Conflicting Data

The information provided by the military and district courts and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) on the number of reported cases of illegal use of force by police officers is extremely incomplete and conflicting. Only a third of the courts (42 of 144) have provided data for 212 initiated cases but according to the Ministry of Interior, the number of complaints for the period 2000 - 2015 is 1146. There is also no evidence to what extent the complaints and initiated cases overlap and full information on the real number of complaints and their outcomes is not collected.

The BHC monitors annually the level of police violence in Bulgaria by interviewing people in police custody and prisoners. The data from recent years show that violence is persistent, and almost a third of detainees who are subsequently effectively convicted are victims of illegal use of force by police officers. The alarming conclusion of the researchers is that minors are most at risk of ill-treatment.

"The ways to counteract police violence are as follows: we should know our rights and we should complain about each and every act of police abuse, independent state institutions, and civil society organizations should consistently and effectively monitor compliance with the law, and the courts should apply the law to police officers in a fair manner.“ Slavka Kukova, author and researcher at the BHC

Declarations of the Rights of Detainees in Europe and in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee presented their work in the study of written declarations on the rights of arrested and detained persons in criminal proceedings in Bulgaria. It is part of a larger comparative study conducted amidst several European countries as part of the "Accessible Declarations on the Rights of Detained Suspects and Accused Persons in Europe" project, funded by the Justice of the European Union program.

Why should detainees receive written information about their rights? Initial detention on suspicion or criminal charge is among the most critical situations for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings. This is often the moment when detainees first learn of the suspicions of committing a crime against them, they are to be questioned about their complicity in the crime, while they have not yet organized their defense. The time of the initial detention is also characterized by the high risk of mental and physical abuse of the detainees. Usually suspects and accused enjoy legally recognized rights, but the effectiveness and observance of these rights depend on their knowledge. At the same time, due to a conflict of interest, it would be difficult to accept that the authority that ordered the detention should be the only source of information on the rights of detainees. One of the possible solutions for overcoming the subjective element in providing the information is to provide it in understandable language in a written document.

From the "Declarations of the Rights of Detainees in Bulgaria" report

What is EU's approach?

In 2012, the EU introduced Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings. EU Member States had been given until 2 June 2014 to introduce national legislative measures that would ensure the rights stipulated in the Directive.

Its demands are that suspects and accused persons be informed immediately of their rights. This information should be provided in simple and accessible language, taking into account the specific needs of vulnerable suspects and accused persons, including minors, foreigners, and people with intellectual disabilities. The information of the detainees must be provided in the form of a written declaration. The declaration should include information on two main groups of rights - common procedural rights, which all suspects and accused persons have, regardless of whether they are detained or not (right of access to a lawyer, legal aid, right to translation, etc.) and special procedural rights that arise only in the event of arrest and detention (right to emergency medical care, right of access to case materials, right to inform consular authorities and another person, etc.), as well as additional information on the possibility to appeal the lawfulness of the arrest and review the detention.

Research on the Declarations of Human Rights of Detainees

Three years after the deadline for transposition of the Directive into the European Union, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, in partnership with Fair Trials, the Lithuanian Human Rights Monitoring Institute and Rights International – Spain, has published a comparative study on the application of the obligation to provide declarations of the persons detained in the criminal proceedings. The conclusions of the study were presented at an official event in the European Parliament in Brussels on May 29, 2017, and on June 16 in Sofia, the BHC announced the findings and recommendations of the national study on the topic. A summary of it can be seen here.

Areas Requiring Further Work 

Pan-European problems identified in the comparative study

  • In practice, detainees are not always given a declaration of their rights 

  • When they are given a declaration of their rights, people are often not given enough time to read and understand it. In Spain, for example, some of the interviewed judges and translators said that suspects and accused persons receive a lot of information in a short amount of time and find it difficult to take it all in.

  • In some EU countries, not all rights are included in the declarations of human rights. In France, for example, information on the right to legal aid is not provided. 

  • A translation of the declaration of human rights are not always provided to people who do not understand the language. In Lithuania, for example, the authorities only provide interpretation.

  • Police authorities continue to try to dissuade people from exercising their rights, especially with regard to the right of access to a lawyer and the right of a person to remain silent, and in many places there are insufficient guarantees to prevent this practice.

  • The biggest challenge, however, is the clarity of the declarations of human rights. In most countries, the documents are written in legal terminology, complex sentences and in a confusing format, which makes it extremely difficult for non-professionals to understand their rights. Elsewhere, declarations of human rights are oversimplified and do not provide enough information for a full understanding of rights.

Specific Problems Identified in the National Survey for Bulgaria

The most significant and specific problem for Bulgaria alone is the non-recognition of the quality of "suspects in criminal proceedings" of persons who have been detained by the police on suspicion of a crime, but against whom no charges have been formally filed. As a result, this category of detainees remains deprived of all fundamental procedural rights to a defense in the investigation started against them, listed in the Directive, and the declarations of rights they receive contain only information about their rights as detainees. In 2016 alone, the number of suspects detained by police was close to 45,000.

You can read the entire European research on the declarations of detainees' rights here, as well as the Bulgarian report here.

  • When can police officers stop and detain us?
  • In which cases can they detain you for 24 hours?
  • In which cases can they search you?
  • Can a police officer hit you or use a truncheon or handcuffs?
  • In which cases can a police officer use a weapon?

Does a police officer have the right to ...

The game in which both police officers and defendants have rights!

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

The information is based on research conducted in 2015-2016.

  • No government body collects and analyzes reliable and specific information about each case of police brutality.
  • The right to a lawyer, medical examination and informing a third party, although provided for by law, are not sufficiently guaranteed and are rarely enforced in practice. The main reason for this is the lack of formal detailed regulation on how the detainee can contact a lawyer, doctor or third party, as well as the lack of a special independent supervisory body to systematically monitor whether these rights are respected in practice.
  • The number of criminal proceedings initiated in connection with violence by police officers is very low, and in cases where such proceedings have been initiated, it is mainly the result of a complaint filed by the victim.
  • There are no effective procedural measures to protect the rights of the complainant during the criminal proceedings.
  • The majority of the initiated criminal proceedings are for minor body injuries and the sanctions for the perpetrators are fines (mainly around BGN 500 - 1000). There is no publicly available information on whether these sanctions were actually imposed and whether the fines were actually paid.
  • Even when police officers have been sentenced to imprisonment, the sentences are suspended (meaning that effective serving is delayed for a certain period of time, unless the person is convicted again, usually within 3 years of the first sentence). This absurd situation means that such sentences are most likely given for moderate or grievous bodily harm, but that the perpetrators are not actually punished and their punishments end up being less severe than paying a fine.
  • All cases before the European Court of Human Rights for the lack of effective investigation of cases of violence committed by police officers have been won by the victims, but no sanctions have been imposed on the police officers who committed the violence, which in some cases is death.