Killing by skinheads in Bulgaria

10 September 1998

On May 29, 1998, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to the Bulgarian Minister of Interior Mr Bogomil Bonev and the Bulgarian General Prosecutor Mr Ivan Tatarchev, following the death of a 15-year old Romani boy in an assault by a skinhead gang on a group of homeless Romani children, in daytime and in the centre of the capital. The text of the letter follows:

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is deeply concerned about the racially-motivated killing, by skinheads, of a fifteen-year-old Romani boy in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 15.

According to information provided by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Romani Bah Foundation and the Bulgarian press, on May 12, 15-year-old Metodi Rainov returned from a boarding school outside of Sofia to his parents' home in the capital. On May 15, Metodi and a group of seven Romani children went to spend the night in a dilapidated building in the centre of the city known to be a place where Romani children often spend the night. Around 6:00 in the evening, a group of approximately fifteen skinheads entered the building and attacked the Roma with knives and truncheons. The skinheads dragged Metodi to the second floor of the building, where they beat him and then threw him out of the second-storey window before leaving the building unhindered. The other children managed to escape. Several individuals reportedly witnessed the attack, but undertook no action. Metodi was pronounced dead at the scene by doctors. On May 16, police informed Metodi's parents that he had been killed. A police investigation is open, but to date, there is no information to indicate that persons have been detained.

In a press conference held on May 19, Bulgarian non-governmental organisations noted that skinhead violence against Roma has taken place at an alarming rate in recent years. The killing of Metodi is the ninth reported case of violence by skinheads which has resulted in the death of a Romani victim in Bulgaria since the fall of communism.

Honourable Minister Bonev and General Prosecutor Tatarchev, the ERRC urges your offices to act swiftly in seeing to it that a thorough investigation is conducted into the death of Metodi, and that the perpetrators of this horrible crime are brought to justice. The ERRC considers that firm action by criminal justice system authorities can send a powerful message that racially motivated crime is unacceptable in a democratic society. The ERRC kindly requests to be informed of the results of the investigation and of any measures taken by the Bulgarian authorities in relation to this case.

On June 19, 1998, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior replied to the ERRC as follows:

In response to your letter, sent to Mr Bogomil Bonev, Minister of Interior, in which you express frustration and concern in connection with the death of Metodi Rainov, the 15-year old Bulgarian citizen of Romani origin, I would like to draw to your attention the following information.

On May 16, 1998, at around 6 pm, at 11, Knyaz Boris St. in Sofia, a group of youths assaulted and beat some minors who were present in an abandoned building. Following the incident, 15-year old Metodi Rainov Slavchev was found dead on the spot. Two other victims were placed in the Pirogov Institute for Emergency Medical Aid.

The autopsy established that the dead body of Metodi Slavchev did not have traumatic injuries which would be the cause of death. According to forensic doctors, death occurred as a result of acute cardiac failure, caused by some previous disease.

The assault was reported by citizens to the 4th Regional Police Station of the Capital Directorate of Internal Affairs. Immediately, a police team on duty was sent to the scene of the incident. The police officers took the necessary measures to obtain eyewitnesses' statements and to inspect the scene of the crime.

In the process of the police inquest it was found that the attackers of the homeless minors of Romani origin were a group of youths affiliated with the "skinheads".

In the Investigation Service, an Investigation File No. 199/98, against unknown perpetrators, was opened on the case. A suspect, a youth of 17, has been detained. The police authorities are working with extraordinary zeal on establishing the identity of the members of the group who undertook the attack on May 16, 1998.

The specialised services have checked a large number of persons, about whom there is information that they belong to the "skinheads" or sympathise with them, for their connection to the case.

The police and investigative authorities are undertaking all necessary action to reveal the authors of the assault. Work on the case is made extremely difficult by the refusal of a large number of the eyewitnesses and victims to provide testimony.

From the data gathered so far, no causal connection could be established between the assault and the death of Metodi Rainov Slavchev.

The victimised homeless Romani children have rejected categorically the offer of the competent authority to be accommodated in the Center for homeless children in the Nadezhda neighbourhood, or to return to their homes.

The ERRC is grateful for the prompt reply on behalf of the Interior Minister and is still waiting for a similar gesture on the part of the General Prosecutor. The most encouraging point in the reply is the fact that the authorities are acknowledging that the attackers were "skinheads", i.e. they are investigating a racially motivated crime. The most discouraging point is the denial that the skinheads directly murdered the boy. A heart failure and hitting the ground after being pushed down from the second floor could be, in abstract theory, accidentally simultaneous events. We are curious whether a Bulgarian court will also subscribe to such a theory.

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