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site.btaBulgaria Ranks Fifth with Number of Cases under Enhanced Supervision by CoE Committee of Ministers

Bulgaria Ranks Fifth with Number of Cases under Enhanced Supervision by CoE Committee of Ministers
Bulgaria Ranks Fifth with Number of Cases under Enhanced Supervision by CoE Committee of Ministers
Lawyer Sofia Razboynikova, Sofia, March 21, 2024 (BTA Photo)

Bulgaria ranks fifth in the number of cases under enhanced supervision by the Committee of Ministers (CoM) of the Council of Europe and is also among the few countries found to have violated Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning abusive limitation of rights, lawyer Sofia Razboynikova said in a BTA interview.

The Committee of Ministers put out its annual report on the implementation of judgments and decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2023 on April 11, 2024. The report highlights significant progress while underscoring that some important challenges remain.

In Bulgaria, the conditions in prisons, social care homes and treatment of Roma are among the most common complaints. “These are the most vulnerable groups in society, the most invisible and the most marginalized. Much less noticed by society, however, are the cases of abuse and systematic malnutrition of those placed in psychiatric clinics. The people there have no voice of their own, they rely on the media and NGOs,” said Razboynikova. Tackling these problems requires resources and will, and in the absence of pressure from outside – which does not mean only international organizations - the problem remains and the European Court and the Committee of Ministers report cases still pending execution, which cannot be closed, the lawyer explains.

The Bulgarian statistics shows 486 applications against Bulgaria in 2023, which is an improvement from 623 in 2021 and 597 in 2022. There are 501 pending cases vs. Bulgaria as of the end of 2023, which is many times less than the pending cases vs. Turkiye and Russia – but also against countries like Romania, Poland and Greece, says the lawyer.

In 2023, the ECtHR took 27 decisions where it found one or more violations of rights enshrined in the Convention. In the case of A.E. vs. Bulgaria, for example, the Court found a violation of the ban on inhuman and degrading treatment through failure to ensure adequate protection - legislative and practical – of a child victim of domestic violence. The ECtHR also found that there was discrimination because the local authorities were unable to adequately address domestic violence against women. Also in 2023, Bulgaria was found to have violated the ban on forced labour. The case was initiated after national courts refused to award pecuniary damages to a victim of human trafficking in her claim against a trafficker who had forced her to prostitute, said Razboynikova.

The Committee of Ministers continued to monitor the implementation of a total of 166 judgments against Bulgaria, of which 89 were in so-called leading cases (which set a precedent against the state).

Razboynikova said: “It is even more striking that of these 89 cases under Committee supervision, Bulgaria has still not fully implemented 51 judgments for more than five years. These include the group of cases that concern deaths, ill-treatment or lack of timely medical assistance during arrest, police custody or in detention facilities and the lack of effective investigation into these or the group of cases, those concerning interference with the applicants' right to the inviolability of their home or to their private and family life as a result of orders for the seizure or removal of an unlawful building, issued and subject to judicial review in accordance with domestic legislation which did not require any assessment of proportionality. Of course, here is the group of cases related to the systemic problem of ineffective criminal investigations and lack of guarantees for the independence of criminal investigations against the Prosecutor General. And also the OMO Ilinden group of cases, where, more than 17 years after the first final decision in this group, registration of associations aiming to 'achieve recognition of a Macedonian minority' continues to be routinely refused, mainly because of the wider problem of disapproval of their aims.”

According to the European Implementation Network (EIN), a network of NGOs specialized in monitoring the implementation of ECtHR decisions, Bulgaria is a country with a very serious problem in the implementation, Razboynikova said. EIN’s assessment is based on the number of leading judgments pending implementation (93), the average time leading cases have been pending (6 years and 10 months), and the percentage of leading cases from the last 10 years still pending (55%).

The lawyer believes that the answer of why Bulgaria fails to ensure execution of such significant ECtHR decisions has to do, among other things, with the political instability and populism of the political parties. “Almost every decision in a leading case requires legislative changes, sometimes at constitutional level. Often a change in case law or in the judicial system is needed: the creation of a judicial map, a review of the workload of judges, etc. On some issues there is a lack of understanding by the relevant institutions of what a decision execution requires.”

What exactly the CoE Committee of Ministers said in the 2023 annual report about Bulgaria

In 2023, the Committee of Ministers received from the European Court 31 cases against Bulgaria for supervision of their execution (against 37 in 2022 and 47 in 2021). On December 31, 2023, Bulgaria had 166 cases pending execution (against 182 in 2022 and 164 in 2021), of which 32 were leading cases classified under enhanced procedure (compared to 30 in 2022 and 20 in 2021), and 56 were leading cases classified under standard procedure. 

Of the leading cases under enhanced procedure, 21 have been pending for five years or more, meaning that for that long Bulgaria has failed to ensure execution of the ECtHR decision or judgment. Similarly, 30 of the leading cases under standard procedure have been pending for five years or more (compared to 32 in 2022 and 34 in 2021).

The pending caseload includes notably cases/groups of cases concerning prison conditions; placement or living conditions in social care homes; the lack of independent investigation against the Chief Prosecutor; the lack of effective investigations; freedom of association; and police ill treatment. Of the new violations found by the Court in 2023, some concerned ethnically motivated expulsion of Roma from their homes and village; the failure to provide adequate protection to a minor victim of domestic violence; and the absence of any form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples. 

In the course of 2023, the Committee of Ministers examined and adopted decisions in respect of 11 leading cases or groups of cases under enhanced procedure; one of these groups was examined by the Committee at every Human Rights meeting. 

The Committee closed 47 cases. In particular, it was possible to close, following legislative amendments, one leading case concerning freedom of expression and two leading cases concerning judicial review of the lawfulness of detention after conviction. 

In addition, nine repetitive cases were closed because no further individual measures were necessary or possible. Notable advances, recognized by the Committee, in cases that are still pending include legislative reforms which introduced the right to appeal against a prosecutorial decision to refuse the opening of criminal proceedings; a mechanism for independent investigation against a Chief Prosecutor; and the specific criminalization of the crime of torture. 

The authorities submitted 36 action plans, 30 action reports and five communications. Updated action plans/action reports or communications containing additional information were awaited in respect of 41 groups/cases, in which either the deadline set by the Committee of Ministers in this respect has expired (three cases/groups) or feedback was sent by the DEJ before 1 January 2023 (38 cases). 

Finally, full payment of the just satisfaction awarded by the Court was registered in 63 cases in 2023, while confirmation of full payment and/or default interest was awaited in four cases for which the deadline indicated in the Court’s judgment has passed since more than six months.

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By 01:51 on 29.05.2024 Today`s news

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