According to Bulgaria's 1991 Constitution, the State shall be held liable for any damages caused by unlawful acts or actions on the part of its agencies and officials.Art. 7, 1991 Constitution.Everyone shall have the right to life. Any attempt upon a human life shall be punished as a most severe crime.Art. 28, 1991 Constitution.No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.Art. 29(1), 1991 Constitution.
Article 43 of the Constitution governs the right of peaceful assembly.
(1) All citizens shall have the right to peaceful and unarmed assembly for meetings and demonstrations.
(2) The procedure for the organizing and holding of meetings and demonstrations shall be established by law.
(3) No notice to the municipal authorities shall be required for meetings held indoors.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
Use of force by law enforcement officials is generally regulated by the 2014 Ministry of Interior Act (especially Articles 85-88).
Article 85 stipulates that in performing their duties, the police may use physical force and auxiliary meansAuxiliary means are defined as handcuffs, straitjackets, sticks and utensils; chemical substances approved by the Minister of Health; animals (dogs and horses); halos cartridges, cartridges with rubber, plastic and shock bullets; vehicle-opening devices; room-opening devices, light and sound devices with a noxious effect; water and air cannon; armoured vehicles.only when absolutely necessary in cases of:
(1) Resistance or refusal to execute a lawful order
(2) Detention of an offender who fails to obey a police officer, or resists the officer's actions
(3) Transfer of an individual or an escape attempt, when attempting to take his or her own life or cause harm to the life or health of others
(4) Assistance to other state bodies or officials when unlawfully prevented from fulfilling their obligations
(5) An attacks against a citizen or police authority
(6) Hostage release operations
(7) Group violations of public order
(8) An attack on a building, premises, facility, or means of transport
(9) Release of an illegally occupied building or space, if ordered by a competent authority
(10) Measures to ensure personal safety.
The use of physical force and auxiliary means shall be regulated via ordinance of the Minister of Interior.
According to Article 86 of the 2014 Statute:
(1) Physical force and assisting devices shall be used after a warning has been given except in case of a sudden assault and in hostage-release operations.
(2) The use of physical force and assisting devices shall be contingent upon the particular situation, the nature of the violation of the public order, and the individual characteristics of the offender.
(3) In the cases enumerated in Article 85, the police authorities shall use only the absolutely necessary force.
(4) When using physical force and auxiliary means, the police authorities shall take all measures to protect the life and health of the persons against whom they are directed.
(5) The use of physical force and auxiliary means shall cease immediately upon attainment of its legitimate purpose.
(6) It is forbidden to use physical force and auxiliary means against individuals who are visibly below 14 years of age or pregnant women. This prohibition does not apply in cases of mass disorder when all other means have been exhausted.
(7) It is forbidden to use potentially lethal force to detain or prevent the escape of a person carrying out or having carried out a non-violent act if that person does not pose a danger to the life and health of another.
According to Article 87 of the 2014 Statute:
(1) Police authorities may use lethal weapons only when absolutely necessary:
(a) in case of an armed attack or a threat of use of weapons
(b) during release of hostages and in cases of abductions
(c) following a warning, upon detention of a person who has committed or is committing a serious crime if he resists the actions of the police or attempts to escape
(d) following a warning to prevent the escape of a person held in custody for a serious offence
(e) when taking measures to ensure personal safety under Article 75(2).
(2) When using weapons, the police authorities shall do everything in their power to preserve the life of the person against whom they are directed and not endanger the life and health of others.
(3) Police authorities may use weapons without warning when carrying out border protection:
(a) in an armed attack against them
(b) against persons engaged in armed resistance. […]
(7) Following the use of weapons, the police authorities draw up a report.
According to Article 88 of the 2014 Statute:
The planning and control of the use of physical force, auxiliary means, and weapons by the police authorities in the cases under Articles 85-87 includes measures to achieve the legitimate objective with minimal risk to the life and health of citizens.
