Dimitrova and others v Bulgaria
11 July 2017
This case concerns attempts by the municipality of Varna, in Bulgaria, to evict three Romani families from their homes. Living in dilapidated houses owned by the municipality, the families had petitioned for adequate housing for over fifteen years to no avail. The municipality decided to evict them and demolish the homes to build a kindergarten. In spite of their lengthy record of applying for alternative housing from the municipality, the families were not directed to adequate alternative housing before the demolition began. After the eviction, a two-month old child among those evicted died from pneumonia.
European Court of Human Rights granted the ERRC permission to intervene in this case. What follows is a summary of the intervention:
There is a lack of case law at European level on discrimination (particularly race discrimination) by public bodies. The Court rarely receives applications which disclose a violation of Article 14, and the Court of Justice of the European Union has decided very few cases concerning discrimination by public bodies. This lack of case law is at odds with the everyday reality of Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the Roma, who face widespread discrimination from public bodies, such as school segregation, housing segregation (including forced evictions and discriminatory social housing programmes), and police conduct symptomatic of institutional racism. The ERRC attributes the low number of cases at European level, and particularly before the Court, to the obstacles Roma and other minorities face in pursuing discrimination cases before domestic courts. Anti-discrimination law in Europe (particularly as embodied in the EU’s anti-discrimination legislation) is designed to overcome those obstacles, through mechanisms such as: the shift of the burden of proof onto the defendant once the claimant has raised a presumption of discrimination; the prohibition of indirect discrimination and of harassment; and the possibility for NGOs to act on behalf of victims of discrimination. In the ERRC’s experience, though, problems are particularly likely to arise for victims when they complain about discrimination by public bodies in proceedings before administrative courts, a natural forum in many countries for such claims. Based on a comparative analysis of the framework for anti-discrimination claims in the administrative courts in Bulgaria and selected other EU Member States, the ERRC concludes that anti-discrimination proceedings in administrative courts are, in principle, a well-accepted feature of anti-discrimination litigation. The ERRC expects administrative judges hearing such discrimination cases to ensure that those claiming discrimination are able to do so, both by obeying the relevant provisions of domestic and/or EU law and by otherwise making all procedurally-allowable efforts to facilitate the task of the claimants.
The ERRC considers forced evictions of Roma to be one of the most severe expressions of anti-Gypsyism in Europe today, and has provided details of various cases of forced evictions in France, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Serbia. Forced evictions of Roma amount to a crisis on par with school segregation and other severe human rights violations against Roma. Based on the Court’s case law and principles of anti-discrimination law accepted across Europe, the ERRC proposes three principles to assist the Court in determining whether a forced eviction discloses a violation of Article 14 (read with Article 8 or with another provision of the Convention): when a particular eviction only affects Roma, the burden is on the State to show that the eviction does not amount to racial harassment; when a particular eviction only affects Roma, the notion of indirect discrimination is automatically applicable and the burden of proof shifts to the State to show that the eviction was not discriminatory; discriminatory statements by anyone connected to the eviction, particularly State officials and nearby residents, are evidence of harassment and direct discrimination.
The full intervention can be found here.
On 11 July 2017, the European Court declared the complaints inadmissible. The Court reasoned that the applicants did not properly “exhaust domestic remedies”, that is, they did not use the right legal remedies available to them in the courts in Bulgaria to make their complaint.
The Court’s decision declaring the case inadmissible can be found here.