UNITED NATIONS Press Release -------------------------------------------------------------------- xxxxxxxxxxCOMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE HEARS RESPONSE OF BULGARIA TO ITS QUESTIONS xxxxxxxxxx 18 May 2004 The Committee against Torture this morning heard the response of Bulgaria to questions raised by Committee Experts on the third periodic report of that country which describes efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture. The delegation, led by Dimiter Tzantchev, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said, among other things, that the allegation that prison access to non-governmental organizations had been restricted was untrue. On the contrary, access to any prisons was granted to non-governmental organizations, particularly the Bulgarian Helsinki Monitor which had permanent access. The rights and obligations of asylum seekers were laid down in laws on refugee status, and at every stage, protection was provided to asylum seekers until decisions were rendered. The State did not expel an asylum seeker to a country where his or her life could be threatened, the delegation said. Bulgaria was fully committed to combating acts of terrorism, the delegation said, adding that the combat against terrorism should not derogate from the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals. Bulgaria believed that the root causes of terrorism should be combated and solutions should be found. Bulgaria, as one of the 136 States parties to the Convention against Torture, must submit periodic reports to the Committee on efforts to prevent torture and related ill-treatment. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations on the report of Bulgaria will be issued on Friday, 21 May, the last day of the three-week session of the Committee. The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. to issue its conclusions and recommendations on the third periodic report of Germany. Discussion The Bulgarian delegation, responding to questions put by Committee members upon presentation of the Bulgarian report on Monday morning, said, among other things, that the Convention was directly applicable in domestic jurisprudence by virtue of its incorporation in the internal legal system and recognition by the Constitution. The office of the Ombudsman was an independent body whose members benefited from immunity similar to that given to parliamentarians, the delegation said. The Ombudsman was empowered to investigate human rights violations and monitor the promotion and protection of all rights enshrined in domestic and international provisions. The Ombudsman could request any information from public institutions and no authority could deny providing him with the information he required. The rights and obligations of asylum seekers were laid down in laws on refugee status, the delegation said. At every stage, protection was provided to asylum seekers until decisions were rendered. With regard to article 3 of the Convention on refoulement, the State did not expel an asylum seeker to a country where his or her life could be at risk. However, individuals considered as a threat to national security might be prevented from entering the country, as it was the case in many States. If clear evidence of danger against an individual existed in the country of destination, he might be sent to a third country where his life was not in jeopardy. Refugee status already granted could be withdrawn in certain circumstances including if the individual obtained nationality of a third country, or if he was granted refugee status by another country. Bulgaria was fully committed to combating acts of terrorism, the delegation said. However, the combat against terrorism should not derogate from the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals. Bulgaria believed that the root causes of terrorism should be combated and that solutions should be found. Specific programmes had been adopted by the Government with regard to the Roma community in collaboration with Roma organizations, the delegation said. Efforts had been made to integrate the Roma community into Bulgarian society, including their recruitment into the police force. A consultative body had been established to deal with the educational integration of Roma children. The creation of a favourable situation for mutual understanding and respect within the society had been emphasized to easily integrate the Roma community in all segments of the society. Roma children were encouraged to participate in multicultural programmes and environments intended for their integration. Further efforts were also exerted to train Roma teachers. Other comprehensive measures had also been taken in the field of employment, health and housing. Mandatory medical examination had to be exercised upon the arrest of a suspect by the police, the delegation said. An independent body considered any complaints of allegations of torture during police interrogation. The allegation that prison access to non-governmental organizations had been restricted was untrue, the delegation said. On the contrary, access to any prisons was granted to non-governmental organizations, particularly the Bulgarian Helsinki Monitor which had permanent access. Out of the 51 pre-trial detention centres, only five were underground facilities, the delegation said. These five facilities would be improved in the future. On the protection of mentally ill persons, the delegation said appropriate care was provided to both adult and child patients. The Government was making efforts to keep mentally ill children within the family instead of placing them in institutions. Adult patients were kept in renovated buildings and their condition was a matter of concern to the authorities. A number of non-governmental organizations had been participating in the efforts to care for mentally ill persons. There were 51 complaints of inter-prisoner sexual violence lodged with prison directors between January 2003 and April 2004, the delegation said. The procurator general was seized with the complaints in which 50 men and one woman were involved. A life sentence without a substitute could be handed down upon the commission of specific and exceptionally grave crimes, the delegation said. Articles 38 and 38a of the Penal Code provided for such sentences. A multiple assassination of children, for instance, might lead to sentences without substitutes. No one could be arrested for more than 24 hours before appearing before a court, the delegation said. The investigative judge could order the extension of detention of the individual up to 72 hours if it was necessary.
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