Landmark lawsuit filed with a Bulgarian court alleges racial discrimination in the provision of electricity to a Romani neighborhood in Sofia
18 February 2004
With the assistance of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and the Romani Baht Foundation (RBF) have today filed a landmark lawsuit against the Sofia state-owned electric company concerning a discriminatory denial of electricity to bill-paying Romani consumers.
On 9 January 2004, a breakdown in the power grid in the segregated Romani neighborhood of "Fakulteta", Sofia, discontinued the power supply to more than 100 Romani households. The provider refused to repair the network contending that many of the affected consumers had unpaid debts to the company. Along with the debtors, however, more than 30 Romani households with no outstanding debts, have also been denied restoration of their power supply.
In court, BHC and RBF, with the assistance of the ERRC, will argue that the company's refusal to restore the power supply constitutes a collective sanction imposed on debtors as well as non-debtors, that such a sanction is discriminatory because it is imposed on residents of a Romani neighborhood, and that the power supply in non-Romani neighborhoods is never denied to bill-paying consumers on account of their neighbors' unpaid debts.
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 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is also in breach of the Bulgarian anti-discrimination act. Adopted in September 2003, this act prohibits discrimination by public as well as private parties in all fields of public life including the provision of services. It provides for a special legal remedy against discrimination and also grants human rights groups standing to file lawsuits on their own behalf, in the absence of individual plaintiffs, in situations where "the rights of many parties are breached". The law also importantly forces alleged discriminators to prove that illegal acts have not taken place, relieving victims of a major obstacle in obtaining justice.
The ERRC, BHC and RBF are public interest law organizations with long and successful track records of fighting for Roma rights before both domestic and international courts. This is the first time that these human rights groups will be doing so in their own right before a domestic court and on the basis of the relevant European Union anti-discrimination standards contained in the new Bulgarian anti-discrimination act.
On the occasion of the filing of the lawsuit, ERRC Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova, said: "The time has come for Bulgarian courts to act to combat racial discrimination. Events such as the deprivation of electricity to hundreds of people in the dead of winter, based on the fact that they are Romani, must finally become a thing of the past."
For additional details regarding the above lawsuit, please contact Branimir Plese, ERRC Legal Director. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone:+361 413 2200)