Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Presents Report on Bulgaria

On 29 March 2006, the then Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, presented a report on the human rights situation in Bulgaria. The report paid special attention to the situation of the Roma community in Bulgaria, examining progress made and challenges remaining. The report highlighted the following concerns:

"19. The Roma community, which is estimated at 800,000 persons, continues to encounter significant problems in integrating into Bulgarian society. The main problem lies in the "ghettoisation" of some Roma districts, where the inhabitants frequently lack even basic essentials. Essential services like drinking water, electricity or sewage are not provided. Owing to electricity cuts, there was disorder in towns such as Sofia, Vidin, Plovdiv, Shoumen, Silven, Montana, Lom and Peroushtitsa in 2004.

20. The members of the Office of the Commissioner visited the Roma district of Samokov – 100 km east of Sofia – and were struck by the extremely difficult conditions facing the inhabitants. […] According to the Bulgarian authorities, living conditions have improved in this settlement since the delegation visit of the Office of the Commissioner; several new brick houses have been built and access to electricity has been facilitated.

21. The Roma continue to suffer discrimination in areas such as employment, health, education, housing and justice. Thus, persons of Roma origin are frequently refused entry to certain public places such as bars or shops. This was also emphasised during the visit to Samokov, where Roma representatives described a de facto curfew which prevents them from going about in the town after nightfall.

22. The question of education remains of particular concern owing to a de facto segregation in the education system. According to some estimates, approximately 70% of Roma children are educated in schools in which they are the only pupils. The Bulgarian authorities have indicated that this is a consequence of the administrative allocation of schools to particular neighbourhoods. As already pointed out in the Commissioner's visit report, the education provided to Roma children is generally of a lower quality owing to a lack of financial and human investment in these schools. Most of these schools are overcrowded and do not have the essential equipment. Young Romas find it much more difficult to be accepted for university entry competitions owing to the level of education which they have previously received. This situation favours the creation of real educational ghettos and leads to unacceptable discrimination.

23. The Ministry of Education and Science has begun to redress the situation. Thus, in April 2002, a Council on the education of children and pupils belonging to minorities was set up. A strategy on this issue was also adopted by the Bulgarian Government. Furthermore, a Centre on the integration of children and pupils belonging to minorities was established in September 2005. Finally, the Ministry set up a strategy for the integration of those children which should achieve its objectives in 2009. The Ministry of Finance has also allocated funds to provide transport, books and canteen facilities for children in need. In 2005, that allocation to the municipalities represents approximately 25 million euros.

24. As early as 1999, Bulgaria adopted a Framework programme for the integration of the Roma into Bulgarian society. It was followed by the setting up of a national action plan in 2003-2004. Bulgaria has adopted a new 10-year action plan (2005- 2010), drawing lessons from previous actions. […] A ten year programme for the improvement of Roma housing conditions was launched in order to enhance the coordination among central and local authorities and stimulate private initiatives. With the same aim, local housing construction programmes have been implemented for the benefit of the Roma community, some of which were financed by the Council of Europe Development Bank.

25. Taking stock of the National Action Plan 2003-2004, many Roma and NGOs have the feeling that to a large extent the Plan remained a dead letter and that the measures taken are for the most part the result of isolated initiatives taken by the NGOs. In addition, the budgetary allocations were quite inadequate."

The report concluded that, while some efforts to improve the living conditions of Roma had been made, Bulgaria should "increase the resources allocated to programmes for the Roma community, to provide goodquality education to Roma children by ensuring social mixing in schools and greater investment in underachieving schools, and actively to combat prejudice and discrimination." The full report can be found HERE.

(ERRC)

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