led to poor quality jobs, salaries below the minimum wage, and a lack of access to social security and health insurance. What measures had the State party taken to tackle the situation? How did the State party ensure that the ethnic minorities were aware of the support initiatives of the National Employment Agency?
Curricula had not been adapted to children whose mother tongue was not Bulgarian. What measures were in place to strengthen language education for such children and facilitate major ethnic minorities’ access to basic services? There were also concerns about minority languages at risk of disappearance, such as Crimean Tatar, Romani and Gagauz languages. What measures had the State party taken to preserve, protect and promote minority languages and cultures?
Many institutional and policy measures had been adopted by the State party aimed at eliminating racial discrimination against the Roma. There were some reports, however, about the continued marginalisation of the Roma in public and political life. What concrete measures had been taken to support the Roma? What was the representation of the Roma in national and local legislative, administrative and judicial institutions? What was the birth registration rate of the Roma community, and what percentage had been issued identity cards? In the municipal district of Stolipinovo, non-governmental organizations estimated the unemployment rate to be 80 per cent or above, compared to a general national unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent. How was the State party supporting the Roma’s access to formal employment?
Key reforms, policies and investments had been implemented in the school education system, including an increase in education spending. However, wide disparities in participation rates persisted between regions and districts, with low rates among the Roma. Segregation in education was a major factor; 63.5 per cent of Roma children aged six to 14 years attended schools and kindergartens in which all or most of their schoolmates were Roma. How was the State party responding to these challenges?
Roma in Bulgaria often experienced difficult housing conditions, including substandard housing and informal settlements. There was often a de facto housing segregation, with neighbourhoods being predominantly inhabited by Roma while non-Roma moved out. In many places, local authorities had invested little or nothing in the development of Roma residential areas. There were also concerns about persistent administrative barriers faced by Roma in access to social housing. Forced evictions and the lack of social protection had further compounded this situation. What had been the impact of measures to support the Roma’s access to housing?
FAITH DIKELEDI PANSY TLAKULA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said 2023 marked the tenth consecutive year with zero integration support provided to refugee families and children by the State, thus exposing them to various risks such as destitution, exploitation and segregation. What measures had been taken to support access to basic services for migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons? Some asylum seekers and migrants had reportedly been left near the border in dire conditions, without access to asylum procedures or food, water and shelter. There were also reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against such people, resulting in injuries and bodily harm. Nationals of certain countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Morocco and Tunisia were reportedly rejected without due process. What measures had been adopted by the State party to prevent collective expulsions and pushbacks and to respect the principle of non-refoulement?
In 2015, the Government had adopted the National Strategy on Migration, Asylum and Integration for 2015 to 2020. How had the Strategy benefited recipients of international protection? Had an evaluation informed the Strategy for the 2021 to 2025 period? Had State funding been allocated to the implementation of the integration agreement between the beneficiaries of international protection and municipalities? What measures were being taken to ensure sustainability and mainstreaming of support for refugees and migrant children into national and child protection and welfare systems?
What measures were being taken to combat trafficking of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees? Could the delegation provide information on the number of investigations, prosecutions, convictions of perpetrators of human trafficking, and reparations provided to the victims of human trafficking? What results had been achieved by the National Strategy for Trafficking in Human Beings for 2017 to 2022 and the National Referral Mechanism for Support of Trafficked Persons?
What measures were being taken to end mandatory and immediate detention of undocumented migrants, including children? Conditions in reception centres where asylum seekers were accommodated reportedly remained precarious. Was the State party ensuring that the movement of asylum seekers was not restricted to administrative centres and supporting asylum seekers’ access to basic services? Several unaccompanied children were accommodated in mixed dormitories in reception centres without proper care, safety and protection, and adaptation and rehabilitation activities, including language learning. How was the State party ensuring that unaccompanied children were placed in facilities suitable for children and provided with proper care? Had the State Agency for Refugees been adequately resourced to enable it to discharge its functions effectively? What measures were being taken to strengthen the human and financial capacity of municipalities to conduct identification and referral procedures in a sensitive manner, and to guarantee the availability of individual and qualified legal representation for all unaccompanied children?
Other Committee Experts asked about the position of Bulgarian media concerning the conflict occurring in occupied Palestinian territory and the State’s position on receiving Palestinian refugees; measures to prevent hate speech against ethnic minorities, including African students; actions to mark the Decade of People of African Descent; and methods for monitoring and deciding on whether to delete online hate speech.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that in 2020, the Radio and Television Act was amended to address incitement to hatred. Broadcasts and commercials could not contain incitement to hatred or discrimination against a certain group. The new legislation also included provisions requiring video sharing platforms to protect audiences from incitement to hatred. Sanctions were issued for violations. The Council for Electronic Media monitored all media and in 2023 issued four penal decrees in relation to violations. Two political candidates were fined in 2023 for hate speech in election campaigns.
After racist acts at a football match in 2019, the Government initiated the “Scarf of Respect” campaign to tackle racism in sport. The police took preventive measures through its national coordination mechanism for sporting events. Police had powers to confiscate discriminatory symbols.
