Within this background in July 2013 a central place in the political debates among the NGOs and the society as a whole took the visit of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, which took place in the context of the so called Citizens’ Dialogue attended by almost 400 citizens and NGO representatives. Some European media interpreted the event as Mrs. Reding’s support to the protesters.
We could not start otherwise but noting some NGOs’ concerns regarding the respect to those fundamental rights protected under Articles 3 and 4 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union:
“We witnessed excessive use of force against the protesters on the part of the police” alerted Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) (human rights protection) in a Declaration dated July 26. BHC went on to call public prosecutor’s authorities to perform prompt, thorough and impartial investigation on the events and to make the results of the investigation public. “In the course of a useless, poorly planned and provocative operation in an attempt to bring out some of the MPs and ministers from the National Assembly building, as BHC could witness, dozens of citizens who tried to block the way of the bus with their bodies were injured… In many cases the use of force was unprovoked by the behavior of the protesters, and in other occasions it was disproportionate.” BHC further notes. “A particular concern raises the fact that among the victims of police brutality there were journalists performing their duties… This is an unacceptable restriction through violence, of the freedom of expression of the media and the right to access to information on the part of the public. It should not, under any circumstances, happen in a democratic society.” BHC adds. In conclusion, BHC recalls that the police should plan their operations so as to minimize the need to use force and comply with the absolute necessity and proportionality to the aim pursued standards. Based on information provided by BHC, Human Rights Watch (International Human Rights organization) also expressed their concerns over the events on the evening of July 23rd.
Focusing on the advocacy for the respect of the migrants rights (Articles 6 and 18 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union), BHC issued a press release concerning unlawful detention of few Syrian refugee families in the Special facility for temporary accommodation of foreigners (SFTAF) in Busmantsi in the outskirts of Sofia. 30 detained people of whom 19 children started hunger-strike against their continuing detention and the failure on the part of the State Agency for the Refugees to release them promptly and to review their applications for protection. Within this background, BHC reiterates that detention of people seeking asylum in the Republic of Bulgaria under the pretext of non-availability of accommodation facilities violates both the EU and national legislation and the international commitments of the Bulgarian state to provide for asylum and protection to those who need it. BHC also recalls that SFTAF are administrated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs and are designated for implementation of measures for deportation of illegal migrants and have nothing to do with the situation of the refugees the last being people in attempt to escape from violence and direct risk for their lives and integrity thus entitled to protection and accommodation for which the State Agency for the Refugees is responsible.
An application to the European Court of Human Rights was lodged with the Court by the Bulgarian Muslim Veli Karaahmed following the failure of the State to protect the applicant during and after the attack against the Friday Muslim worship in the Banya bashi mosque in the centre of Sofia, committed on May 20th, 2011 by a group of members and supporters of the extreme-right political party “Attack” („Атака”) including the party’s leader and at that time MP Volen Siderov. BHC’s counsel undertook to draft the application and to represent the applicant.
On July 9th National Network for Children (NNC) (advocacy for and promotion of the child rights as guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 24 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) presented 13 good practices for successful cooperation between NGOs and municipalities in the field of children and families policies. The event was hosted by H.E. Mr. Philippe Autie, Ambassador of the French Republic in Bulgaria. Improvement and development of municipalities’ and NGOs good practices in the implementation of social services and activities for children and families is the intended follow-up of the presentation which was attended by representatives of public institutions, municipalities, non-government organizations and UNICEF Bulgaria. NNC describe the essence of the presentation: “[t]he 13 examined practices tell in a simple language exciting human stories, focusing the attention on comprehensive families services prevention and supply, development of alternative care forms such as the foster care, support to grown up children, living the care institutions, services or other forms of direct support provision as part of social initiative for effective social inclusion.”
On July 25th the NNC announced that on July 10th they had launched the project “Lesson: Strengthening The Organizational Capacity Development” supported by Switzerland through the Reform Fund Linked to Civil Society Participation and having as its main objective to enhance and develop the institutional capacity of the NNC and its member organizations, working for the well-being of children, to be effective tool for advocacy and monitoring of policies at local and national level and engine of reform for social inclusion.
On July 25th, NNC expressed their support to the open letter of Syndicate “Education” to the “Podkrepa” trade union addressed to the PM Plamen Oresharski and demanding prompt legislative and administrative actions on the part of the authorities which were still expected to prove the education as their main priority. The syndicate’s requests concern 10 fiscal, political, organisational and employment measures to be adopted by the Government until end of August.
