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Bulgaria; United Nations: Human Rights Office Calls for Protection of Roma from Discrimination

(Oct. 6, 2011) Beginning on September 23, 2011, Bulgaria has experienced demonstrations against the Roma people, an ethnic minority, which were set off when a Bulgarian was killed in a traffic accident blamed on a van driven by a member of the Roma community. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) has denounced the demonstrations and the hate speech that accompanied them and asked the country's government to fight discrimination. (UN Human Rights Office Speaks Out Against Targeting of Roma in Bulgaria, UN NEWS CENTRE (Oct. 4, 2011); Press Release, UNOHCHR, Press Briefing Note on Bulgaria (last visited Oct. 4, 2011).)

Speaking for the UNOHCHR, Rupert Colville said of the accident, “[w]e hope that if the driver of the van is culpable, he will be brought to justice in accordance with the law, and that through such a judicial process, the facts surrounding the young man's death will be clearly established.” (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.) He went on to criticize the hate speech and anti-Roma protests, calling them a matter of “great concern” and pointing out that it is wrong to blame an entire group for an offense alleged against one person. He added that Bulgaria's “political leadership must take a strong stance against hate speech and ensure that police officers continue to be deployed in sufficient numbers to protect Roma neighbourhoods from threats of retribution and harassment.” (Id.)

Similar demonstrations against the Roma people have occurred in Hungary and the Czech Republic recently, and political parties with nationalist views have been involved in increasing anti-Roma prejudice. These actions, the UN suggests, make it difficult for the Roma to realize “their economic, social and cultural rights, including education, health and, particularly, employment.” (Press Release, supra.) The UNOHCHR has advocated the adoption and implementation by European nations and the European Union of policies that would end discrimination against the Roma. (Id.)

Following a visit to Bulgaria in July 2011, Gay McDougall, an independent expert on minority issues working for the United Nations, also called for Bulgaria to implement concrete plans to improve Roma living standards, noting that the group members “experience discrimination in all walks of life that leaves them totally marginalized and in persistent poverty.” (UN Expert Urges Bulgaria to Turn Roma Policies into Concrete Action, UN NEWS CENTRE (July 11, 2011).)