There are no specific provisions in national law governing accountability for potentially unlawful use of force by police or other law enforcement agencies. In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Bulgaria's sixth periodic report on its compliance with CAT, the Committee against Torture expressed continuing concern about reports that:Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria, UN doc. CAT/C/BGR/CO/6, 15 December 2017, §11(c) and (d).
the police do not keep a registry on the use of force or special means against detained persons and that there is no recording of injuries....
That police officers who use force unlawfully against persons who have been arrested and detained are seldom prosecuted and punished and that those police officers who are found guilty of torture or ill-treatment of detained persons are punished with lenient penalties, such as fines or suspended sentences, since they are most often prosecuted only for light bodily injury.
There is no specialised body that deals with complaints against the police in Bulgaria, although the national ombudsman can take up cases of concern with the Minister of the Interior.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Bulgaria, the Human Rights Committee called on Bulgaria to continue training police officers in human rights standards relating to freedom of expression and assembly and the lawful use of force.
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Bulgaria, the Committee against Torture expressed continuing concern aboutCommittee against Torture, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria, UN doc. CAT/C/BGR/CO/6, 15 December 2017, §9(a).
The continued existence of 24-hour administrative detention, which falls outside the scope of criminal proceedings, before arrested persons detained in police stations are formally charged with a criminal offence, and during which they are questioned by the police, often without having access to a lawyer and when they are most vulnerable to abuse by law enforcement officials.
The Committee further expressed concern at reports:Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria, UN doc. CAT/C/BGR/CO/6, 15 December 2017, §11(b).
That one out of every three persons detained in police stations is subjected to physical abuse in police stations, which may be of such severity as to amount to torture and may include beating, handcuffing to immovable objects and the use of truncheons and electrical discharge weapons, and that the rate of physical abuse against persons belonging to the Roma community is allegedly double the rate of abuse against ethnic Bulgarians.
Nachova v. Bulgaria (2005)
The Grand Chamber judgment in the Nachova case in 2005 is a key decision on police use of force both for Bulgaria and across the region. The Court held that an escaping suspect (at least when he or she does not pose a grave threat to life) may not be shot "even if a failure to use lethal force may result in the opportunity to arrest the fugitive being lost".European Court of Human Rights, Nachova v. Bulgaria, Judgment (Grand Chamber), 6 July 2005, §95.
99. The Court notes as a matter of grave concern that the relevant regulations on the use of firearms by the military police effectively permitted lethal force to be used when arresting a member of the armed forces for even the most minor offence. Not only were the regulations not published, they contained no clear safeguards to prevent the arbitrary deprivation of life. Under the regulations, it was lawful to shoot any fugitive who did not surrender immediately in response to an oral warning and the firing of a warning shot in the air…. The laxity of the regulations on the use of firearms and the manner in which they tolerated the use of lethal force were clearly exposed by the events that led to the fatal shooting of Mr Angelov and Mr Petkov and by the investigating authorities' response to those events. …
100. Such a legal framework is fundamentally deficient and falls well short of the level of protection “by law” of the right to life that is required by the Convention in present-day democratic societies in Europe….
The Court held that there had been “a general failure” by Bulgaria to comply with its obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights “to secure the right to life by putting in place an appropriate legal and administrative framework on the use of force and firearms by military police”.Nachova case, §102.
Ribcheva v. Bulgaria (2021)
The applicants in this case were the mother, father and daughter of an officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ anti-terrorist squad, who was killed during an operation by the person the squad sought to arrest. The Court found that the authorities’ precautions were reasonable, despite some mistakes in planning and conduct of the operation, but noted the positive duty of due diligence which existed to seek to protect him from the risks. It stated, however, that the standard of reasonableness in relation to this positive obligation to protect life was not as stringent as that in respect to the negative obligation to refrain from using force which was “more than absolutely necessary” .
The applicants had urged the authorities to also investigate whether officials had contributed to their relative’s death by incorrectly ordering and planning the operation. The Court found a violation of the right to life in its procedural limb. This was due to the failure by the authorities to launch an investigation as the Convention requires. More importantly, there had been a complete lack of involvement of the applicants in the investigation.