With due regard to the fundamental role of the following NGO to the promotion of the economic freedom (Article 16 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and the respect to the property rights (Article 17 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union), we should review their researchers’ contributions in July 2013:
In his analysis entitled “Constitution an Political System” (or the nonsense of the ideas for a Great Parliament1) and published on July 12th one of the founders and current Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Market Economics (IME) (the first and oldest independent economic policy think tank in Bulgaria elaborating and advocating market-based solutions) Mr. Krasen Stanchev criticises the widespread ideas for calling a Great Parliament to amend the Constitution of Bulgaria as the only means capable to overcome the current political crisis and for adoption of new, more fair and transparent political rules. He scrutinizes the major aspects of the current Constitution (judiciary, Constitutional court, fiscal system, monopoly, property regulations, “social” rights) from the point of view of the possible impacts of respective amendments to some of these areas, concluding that initial failures within the constitutional regulation of some of them have already fatally stamped the social spheres concerned and other constitutional topics are good enough to be in line with the best European and North American constitutional practises so that some of the social deficiencies identified have no real connection to these provisions. “The Great Parliament cannot change the mentality of the political parties and leaders, much less that of the voters” Mr. Stanchev says.
In a number of publications2 researchers of IME criticised the amendments in the State Budget Act proposed by the Government, allowing for more governmental spending and setting the state debt and the deficit at higher levels than initially provided by the State Budget Act. Major concerns attracts the lack of any transparency as to the objective and the specific purposes of the additional spending thus opening wide doors for doubts how justified and fair would be these additional expenditures.
In July Access to Information Programme (AIP) (facilitates the enjoyment of the right of the citizens to access to information as enshrined in article 41 of the Bulgarian Constitution) (Article 11 of the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) released their monthly news bulletin where the useful analysis of Mr. Mr. Aleksander Kashumov – Head of the Legal Department of AIP, can be read. In his contribution, Mr. Kashumov reviews the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, finalised in June in Tshwane, South Africa and drafted by 22 organisations and academic centres, noting the significance attached to these Principles by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He further reveals some basic notions of the Global Principles, such as the scope of the Principles, the balance between the right to information and protection of the national security, institutions who are required to grant access to information, types of information that could or could not be classified. Some considerations regarding the compliance of the Bulgarian law and practice are made under each of the above mentioned headings, and some of the findings concern the lack of legal guarantees in the Bulgarian legal system against possible classification of information of human rights violations, irregularities with the administration or the public finances.
Centre for Protection of Rights in Health Care (CPRHC) alerts of a legislative deficiency in the Public Procurements Act, which, with effect as from February 2013, requires entirely private hospitals to comply with the requirements of and to perform the procedures provided for in that act as regards the receiving by the private hospitals of goods and services in performing their activities. Backing the complaint of a private hospital to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, CPRHC reasonably states that this provision appears to be a wrongful transposing of an EU Directive which in fact does not require the member States to include entirely private hospitals in the list of entities that must comply with the public procurement procedures. CPRHC further argues that such provision is pointless since private hospitals do not spend public funds and provide their services on fixed prises.
On July 26th CPRHC lodged their written submissions to the Commission for Protection of the Competition within the framework of the proceedings brought by that Commission for assessment of the compliance of the domestic legislation with the respective competition regulations in the sphere of the provision of health services.
* “Dnevnik” online daily, July 31st: Interview with Margarita Ilieva, Head of the Legal Program of Bulgarian Helsinki Committee on the occasion of the recent clashes between anti-government protesters and police in the centre of Sofia.
 “Great Parliament” („Велико Народно Събрание”) – according to the Bulgarian Constitution, an extended mode of the legislature which is specially elected with the purpose to adopt new Constitution or to pass significant amendments to the present Constitution for which the “ordinary” Parliament is not entitled.
 http://ime.bg/bg/articles/nenujna-byudjetna-aktualizaciya/ – “The unnecessary budget update” („Ненужна бюджетна актуализация”), Kaloyan Staykov; http://ime.bg/bg/articles/ne-e-nujna-aktualizaciya-na-byudjeta-a-ovladyavane-na-razhodite/ – “Governance of the expenditures rather than budgetary update” („Не е нужна актуализация на бюджета, а овладяване на разходите”), Dessislava Nikolova; http://ime.bg/bg/articles/aktualizaciyata-prazen-ek-za-stotici-milioni/ – “The budgetary update – blank cheque for hundreds of millions” („Актуализацията – празен чек за стотици милиони”), Kaloyan Staykov.
This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.