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Human Rights Developments

Bulgaria in 1992 continued to make steady progress toward respect for human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions. In addition, it continued to develop ties to international and regional organizations, gaining full membership in the Council of Europe in May. Bulgaria also intensified efforts to bring to trial those accused of serious abuses during the communist era. Nevertheless, problems persisted with regard to the treatment of minorities, especially the Gypsy population, and new concerns arose regarding respect for freedom of association and expression for individuals formerly associated with the Communist Party.

Four comprehensive lustration (i.e., purification) bills have been drafted for consideration by the Bulgarian National Assembly. These bills would prohibit people who occupied certain enumerated positions in the Communist Party or were members or collaborators with the secret police from holding public office, but differ with respect to the list of past practices that qualify a person for exclusion and the scope of excluded positions in the future. Three of the bills would provide for ultimate recourse to the courts. A fourth bill entitled the "Law on Democratization" and introduced to parliament on September 9 provides for a commission elected by parliament to review complaints by individuals whose names have been included on a preliminary list of all persons banned from certain enumerated employment. The commission would publish a final list of all banned persons. No further appeal process is envisaged.

The National Assembly also attached lustration provisions to other bills. For example, the parliament passed a Banking Law in March banning high-ranking former Communists from sitting on banking commissions and receiving pensions. President Zhelev submitted this law to the Constitutional Court, which held on July 29 that the provisions violated Article 6 of the Bulgarian Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the basis of, among other things, opinion or political affiliation.

On July 23, before the Constitutional Court ruled on the Banking Law, parliament began consideration of a draft law which would prohibit former officials in the Communist Party, former staff of the State Security, teaching and research staff of the Academy for Social Sciences and Social Management, and anyone who "taught History of the Communist Party, Marxism-Leninism, Political Economy, Scientific Communism, Scientific Atheism or Party Building" from holding positions in the councils and executive bodies of scientific organizations.

Helsinki Watch supports efforts to ensure that all those holding positions of influence and power in government carry out their duties in a manner that is compatible with the development of democracy and the establishment of the rule of law. At the same time, the means pursued to achieve these ends should themselves reflect respect for individual rights. Unfortunately, the draft lustration laws currently before the Bulgarian parliament proceed from a concept of collective guilt, providing that people are to be punished not for specific acts but for belonging to specific groups. Furthermore, the burden of proof is put on the individual in question who is assumed guilty unless he or she is able to prove his or her innocence. This does not provide fair and adequate means bywhich to evaluate a person's culpability.

A udf member of parliament also introduced a bill that would invalidate the convictions issued by the People's Court between 1944-45. The People's Court, under Soviet guidance, tried a range of people, some of whom had committed war crimes and others who were political opponents of the Communists. The European Parliament issued a resolution on April 14 urging the government to withdraw this bill as it would pardon not only those who were innocent of any offenses, but also many who committed atrocious crimes. Helsinki Watch urges that all those who have committed gross human rights abuses be held accountable for their crimes and that the Bulgarian government reconsider the broad sweep of this legislation.

Most of the former communist leaders who were brought to trial in 1992 were charged only with economic crimes. After 18 months of trial, Todor Zhivkov, former head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, and his former aide, Milko Balev, were convicted on September 4 of embezzlement. Zhivkov was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Many other top communist officials, including former Prime Ministers Georgi Atanasov and Andrei Lukanov, have also been charged with misappropriation of state funds.

However, recent reports indicate that the prosecution of those responsible for the most serious human rights violations committed during the communist era may soon get under way. A parliamentary committee was established in February to collect evidence on human rights abuses such as the assimilation campaign against Bulgaria's ethnic and religious minorities committed by the former Bulgarian Communist Party and to submit a report to the Chief Prosecutor's Office. Furthermore, on June 25, Zhivkov was indicted for having set up two labor camps in which approximately 150 people died. In addition, Zhivkov, as well as former Foreign Minister Petar Mladenov, were indicted for their involvement in the forced assimilation campaign against Bulgarian Turks and Gypsies in the late 1980s.

