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Justice for Romani Victims of Racial Discrimination in Bulgaria

8 June 2006

Bulgarian Courts Continue to Find in Favour of Romani Victims of Discrimination

Budapest, Sofia. Bulgarian courts have continued to implement Bulgaria's comprehensive anti-discrimination law, issuing in the first six months of 2006 new positive decisions. These decisions have both developed Bulgarian anti-discrimination jurisprudence in a number of areas, as well as provided just satisfaction to Romani victims of racial discrimination.

In a judgment based on Bulgaria's comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Plovdiv appeals court has ruled against a company operating a local discotheque for having denied its services to Romani youth. The court found the refusal of services to constitute direct discrimination, and ordered the business to abstain from further repeating such conduct with regard to Kiril Mitkov, the Roma youth who brought the claim. On 22 January 2004, a group of Romani youth queued in front of the "Florida" discotheque in downtown Plovdiv along with non-Romani youngsters, wishing to visit. When Kiril Mitkov and his friends' turn came, the bouncers stopped them and rudely refused to let them as "no Roma or Turks were allowed". The non-Romani youngsters entered, while Kiril Mitkov and his friends stood by.

Kiril Mitkov, then 21, complained of the discrimination suffered to the Regional Governor's ethnic office, which referred the complaint to anti-discrimination lawyer, Margarita Ilieva. With ERRC support, Kiril Mitkov brought legal action against the operating company. It failed at trial because, while the discriminatory act was established beyond any reasonable doubt, the judge considered the respondent's liability unclear. On appeal, additional evidence secured a favourable ruling. No compensation was awarded as the claimant sought none, wishing to underscore the lawsuit was for him a matter of dignity.

In another case, earlier this year, the Sofia City Court found an employer liable for race discrimination against a Romani job applicant. The decision is the first positive appeal decision under the anti-discrimination law. In February 2004, Anguel Assenov, 25, telephoned a company to inquire after a newspaper job ad for a worker. He was told there were no requirements other than to be a man not older than 30. Mr Assenov asked whether he, as a Romani man, was eligible, and the employee who answered his call stated he need not even apply, as no Roma would be hired. While these facts were established at trial, the lower court dismissed Assenov's claim on grounds that the employer was not liable for the employee's statement as she was not a decision-maker on hiring.

Following an appeal in the case, the City Court declared an employer liable for discrimination committed by any of its employees regardless of their position, or decision-making powers. Discrimination committed by an employee is discrimination committed by the legal entity, the court stated. It held discrimination to be a serious breach of constitutional, international and domestic law, impinging on important pecuniary and non-pecuniary individual rights. The court declared the equality of all people and the prohibition of all discrimination to be universal human values fundamental to the rule of law and to contemporary democratic society. It stated discrimination was a particularly significant infringement of the constitutional order, which, the court expressly stated, had caused Mr. Assenov non-pecuniary damages in excess of his claim of BGN 600 (approximately EURO 300). The court awarded this claim in full. Mr Assenov was represented by antidiscrimination lawyer Margarita Ilieva, supported by the ERRC.

These two are the most recent of approximately 16 favourable (as compared to 11 unfavourable) rulings the courts have handed down since the Protection against Discrimination Act entered into force in Bulgaria in 2004. This emerging case law, which ERRC has supported, has served to begin transforming the new equality law into an effective protection instrument. The Sofia trial court has established important precedents in some of its rulings. It has found the Prosecutor's Office liable for anti-Romani statements made in an official magistrate's decree, and has awarded the victim damages. It has found the Minister of Education liable for racial segregation for tolerating the existence of an all-Roma school. It has declared a trade unionist's anti-Roma public speech to constitute harassment and incitement to discrimination, and has ordered him to further abstain from it. This court is soon to rule on a high-profile public interest lawsuit brought by a broad civil coalition against a xenophobic political leader and MP for his extreme racist and homophobic statements.

For further information on these cases and related issues, please contact Dimitrina Petrova at +36-1-413-2200 (Dimitrina.petrova@errc.org); or Margarita Ilieva at +359-2-943-4876 (mail=margarita@bghelsinki.org>).

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