European Court of Human Rights Finds Bulgarian Government Violated Human Rights

On March 11, 2004, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found the Bulgarian Govern-ment in violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the case of G.B. v. Bulgaria. G.B. is a Bulgarian national of Romani origin. On December 8, 1989, he was convicted for murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was upheld on appeal on July 28, 1990. Following a maratorium on executions introduced by Bulgarian parliament in July 1990, on December 10, 1998, the death penalty was abolished. The applicant's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

G.B. complained about his detention in Sofia Prison, where he was alone in his cell for almost 23 hours a day. He was not allowed to join other categories of prisoners and his food was served in his cell. He was allowed only two visits a month and human contact was severely limited. G.B. stated that he was a victim of the "death row phenomenon", where he faced fear of a possible resumption of executions. Furthermore, the applicant alleged that his detention amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Articles 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its judgement of March 11, 2004, the Court noted that there was medical evidence that G.B. suffered from psychological problems. The Court also observed that the applicant was subjected to a special regime in Sofia Prison which was very stringent and involved scarce human contact, and that though this itself is not inhuman treatment or punishment, that all forms of solitary confinement without appropriate contact are likely to have detrimental effect on the prisoner's social and mental abilities and faculties. The Court deemed that G.B. faced strict custodial regime, which caused him suffering above and beyond the unavoidable level inherent to deprivation of liberty. The Court ruling made it clear that fundamental human rights and freedoms belong to everyone, including individuals convicted for some of the most serious crimes, such as murder. (ERRC)

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