The Gypsy population in Bulgaria lives in abject poverty and faces deep-seated prejudice. In 1992, Gypsies were the victims of abuse and mistreatment by local police officers. On June 28, several Gypsy men in the town of Pazardjik were chased out of an orchard allotted to the local police. When a crowd began to throw stones at the police, they opened fire, injuring two Gypsies in the process. The next morning at 4 a.m., police officers surrounded the area, armed with machine guns and search dogs. The police had been authorized by the Chief Secretary and the Regional Director of the Ministry of the Interior to conduct a "passport check and search of arms." Krassimir Kanev, adviser to President Zhelev on minority issues, reported:

The doors and windows of every house were broken down....In every home the furniture was turned upside down; wardrobes, sofas...were purposefully broken.... This was accompanied by all-round manhandling and beating of the inhabitants, as well as derogatory and discriminatory comments about the Roma people. Clubs and sticks were used against men, women, children, old people. Young women and girls became victims of sexual harassment.

As Helsinki Watch has reported before, the Bulgarian Constitution bans the registration of political parties organized along ethnic, racial or religious lines in violation of the right to peaceful association. During the October 1991 elections, both the Democratic Roma Union and the "Ilinden" organization (the organization of Macedonians named after the Ilinden uprising if August 12, 1903) were not allowed to participate as political parties. In a challenge to the constitutionality of the largely ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (mrf), which is currently the third largest party in the parliament, the Constitutional Court's six to five vote on April 21 maintains the status quo, because seven votes are needed for an official decision by the Court. While the Constitutional Court's decision did not preclude the participation of mrf in future elections, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that:

The absence of a decision reaffirming the political rights of the mrf under the Constitution leaves the problem of minority rights unresolved. It also leaves open the possibility of further challengeto the association rights of the Bulgarian Turks and questions their ability to participate in the political process on a free and open basis.

In 1992, the print media operated without government interference. Smaller newspapers faced difficult economic obstacles, including a severe shortage of newsprint and difficulties in distribution. These shortages, however, did not appear to be part of a deliberate policy. Bulgarian television is still controlled by the state, and applications for licenses for competitive radio stations are processed very slowly.

The Right to Monitor

Both domestic and international human rights organizations were active in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Bulgaria during 1992. Helsinki Watch is unaware of any human rights monitor who was threatened or prevented from carrying out his or her activities during this period.

U.S. Policy

Relations between the United States and Bulgaria continued to improve throughout 1992, with both countries concentrating on strengthening economic ties. Recognizing the great progress that Bulgaria has made over the last two years with regard to human rights, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger on March 4 stated that the United States "believes Bulgaria's progress is sufficient now to merit inclusion with [Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary] in our assistance programs and initiatives."

State Department officials indicated that human rights in Bulgaria were discussed on several occasions, including meetings between President Bush and Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov on March 3 and between President Bush and Foreign Minister Stoyan Ganev on September 21.

Although the Bush administration's human rights policy towards Bulgaria was largely appropriate given the improved situation in the country, the U.S. government failed to address publicly such human rights concerns as police brutality toward Gypsies and due process violations in the decommunization process.

The Work Of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch focused much of its efforts during 1992 on the issue of decommunization in Bulgaria. In May, a representative of Helsinki Watch met with President Zhelev, as well as with members of parliament, to discuss several proposed decommunization provisions that were being considered. On July 18, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to President Zhelev expressing concern about the concept of collective guilt embodied in the two comprehensive lustration bills, as well as similar riders to other legislation. Helsinki Watch urged the President to challenge the validity of these laws in Bulgaria's Constitutional Court.

On August 28, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to President Zhelev protesting the "Law for Additional Requirements for Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying Commission" which is still under consideration by the Bulgarian parliament. The letter stated:

Helsinki Watch is troubled by the broad language of the new law that imposes a penalty (denial of employment) for past activities that, in many cases, were neither criminal nor violative of fundamental human rights or the rule of law....Furthermore, this law violates the fundamental rights of the individual to freedom of association and expression....

In October, Helsinki Watch sent a follow-up mission to Bulgaria to investigate developments in the decommunization process. A representative of Helsinki Watch met with government officials, as well as individuals who have lost their employment because of their past political affiliations and activities. A newsletter on the mission's findings will be issued in early 1993.

In November, a Helsinki Watch staff person traveled to Bulgaria to investigate reported human rights concerns of minority groups. Helsinki Watch metwith representatives of the Gypsy minority and also had meetings with representatives from the government who are responsible for minority issues. A newsletter on the mission's findings will be issued in early 1993.

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