Discrimination and violence by officials against Roma in Bulgaria
12 April 2000
More cases of discrimination, violence and police brutality have been reported from Bulgaria since the beginning of November 1999. The Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP) reported that on January 11, 2000, a Romani man named Stefan Yordanov, aged 26, from Aitos in the Burgas District of eastern Bulgaria had been shot and seriously injured by police. Mr Yordanov told the HRP that he had been travelling together with his father Slavi Yordanov, his brother, Yordan Yordanov, and two other Roma on a three-horse cart to gather firewood from an area outside the town. At around 10 AM, the cart was overtaken by a jeep with four officers of the forestry department. They forced the Roma to stop the horses. The police officers got out of the jeep and one of them took an axe from the cart of Yordan Yordanov and began cutting one of the wheels with the axe. The officer reportedly hurt himself in the process. According to the Romani men who witnessed the incident, the police officer became infuriated, took out a gun and shot Stefan Yordanov in the leg without warning, when Mr Yordanov approached the cart to stop the officer from destroying the wheel. Immediately thereafter, another policeman also shot Stefan. The second bullet struck the upper left side of his body. Mr Yordanov was taken by the officers in the jeep to the hospital in Aitos. Witnesses told the HRP that the policemen abandoned the injured man at the hospital and drove away. The HRP filed a complaint with the Regional Military Prosecution of Sliven. On January 27, 2000, the Sliven prosecutor refused to open investigation. The HRP did not appeal the decision, as the victim was unwilling to pursue the case.
The HRP also reported that on November 30, 1999, at about 4 PM, a Romani man named Shtilyan Demirev from the village of Topolchane, Sliven District, had been brutally beaten by police in order to force him to confess to a theft. On November 29, Mr Demirev reportedly received a summons from the Regional Police Department of Sliven. The next day, Mr Demirev went to the police station in Sliven, but a police officer there ordered him to go back to Topolchane and report to the mayor’s office at 4 PM the same day. Mr Demirev went to the mayor’s office at the requested time together with his wife, mother, father and two cousins. Three police officers, whose names are known to the HRP, and a civilian, Mr Dimitar Dimitrov from the village of Topolchane, were waiting for them in the room and the Roma were introduced. The civilian asked Mr Demirev whether he had stolen his sheep two days previously. Mr Demirev denied having committed the theft. Then one of the police officers who was in the room ordered Mr Demirev’s relatives to leave the mayor’s office. The district policeman continued to interrogate Mr Demirev about the sheep. According to Mr Demirev, the police officer inflicted several blows on him, in the area of the eyes, hit his head against the wall and grabbed him by the hair. During the beating, the mayor and another police officer entered the room. The police officer reportedly told Mr Demirev to go downstairs. Then the mayor followed Mr Demirev and told him and his relatives, who were waiting in front of the building, to go away and not to come back to the village. Mr Demirev obtained a forensic certificate for his injuries. The HRP filed a complaint with the Regional Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in Sliven. As of March 31, 2000, the HRP had received no response to the complaint.
The Vidin-based non-governmental Organization Drom further reported that on November 24, 1999, a Romani man named Krasimir Nikolov had been shot in his chest by an unknown perpetrator. After a detailed investigation, Organization Drom established the following facts: Krasimir Nikolov was in downtown Vidin, northwest Bulgaria, playing in a bingo hall. Around midnight, he left for the Romani neighbourhood where he lived. He was walking along the railroad tracks which pass along the Romani neighbourhood. The road passes the fence of a state-owned enterprise. Mr Nikolov stopped there for a while. He suddenly heard shooting and felt a strong pain in his chest. He screamed for help until he fell unconscious. Several Roma people from a local pub heard his cries and went to see what had happened. They found the injured Mr Nikolov and took him to a hospital where the victim was operated upon. Organization Drom alleges that the person who had shot Mr Nikolov was one of the guards of the private guardian firm “Alfa Shtit” from Vidin. Organization Drom filed a complaint with the police, in December, on behalf of Mr Nikolov.
Another incident reported by the HRP concerns a Romani woman named Ivanka Yankova, who reportedly first suffered discrimination and was then beaten up by a Social Aid Service (SAS) employee on November 10, 1999 in Sliven. Ms Yankova told the HRP that when she went to the local Pensioners Club to apply for a social benefit for heating, the employee of the SAS refused to give her the application form to fill out. The SAS employee further claimed that Ms Yankova works at a hairdressers’ and therefore was not eligible for the aid. Ms Yankova alleged that she was addressed in a very rude and offensive manner by the SAS woman, who told her, “I know your Gypsy tricks but I will prove that you work at a hairdressers.” Ivanka Yankova claimed that she had all documents required by the SAS to certify her eligibility for social aid. Ms Yankova told the HRP that she eventually asked the employee of the SAS why she did not want to accept her application. In response, the employee who disputed her eligibility pushed her out of the room with the help of a man whom she reportedly called Danail. Ms Yankova resisted and tried to stay inside the room, and the man then allegedly hit her head twice with his fist. Ms Yankova’s husband and three other persons witnessed the incident. Ms Yankova was hospitalised and has a forensic certificate documenting her injuries. The HRP filed a complaint with the District Prosecution of Sliven. In February 2000, the Sliven prosecutor opened investigation into the case, and it was reportedly still open as of April 7.
Finally, in other news pertaining to discrimination against Roma in Bulgaria, in its Concluding Observations on December 8, 1999, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed deep concern with respect to the extreme poverty level of and discrimination against the Romani minority in Bulgaria. Among the committee’s observation in general on Bulgaria’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights it stated the following, specifically about Roma: “The Committee deplores the discrimination against the Roma minority in many aspects of life, including education, work, social benefits and access to land. The Committee is especially concerned about the high rate of unemployment among the Roma minority and the poor quality of education afforded to this group.”
(HRP, Organization Drom)