Bulgarian Court Finds the National Prosecutor's Office Discriminated Against Roma

Trial Court Finds Anti-Roma Statements in Official Prosecutorial Decree to Constitute Racial Discrimination in Breach of the Constitution and International Law

Sofia. A Sofia court has ruled that a Bulgarian prosecutor violated domestic and international law by humiliating Roma in a decree.

With ERRC support, Ivelin Iliev, a young Romani man, secured a positive decision from a Sofia court in a lawsuit against the Prosecutor's Office of Bulgaria. The Sofia first-instance court found the National Prosecutor's Office liable for racial discrimination committed by a prosecutor of the Razgrad Prosecutor's Office, as a result of expressions of strong anti-Romani sentiments in official prosecutorial decrees issued by the public official in question.

The racist statements at issue were included in decrees terminating the investigation into the death of Mr. Iliev's brother, killed by a landslide while collecting mine refuse for an entrepreneur. In the accident, Ivelin and the two men's mother were seriously injured as well. In his decrees, the prosecutor used the following statements to describe the mentality of Roma, whom he refers to as "persons of Gypsy origin":

"The collection […] was done by […] persons of Gypsy origin. Taking into account the psychology of this population, they [violations of workplace safety specifications] were, from the beginning, universal and daily. Everyone was seized with the urge collect as much garbage as possible, so as to earn as much money as possible. It was therefore impossible to restrain. Their plunder was ubiquitous, and their transgressions were constant. Moreover, these people were constantly changing, responding to rumours that it was possible to make money there. […] Mr. Iliev himself caused the landslide […] aiming to earn more money." (unofficial translation by the ERRC)

The court held that from these words of the prosecutors it can be concluded "[…] that, in his view, Romani people are undisciplined, unruly, irrational, greedy and uncivilised." This expression of "a slighting attitude" constitutes an act of discrimination, as – in the court's view – "if another ethnic group were referred to, no such generalisations would be made […] It is namely their Romani ethnicity which caused the prosecutor to characterise thus the mentality of this community's members, in particular that of the victims – the claimant and his family."

The court rules: "Every person of Bulgarian, Romani, or other ethnic origin has the right to be treated by everyone without restrictions, without distinctions, and with the necessary respect for their person and rights. No one has the right to humiliate another on the basis of their ethnic identity, still less an official carrying out the state law-enforcement functions. Every person has a right to a socially non-aggressive environment, and to an opportunity to receive equal treatment regardless of their ethnic appurtenance."

The court held the Prosecutor's Office liable for a breach of the Constitution and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and ordered it to pay Ivelin Iliev BGN 500 (approximately EURO 250), the full amount sought in compensation for his non-pecuniary damages sustained as a result of the discriminatory acts in question.

Counsel for claimant was ERRC Sofia-based consultant on race discrimination litigation, Margarita Ilieva. The judgment is not final.

For further information on the case, please contact ERRC Legal Director Dianne Post at +36-1-413-2221 (dianne.post@errc.org), or Margarita Ilieva at +359-2-943-4876 (margarita@bghelsinki.org).

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