Bulgaria Adopts Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Law

18 September 2003

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the adoption by the Bulgarian Parliament, on September 16, 2003, of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Speaking on the occasion of the adoption of the law, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said: "This law is of particular significance for Roma. It opens the door for the provision of real and significant remedies to Romani victims of the very serious harm of racial discrimination, and moves Roma rights issues to a new level in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Parliament has provided real political leadership to the governments of other countries of the Central and Eastern European region -- and indeed of Europe -- by demonstrating that adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination law is both possible and desirable."

The law as adopted bans discrimination on a number of grounds, including race, gender, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The law provides that in prima facie cases of discrimination, the respondent has the burden of proving that discrimination did not occur. The law establishes an anti-discrimination Commission with specialised subcommittees for racial and gender discrimination. The Commission will consist of 9 members, 5 elected by Parliament and 4 appointed by the President, and will have the power to receive and investigate complaints and issue binding rulings, as well as to impose significant sanctions on perpetrators. The law includes provisions such that more than one victim can join a complaint in cases where the discriminatory abuse harms groups of people.

The law is in harmony with European Council of the European Union Directives 2000/43, 2000/78, 2002/73, providing the current standards on anti-discrimination law in Europe. The law also fulfils prior obligations freely adopted by the Bulgarian government in the Framework Programme for the Equal Integration of Roma into Bulgarian Society. The law consolidates Bulgarian anti-discrimination law -- to date scattered among various domestic legal provisions and for the most part ineffective -- into a single comprehensive act, thus improving the chances for real and comprehensive enforceability in practice.

The ERRC's legal consultant in Bulgaria, Margarita Ilieva, played a leading role in drafting and lobbying for passage of the law. The ERRC joins with Bulgarian civil society -- most notably the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which took a leading role in pressing for adoption of the law -- in urging the Bulgarian government to establish without delay the anti-discrimination Commission provided by the law, and ensure that it is staffed with individuals of relevant competence and experience with human rights issues.


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