The Decision of the Constitutional Court Humiliated Us All!

"Respect Women", Bulgarians protesting against the Constitutional Court's decision. Photo Credit: Emil Metodiev 

Statement by Bulgarian NGOs regarding the decision of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court on the unconstitutionality of the Istanbul Convention

On July 27, 2018, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court announced that the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) is unconstitutional. The main contradiction according to the Constitutional Court is with Article 4, para. 1 of the Constitution stating that Bulgaria shall be a State governed by the rule of law. This decision is flawed and a serious blow to human rights in Bulgaria, the integrity of the Bulgarian judiciary, and the international reputation of our country. It is the worst decision issued by the Constitutional Court in its history since 1991.

The incomprehensible and contradictory text of the decision lacks a clear and consistent line of argumentation that allows understanding how the court comes to conclude that the Istanbul Convention, the most comprehensive legal framework on combating violence against women and girls, is unconstitutional. According to the court, the convention "separates the biological and social dimension of sex and goes beyond the scope of the belief that sex is binary.” It is deemed to be "internally contradictory,” containing "two parallel and mutually exclusive concepts of "sex" - biological and social - which the imperative for legal certainty, engrained in the concept of rule of law, does not allow.

According to the court the "boundaries between the two sexes, male and female, which are biologically determined” are “relativized”. And, finally, according to the court’s decision, the Istanbul Convention introduces a hidden "gender ideology" by providing an opportunity for one to choose their gender identity. In this and in a number of other points, the decision actually leaves the domain of legal argumentation and embarks into politics, gender stereotyping and transphobic propaganda. It goes as far as to deny, though not directly, the right to protection and recognition of the identity of transgender and intersex people. It also reproduces stereotypes, which the Convention itself is set out to combat.

The Istanbul Convention, which focuses solely on violence against women and domestic violence, has become the Council of Europe's most popular treaty, and its ratification among member states has moved fast. It is currently ratified by 32 states, including all other Balkan countries. The Convention is fully positioned in the European legal framework and provides for the possibility of accession for countries which allow same-sex marriage as well as those which do not, including because of constitutional prohibitions. It is one of the few international human rights treaties which the European Union itself has deemed of utmost importance to acceed.

The process of ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the states was accompanied by a careful review of its constitutionality by each one of them. So far, no national judicial authority in a member state has uncovered problems and internal contradictions that the Bulgarian Constitutional Court found. This is all the more true of the contradiction with such fundamental constitutional principles as the rule of law, which permeates the constitutions of all member states. This principle is enshrined both in the Charter of the Council of Europe and in the Lisbon Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. Both international organizations have made compliance with it a basic requirement for membership. Against this background, it is rather striking that with this Constitutional Court decision, according to which in Bulgaria, a country ridden with corruption, a country where the rule of law is at one of the lowest levels in Europe, the Istanbul Convention was found to be in contradiction with the rule of law.

The Constitutional Court's decision blocks the possibility of the Convention’s ratification. Thus, Bulgaria is likely to remain the only EU member state and the only Balkan country that will not join this international treaty. The decision of the Constitutional Court places us in the same group with Russia and Azerbaijan, the only other member states of the Council of Europe that have not signed it.

The Court'’s decision humiliated the Bulgarian institutions and Bulgaria as a member of the EU family, which is based on the respect for human rights. But most of all it humiliated women in Bulgaria. It is humiliating for the next generation of Bulgarian children, who will continue to grow in a country where violence is tolerated and in which there is no remedy to one of its ugliest contemporary manifestations - that against women. It humiliates us all, as members of a civilized European society.

Read the full text of the decision by the Constitutional court (BG).

List of Bulgarian NGOs:

  • Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  • Bulgarian Fund for Women
  • The Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law
  • For Our Children Foundation
  • Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society Foundation (GLAS)
  • Youth Organization LGBT Deystvie
  • Bilitis Resource Center Foundation
  • Gender Alternatives Foundation
  • Naya Association
  • Center of Women's Studies and Policies
  • Bulgarian Family Planning and Sexual Health Association (BFPA)
  • Gender Education, Research and Technologies Foundation (GERT)
  • The Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL)
  • Center Open Door Association
  • Center Dinamika Association
  • Marginalia Association for Human Rights
  • Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights Foundation (BLHR)
  • Tulip Foundation
  • Single Step Foundation
  • Gender Project for Bulgaria Foundation
  • Parents Association
  • Social Activities and Practice Institute
  • Society for Justice Foundation
  • Bulgarian Society for Lacanian Psychoanalysis

Prominent Individuals:

  • Velina Todorova, member of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child
  • Prof. Ivaylo Ditchev, Cultural anthropology, Sofia University
  • Dr. Rumen Petrov, Department of Health and Social Work, New Bulgarian University
  • Prof. Maya Grekova, Department of Sociology, Sofia University
  • Dr. Elitsa Stanoeva, Research Associate, European University Institute
  • Prof. Dr. Katya Mihaylova, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Prof. Antoni Todorov, Department of Administration and Management, New Bulgarian University
  • Prof. Lilyana Deyanova, Department of Sociology, Sofia University
  • Prof. Evgenia Ivanova, anthropologist, lecturer at the New Bulgarian University
  • Ivan Dimov, Founder and Chairman of the Executive Board of Single Step Foundation
  • Stefan Popov, President of the RiskMonitor Foundation
  • Vladimir Petkov, ProEuropean Network Association
  • Teodora Krumova, Amalipe Centre
  • Mila Mineva, Sofia University, Center for Liberal Strategies
  • Antonina Zhelyazkova, International Center for Minority Studies and Cultural Interactions
  • Nadia Danova, Institute of Balkan Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Kathy Mircheva, Historian