ERRC v Bulgaria, Collective Complaint 151/2017

24 November 2017


We teamed up with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) to expose racial segregation and abuse of Romani women in maternity wards in Bulgaria. BHC’s research, which features in our complaint, shows that in various hospitals across the country Romani women giving birth are placed in separate maternity wards from non-Roma women. These segregated wards are in bad condition and the women giving birth in them are exposed to abuse by hospital personnel, who use racist insults and sometimes physically abuse them.

The ERRC’s Role

The ERRC has a particular status that allows us to bring collective complaints to the European Committee of Social Rights, to complaint about human rights violations. Based on BHC’s report, we made such a complaint, which we lodged with the Committee in May 2017. We asked the Committee to find that Bulgaria is in violation of Article 11 of the European Social Charter, which protects the right to health and Article 13, which protects the right to social and medical assistance. We also asked the Committee that these violations were discriminatory (Article E).


On 19 April 2019, the European Committee of Social Rights published its decision concerning a complaint we made against Bulgaria in 2017. In the complaint we alleged that Romani women in Bulgaria were being racially segregated in maternity wards. We also claimed that Romani women experience discrimination in Bulgaria because they are disproportionately not covered under the public health insurance system.

The European Committee of Social Rights agreed that the failure to ensure adequate health insurance cover amounts to discrimination against Romani women. The Committee concluded that this is indirect discrimination: there is a disparate impact on Roma in general and Romani women in particular in relation to reproductive healthcare, and it is not justifiable.

But the Committee did not accept our allegation of segregation in maternity wards. We submitted a study carried out by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in 2016, based on interviews with 63 women. The Committee determined that this was not enough evidence of systematic discriminatory practices. 

The ERRC has a particular status as an NGO that is able to make “collective complaints” to the European Committee of Social Rights about violations of the European Social Charter, a human rights instrument. Only some European countries allow complaints of this kind to be made against them.

The European Committee’s decision can be found here.

Our complaint is available here.


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