The Constitution did not address specific ethnic, religious or national minorities; it guaranteed equal rights and freedoms for all minority groups. Ethnic and other minorities were fully able to participate in political life, the public service and the military. Bulgaria had adopted the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. There was presently a group of six cases before the European Court of Human Rights concerning refusal of the registration of associations. These cases were not related to the recognition of a national minority. The Court had called on the State party to eliminate inequalities in the registration process and to allow for refusals to be challenged in the court of appeals. The implementation of the Court’s recommendation was being monitored by the Council of Europe. Political parties based only on ethnic or religious grounds were forbidden. The rate of refusals of registrations for associations was around 35 per cent in 2019 but was around 20 per cent in 2022. Each application for registration was individually assessed and reasons for refusals were communicated. Refusals were not based on discrimination and did not target specific groups.
There was a broad range of representation of minority ethnic and religious groups in political parties. The State party did not collect statistics on the ethnicity of members of political groups. Bulgarian was generally used in political campaigns, but politicians were permitted to use other languages.
In 2022, Bulgaria adopted a national action plan and strategy for promoting the meaningful participation of the Roma in education, employment, training, health and other sectors and empowering Roma women. A national contact point for the implementation of the strategy had been set up and regional action plans drafted. Meetings had been held with Roma representatives, civil society and academia to develop the plan and strategy. The State was working with various stakeholders to improve housing conditions for the Roma through urban planning, regulation of housing, construction of water and energy infrastructure, and expanding opportunities for families to build homes.
The civil registration law amendment of 2012 regulated birth registration. Various documents were accepted as identity documents. Further amendments were planned to issue official addresses to persons without registered addresses to facilitate registration.
All job seekers enjoyed equal rights under the Employment Promotion Act. The State provided employment counselling and vocational training for job seekers regardless of their ethnic origin. Around 22,000 members of the Roma community were registered with the National Employment Agency this year, and around 11,000 of those people had found work. The State gave employers incentives to hire people from vulnerable groups. A large campaign was conducted last year to break down stereotypes of the Roma in workplaces and attract Roma people to register with labour offices. Labour mediators supported this endeavour. The number of Roma mediators was increased this year. The Government was trying to create decent jobs and to upskill the workforce. It planned to train half a million people in digital skills.
Bulgaria respected the principle of non-refoulement. Beneficiaries of international protection were able to attend language courses to facilitate their integration. The State Agency for Refugees was a beneficiary of resources under the European Asylum Integration Fund. Municipalities that accepted beneficiaries of international protection were allocated financial resources. The State was currently working on constructing another safe zone for unaccompanied minors. If safe zones were full, unaccompanied minors were accommodated in facilities for families. Bulgaria could formerly accommodate 5,600 asylum seekers, but due to poor conditions in certain facilities, its capacity was reduced to 3,700 places. The national migration strategy included annual action plans developed based on evaluations of previous action plans. Every third country national who applied for international protection had the right to accommodation, food, health care, access to the labour market, legal representation and application for asylum. Legal aid was free of charge for unaccompanied minors. Every asylum application was analysed individually.
In the Bulgarian educational system, data on students’ ethnic origin was not collected. The law on primary school did not include provisions imposing segregation. Segregation occurred because the population in certain regions was primarily Roma. Resources were directed to segregated kindergartens and primary schools to give teachers higher salaries, support education in Bulgarian language, and promote enrolment. The State was providing free transport for students and conducting other measures to prevent students from attending segregated education.
Complaints against the police force where violations were found concerned improper use of weapons or force and illegal detention. Disciplinary sanctions were issued to persons who violated the law. Serious cases were sent to the Prosecutor’s Office to start official investigations.
The law on protection against discrimination applied to cases below the legal threshold for criminal responsibility, while the Penal Code applied for cases above the threshold. Criminal acts of discrimination were punished with one to three years imprisonment, with increased sentences for racially motivated crimes.
In response to a follow-up question on the division of mandates between the Ombudsman and the Commission on Protection against Discrimination, the delegation said the Ombudsman had functional immunity and dealt with all issues concerning human rights and administrative infringements. It issued recommendations to institutions after assessing complaints. The Ombudsman could seize the Constitutional Court on issues it dealt with. The Commission on the Protection against Discrimination, meanwhile, was a quasi-judicial body. It treated complaints in a manner similar to the courts and could impose fines. The Commission dealt only with issues of discrimination.
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the responses it had provided. The dialogue had been open and candid, and had helped the Committee to understand the situation of the implementation of the Convention in Bulgaria. Ms. Li thanked all colleagues and stakeholders who had contributed to the dialogue.
YURI STERK, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, said that Bulgaria appreciated the open and inclusive dialogue with the Committee. The delegation had sought to stress Bulgaria’s strong record in promoting racial tolerance. The State’s policy aimed to prevent all forms of discrimination and hate speech. The dialogue had provided the State party with guidance in refining Bulgaria’s legal, institutional and policy framework. Authorities would carefully examine all the Committee’s recommendations and devise follow-up measures. Mr. Sterk thanked all members of the Committee and other stakeholders who had facilitated the dialogue.
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