European Committee Rules Bulgaria is Violating the Right to Health Care for Roma People

18 April 2009

Strasbourg, France: In a ruling released today, the European Committee of Social Rights found that Bulgaria is in violation of the European Social Charter by failing to meet its obligations to ensure that Roma have adequate access to the health care system. The ruling was issued in response to a collective complaint filed by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in 2007. The ruling was welcomed by the ERRC and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), which cooperated closely in the preparation of the complaint.

In its decision, the Committee found that "significant cases of discriminatory practices against Roma in provision of medical services […] taken together with all other evidence submitted by the complainant serve to reinforce the Committee's overall conclusion that Roma in Bulgaria do not benefit from appropriate responses to their general and specific health care needs."

Specifically, the Committee found the following violations:

  • Lack of sufficient health care for vulnerable and socially excluded persons such as Roma due to coverage gaps created through the linking of medical insurance and social assistance, and subsequent restrictions on the receipt of social assistance;
  • Lack of systematic, long term government measures to promote health awareness among Roma;
  • Failure of the Bulgarian government to take positive measures to reasonably address the specific problems experienced by Roma in accessing health care such as social exclusion, marginalization, and the environmentally hazardous conditions in which Roma live.

In its conclusion, the Committee ruled that Bulgaria's policy and practice with regard to medical and social assistance to Roma violated Article 11 (right to protection of health) in conjunction with Article E (non-discrimination) and Article 13(1) (right to social and medical assistance) of the Revised European Social Charter.

Krassimir Kanev, Chair of the BHC, stated: "The decision of the ECSR registered a double failure of successive Bulgarian governments: they failed to establish a system of health care that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable parts of the Bulgarian population and they failed to protect one of Bulgaria's largest ethnic minorities from discrimination in the exercise of one of the most important human rights."

Welcoming the ruling, Robert Kushen, Managing Director of the ERRC, stated, "This is a landmark ruling: the first time the ECSR has found a violation of the Charter due to the failure of the state to provide adequate access to health care for its citizens. The fact that this decision concerns the Roma minority is no accident: in Bulgaria, as throughout Europe, the Roma population is deprived of many basic rights that the majority population takes for granted. With the economic crisis, it is more important than ever that these important rights such as equal access to health care are protected for the majority and minorities alike."

The full text of the European Committee of Social Rights decision in Collective Complaint 46/2007, European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria, is available on the ERRC website: 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. 46/2007 alleged violations of Articles 11, 13 and E the Revised Social Charter. The ERRC claimed that the Bulgarian health insurance legislation has a discriminatory impact on Roma and other vulnerable groups, and that government policies do not adequate address the specific health risks of Romani communities. 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:

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:

The Open Society Institute's Roma Health Project provided support for research and development of the initial complaint.


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