The "Childhood without Bars" campaign aims to achieve comprehensive reform in the field of juvenile justice. The campaign was launched on 24 September 2015 as a result of repeated criticism and warnings from various international and national organizations about the inadequate juvenile justice system in Bulgaria. The child, whether a victim or a perpetrator, must first and foremost be treated by law as a child. Moreover, deprivation of liberty is not only harmful to a child but also does not help prevent recidivism. Deprivation of liberty is the most expensive and inefficient way of "dealing" with children in conflict with the law.
Monitoring and Research
The activity of the BHC on systematic monitoring of human rights in Bulgaria is carried out by the Monitoring and Research Program. Monitoring covers all human rights, both civil and political, as well as economic, social, and cultural. Based on an in-depth analysis of the social, political and cultural factors that influence the human rights situation in Bulgaria, the decisions and recommendations of international human rights bodies, as well as the activities of similar organizations and institutions implementing human rights monitoring in Bulgaria, the program focuses on several priority areas. They include:
- The right to life and protection from torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment. In this regard, the organization has a lasting commitment to the monitoring of prisons in Bulgaria. Over the years, the scope of monitoring has been constantly expanding and today it covers all places of detention in the country: prisons and prison dormitories, police and pre-trial detention facilities, psychiatric institutions, social institutions for adults with mental disorders, centers for mandatory accommodation of foreign nationals, and educational boarding schools and socio-pedagogical boarding schools. The main purpose of the monitoring is to provide systematic monitoring of the closed institutions in Bulgaria in order to establish the compliance of the conditions in them with the international standards.
- Protection against discrimination and the rights of vulnerable groups in Bulgarian society. These groups include children, women, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants, LGBTI+ people, people with mental disorders. The BHC monitors the treatment of these vulnerable groups in the systems of education, health care, housing policy, social protection, access to services, justice, as well as in the institutions in which they are accommodated, especially when this happened against their will. In this area, the BHC pays special attention to incitement to hate speech, discrimination, and violence against vulnerable groups in Bulgarian society.
- The right to a fair trial with a focus on access to justice. Over the years, the BHC has conducted several large-scale studies on access to legal aid in criminal proceedings and continues to actively monitor this area, as well as the effective exercise of protection rights in the criminal justice system. In addition, the organization is monitoring the reform of the Bulgarian justice system. The BHC is particularly committed to monitoring and facilitating the reform of justice for children in conflict with the law.
- Civil liberties. These include freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, the right to participate in political life, religious freedom, liberty and security, and the right to privacy and family life, including the protection of personal data. The organization systematically monitors the actions of the authorities in holding public events by citizens, attempts to suppress the right to freedom of expression of certain unpopular groups in Bulgarian society, the ability of representatives of all religious groups to practice their religion, and the actions of the authorities in restricting this right through discriminatory laws and actions of administrative and judicial bodies.
Every year, the BHC publishes a report on the state of human rights in Bulgaria, in which the contributors of the Monitoring and Research Program also participate. In it, the organization summarizes its observations in the priority areas on a systematic basis, as well as the observations, criticisms, and recommendations of international human rights bodies and organizations. In addition, since its inception, the BHC has published a large number of special reports on various topics – the rights of ethnic minorities, religious freedom, children's rights in institutions, the state of prisons, the rights of people with mental disorders in institutions, access to justice in the criminal justice system, the rights of asylum seekers and migrants, media freedom.
The Monitoring and Research Program prepares alternative reports to the UN international treaty bodies for the reviews of Bulgaria's reports on the main human rights treaties. Program staff participate in the sessions of the bodies and meet with their members. The BHC also provides information to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the framework of the procedure for reviewing the implementation of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The Monitoring and Research Program prepares information and participates in the meetings of the monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe during their visits to Bulgaria.