UN Urges Bulgaria to Take Tough Line against Anti-Roma Rallies

Society | October 4, 2011, Tuesday // 14:31|  views

The UN human rights office and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have voiced grave concern over the spate of anti-Roma rallies in Bulgaria. Photo by BGNES

The UN human rights office has urged Bulgarian political leaders to take a tough line against the anti-Roma demonstrations gripping the country.

"The political leadership must take a strong stance against hate speech and ensure that police officers continue to be deployed in sufficient numbers to protect Roma neighbourhoods from threats of retribution and harassment," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The September 23 death of a youth hit by a vehicle driven by associates of Roma clan leader Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, in the southern Bulgarian village of Katunitsa triggered the unrest in the country.

The incident caused locals to set ablaze properties of Tsar Kiro and stirred waves of anti-minority protests in major Bulgarian cities in the next few days.

Participants in the rallies chanted anti-Roma and Nazi slogans.

The UN human rights office expressed regret at the death of the young Bulgarian and demanded that the perpetrator be brought to justice.

It also stressed that the "hate speech that has been fuelling the anti-Roma protests is of great concern."

"It is unacceptable for an entire community to face collective punishment for an offence allegedly committed by an individual," Colville remarked, urging senior political authorities in Bulgaria to "publicly restate this principle of individual criminal responsibility."

Reminding that anti-Roma protests have taken place in Hungary and the Czech Republic, Colville cautioned that "in such an atmosphere, inter-ethnic tensions rise and Roma risk becoming scapegoats of broader dissatisfaction."

The Roma minority in Bulgaria, which accounts for about 9% of the population, lives mostly in depressed areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of education than the national average.

According to experts' estimations, public discontent with corruption, a widening gap between the rich and the poor and an inefficient judiciary, has helped to turn ethnic Bulgarians against the Roma and Turkish minorities.

In a 03 October statement, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) expressed concern over what it described as a "wave of anti-Gypsyism" in Bulgaria.

"The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is gravely concerned at the recent country-wide eruption of racist hatred and threats directed against the Roma in Bulgaria. Many Roma fear for their children's and their own safety.

The committee calls on the Bulgarian authorities at all levels to do their utmost to protect this vulnerable minority from attack and urges them to strongly condemn and prosecute acts of anti-Gypsyism.

They must, in particular, react firmly to racist discourse by public officials and tackle hate speech vis-?-vis the Roma.

Corruption and crime must be fought regardless of the ethnic origin of the perpetrators," the PACE declaration stated.

The PACE address came after 10 days of protest rallies in major Bulgarian cities over the so called "Roma issue", i.e. the status of the Bulgarian Roma communities, which many ethnic Bulgarians see as "privileged" in fields such as taxation, law enforcement, social benefits for reasons having to do with "minority integration policies".

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Tags: PACE, parliamentary assembly, Council of Europe, CE, Roma, Katunitsa, Plovdiv, far-right, protests, protest rallies, sofia, Tsar Kiro, Kiril Rashkov, racist, racism, United Nations, human rights


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