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European Committee finds Bulgaria in violation of right to social assistance

6 August 2009

Strasbourg: In a ruling made public today, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) unanimously found that Bulgaria is in violation of the European Social Charter by failing to meet its obligations to ensure that any person who is without adequate resources has access to the social assistance provided by the state. The ruling was issued in response to a collective complaint filed by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in 2008, in cooperation with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), regarding the 2006 and 2008 amendments of the Bulgarian Social Assistance Act (SSA) which drastically limit the time citizens are eligible for social assistance. The complaint argued that these limitations had an illegal and disproportionate impact on Roma, women and other marginalised groups.

In its decision, the Committee highlighted that "access [to social assistance] cannot be made subject to time-limits, if the persons affected continue to meet the basic condition for eligibility established by Article 13§1. Reducing or suspending social assistance benefits may only be in conformity with the Charter if they do not deprive persons in need of their means of subsistence." The Committee concluded that "social assistance must be provided as long as need persists to enable the person concerned to continue to live in manner compatible with their human dignity." The Committee also found that the amendments to the SAA are likely to have a considerable impact upon the most disadvantaged groups, especially Roma.

Welcoming the ruling, Krassimir Kanev, Chair of the BHC, stated: "The ruling of the Committee is logical and fully consistent with its approach to the right to social assistance. In order to comply with it, the government of Bulgaria has to amend the SAA and restore the situation before the amendment of 2006, i.e. to make social assistance dependent only on the existence of individual needs, with no time limits."

Robert Kushen, ERRC Managing Director, noted: "We welcome the ruling by the Committee and are mindful of its significant implications for social welfare systems throughout Europe. The Committee has rejected the government's argument that rigid time limits are necessary to reduce dependency on social assistance. The Committee's ruling compels all parties to the European Social Charter to maintain an individualized approach to assessing need and to continue providing social assistance as long as that need remains."

The full text of the European Committee of Social Rights decision in Collective Complaint No. 48/2008, European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria, is available HERE. The Bulgarian government must report on this issue to the Committee until the problems at issue in the decision are resolved.

For further information, please contact:
Robert Kushen, ERRC Managing Director
Krassimir Kanev, BHC Chairman

Background information

The European Committee of Social Rights supervises implementation of the European Social Charter and the Revised European Social Charter. Further information on the Committee and the Charters is available HERE.

Brought by the ERRC, Complaint No. 48/2008 alleged violations of Articles 13§1 and E of the Revised Social Charter. The full text of the complaint is available HERE.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public interest law organisation engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. The approach of the ERRC involves, in particular, strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy development, and training of Romani activists. This is the 4th collective complaint that the ERRC has won under the Social Charter mechanism. More information about the ERRC is available at: www.errc.org.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) is an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights - political, civil, cultural and social. The goal of the BHC is to promote respect and protection for the human rights of every individual, to lobby for legislative change to bring Bulgarian legislation in line with international standards, to encourage public debate on human rights issues, and to popularise and make widely human rights instruments. The BHC is engaged in human rights monitoring, strategic litigation, advocacy, research, and human rights education. More information about the organisation and its publication are available online at: www.bghelsinki.org.


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