The US State Department has issued its 2009 Human Rights Report. The section about Bulgaria has some interesting findings.
The report reviews the performance of Bulgaria in various human rights categories. The main conclusions are that there were problems with police abuse and mistreatment of pretrial detainees, prison inmates, and minorities; harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities; and official impunity. There were some limitations on freedom of the press; discrimination against religious minorities; and pervasive government corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Corrupt practices included bribery, EU funds fraud, elaborate embezzlement schemes, legislation protecting private interests, and official protection for organized crime figures. Corruption reportedly was severe in high civil and administrative courts.
The report takes note of the initial steps of the new Bulgarian government to address corruption.
The report sources a lot of its information from the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
There were accusations of corruption and trade in official posts in the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). Resigning seemed the most natural thing to do for at least two members of the SJC. Not in Bulgaria.
Now one of the alleged members – Ivan Dimov, has said that he will not resign. He says that his name and professional honor have been subjected to an absurd and baseless discrimination over a few private phone calls.
Few private phone calls indeed. Few private discussions. Few private transactions. What is there to resign for?
Three members of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council – Stoyko Stoev, Ivan Dimov and Plamen Stoilov, have been accused in corruption and trade in official posts in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
Members of the formers Bulgarian king Simeon’s party also seem involved in the case.
These are the facts. Now I would like to know – what is the remedy? How exactly are we supposed to fight corruption in the judiciary when no less than three members of the Supreme Judicial Council have been allegedly involved in wrongdoing?
To put this in perspective – the SJC consist of 25 members; most decisions are taken with simple majority. The SJC is responsible for all appointment and career development decisions in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
The spokesman of the European Commission has reportedly said that some Member States have demanded sanctions for Bulgaria and Romania due to failed fight against corruption and misuse of EU funds.
This is not news for me, but we still need to see any public claims and the supporting arguments of those unnamed Member States.
The European Commission has published its regular annual reports under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania.
The report for Bulgaria includes an assessment on meeting the indicative benchmarks for justice and home affairs since its last full report (23 July 2008). It also makes recommendations to Bulgaria based on this assessment.
The report says that there is “a change in attitude and a more open and frank dialogue at all levels with the Bulgarian authorities”.
In more specific points, the report finds that:
- The establishment of a permanent Joint Team for the Suppression of Offenses against the EU Financial System is an excellent initiative;
- Killings linked with organized crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended;
- Organizational overlaps continue in the new structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which has not yet led to increased effectiveness in the investigation of serious crime;
- Delays in criminal cases are largely caused by the extreme formality of the criminal procedure, a certain passivity of the bench and the seemingly limitless possibilities offered by the criminal procedure law to defendants to stall the proceedings;
- The Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council has become fully operational and has achieved an encouraging track record in the investigation of disciplinary violations and of systemic weaknesses of judicial practice;
- There is a need for a more pro-active approach for fighting corruption in vulnerable areas and sectors such as health or education.
On the question of possible invocation of the safeguard clause, the Commission concludes that this is not necessary. According to the report:
“The kind of deep seated changes that are needed can only come from within Bulgarian society. The CVM is a support tool in this endeavour; it is not an end in itself nor can it replace commitment that Bulgarian authorities need to make in order to align the judicial system and practice with general EU standards.”
Posted in Bulgaria, Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, indicative benchmarks, organized crime, recommendations, regular report, Romania, safeguard clause
A report obtained by the Financial Times says that Bulgaria is at risk of falling under Russian political and economic influence unless Brussels works more effectively with Sofia. The report was written by the six-member advisory board of the Stanishev government, chaired by Dominique de Villepin, a former French prime minister.
The report is quite blatant:
“If Bulgaria fails in the fulfillment of this objective, different consequences could arise. First, the Bulgarian state could become more vulnerable, encouraging populist movements and planting the seeds of discouragement among Bulgarian civil society.
“Second, the efforts undertaken to build up a stronger, more modern and efficient state apparatus could weaken, and so would the trust of the people in the state. Finally, it could undo the ties between the EU and Bulgaria, prompting a shift of Bulgaria towards Russian political and economic interests.”
Posted in Bulgaria, Energy, Enlargement, EU Reform, Foreign and Security Policy, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Corruption, European Union, influence, interests, Politics, risk, Russia
Serhiy Holovaty, chairman of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has issued a report with findings from his visit in Bulgaria in November 2008.
“It is my general impression that, in the haste to meet the strenuous accession deadlines, some of the reforms and, in particular, the reform of the judiciary, have undergone numerous “cosmetic changes” that have pushed the reforms in an undesired direction. This was namely the case of the constitutional amendments and the amendments to the Judicial System Act adopted in February 2007.”
He pinpoints three specific problems:
- lengthy preliminary proceedings in the criminal justice system;
- low number of proceedings against high-level officials and civil servants involved in corruption cases;
- non-execution of the Strasbourg Court judgments due to a low rate of reopening of criminal court cases following a judgment of the Strasbourg Court and to the absence of legal provisions enabling to do so in civil cases.
He goes on to say that:
“Bulgaria remains a country with endemic corruption that has gained the ranks of the administration and the judiciary. (…)The weaknesses of the judiciary in Bulgaria have repercussions on most spheres of society which hampers the proper functioning of all democratic institutions.”
Now, it remains to be seen exactly in WHAT political context can the Bulgarian government explain any bias or ill will on behalf of Mr. Holovaty.