Bulgaria: Government must implement disability rights reform

This week, Oliver Lewis, MDAC’s Executive Director, presented to diplomats of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg calling for greater action on the rights of people with disabilities detained in Bulgaria. The presentation set out key rulings from the European Court of Human Rights which order Bulgaria to reform legislation that systematically violates the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health issues in the country.

MDAC Executive Director, Oliver Lewis, presenting to Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. © MDAC.

MDAC has won two cases in which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned the Bulgarian Government for detaining people with disabilities in inhuman and degrading conditions within social care institutions – Mr. Stanev’s case in 2012, and Mr. Stankov’s case in 2015. Both these cases urged the Government to change the law so that such people can access justice and, for example, challenge their placement in these institutions. Oliver provided the Council of Europe diplomats with an Information Sheet highlighting excessive delays in the law reform process among other problems with the steps the Bulgarian Government is taking to implement these decisions.

Oliver also spoke about another important judgment issued by the ECtHR in 2015 – Neshkov v Bulgaria – which highlights the inhuman conditions in prisons in Bulgaria which often lead to inmates developing mental health issues. He told the Council of Europe diplomats:

“Incarceration and mental health work bi-directionally. In Bulgaria as, unfortunately, in many other countries, if a person has a mental health issue or intellectual disability she or he is incarcerated. And those incarcerated in the criminal justice system develop mental health issues. Detention is anathema to therapy and rehabilitation. In detention lives get worse, and this has a knock on effect on social inclusion, family life, parenting, political participation, employment and therefore the overall economy.”

Oliver’s presentation resonates across MDAC’s ongoing efforts to secure access to justice for persons with disabilities and their right to make decisions about their own lives. These rights are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the UN Disability Convention which Bulgaria ratified in 2012. The Council of Europe is the body responsible for supervising implementation of judgments by the ECtHR, and we urge the Council to now hold the Bulgarian Government accountable for fulfilling their obligations under international law by ensuring these rulings are fully complied with.

Next week, MDAC staff will travel to Bulgaria to directly pressure the Government to implement a draft law which would remove the legal obstacles that currently close the doors of justice to people in detention who are under guardianship. Further updates are to follow.

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