ERRC lawsuits in Bulgarian restaurant discrimination cases

11 August 2004

ERRC breaks new ground in challenging racial discrimination against Roma in Bulgaria by making use of new legal possibilities to sue on its own behalf

On 9 August 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) filed two separate lawsuits against restaurants in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, for denying Roma access to their services. The cases are the first of their kind to make use of new provisions under Bulgarian anti-discrimination law, making it possible for non-governmental organisations to bring cases on its own behalf before Bulgarian courts.

Throughout December 2003 and February 2004, two privately-owned restaurants in Blagoevgrad were documented through the method called "testing to prove racial discrimination" to have repeatedly refused access to a number of Romani customers. On one occasion, restaurant staff members even went so far as to openly declare that they were under strict management orders not to allow Roma in, and that should they fail to do so, they would be fined by their supervisors. Complaints filed by victims with the local government office and the police triggered no action by the authorities.

In court, the ERRC will argue that the restaurants refusal to provide access to Roma in general, as well as to a number of individual Romani victims in particular, constitutes blatant acts of overt discrimination on racial grounds. The ERRC will seek a finding that discrimination has taken place, and a ban on similar future practices by the two restaurants. Under Bulgarian antidiscrimination law, as an international non-governmental organization, the ERRC can bring these cases to court on its own behalf, without individual claimants, because the conduct at issue affects a large number of victims and thus clearly involves the public interest.

Discrimination, as described above, is in breach of numerous international standards such as those contained in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also a violation of Bulgarian anti-discrimination law which, effective as of 2004, prohibits discrimination by public as well as private parties in all fields of social life, including the provision of services. It also provides for a special judicial remedy against discrimination and the shift of the burden of proof onto the alleged discriminator, once a complainant has established that a case of discrimination has likely taken place. The law was adopted to transpose European Union directives specifying what provisions anti-discrimination laws in Europe must include.

The ERRC is a public interest law organization with a long and successful track record of fighting for Roma rights before both domestic and international courts throughout Europe. This is the first time it will be acting as a plaintiff in its own right in judicial proceedings before a Bulgarian court.

For additional details regarding the above lawsuit, please contact Branimir Plese, ERRC Legal Director (Email:, Phone:+361 413 2200).



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