UN expert recommends Bulgaria recognise its Macedonian minority
Blagoevgrad/Gorna Dzumaja (Bulgaria), Melbourne (Australia) and Toronto (Canada)
OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, together with the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) welcome the recent release of the report of the United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues on the situation in Bulgaria.
The report was made public on 3 January 2012 by the newly appointed UN Independent Expert, Ms. Rita Izsák and follows the visit to Bulgaria in July 2011 of her predecessor, Ms Gay McDougall. During the visit to Bulgaria, the Independent Expert met with representatives of the Macedonian minority in the country. The delegation comprised of: Stojko Stojkov, Co-President of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN and Stahil Tupalski, Central Council Member of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN; Stojan Gerasimov from the Society of Repressed Macedonians; and Georgi Hristov, the Chief Editor of the pro-Macedonian newspaper, Narodna Volja. The meeting gave the Macedonian organisations the opportunity to provide the Independent Expert with a first hand, documented account of the problems facing the Macedonian population in Bulgaria.
The post-visit report made a number of observations in relation to the situation of minorities in Bulgaria. In paragraphs 66-67, devoted to the Macedonian minority, the Independent Expert noted that:
"66. Article 54 of the Bulgarian Constitution states that “everyone shall have the right to avail himself of the national and universal human cultural values and to develop his own culture in accordance with his ethnic self-identification, which shall be recognized and guaranteed by the law.” However, the Government denies the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority, and does not recognize the Pomaks (considered as Bulgarian-speaking Muslims by the Government) as a distinct minority – claiming that both groups are in fact ethnic Bulgarians. Representatives of those who self-identify as ethnic Macedonians and as Pomaks claim that their minority rights are consequently violated.
67. Ethnic Macedonians consider it of crucial importance that their ethnic identity and distinctiveness be officially recognized. Community representatives strongly dispute census findings reflecting very low and declining numbers of Macedonians,and claim that the true population is many times higher. The Macedonian language is not recognized or taught in schools and Macedonians are not represented on the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues.
Most significantly though, the Independent Expert made a number of significant recommendations in relation to the recognition of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.
In relation to respect for self-identification the Independent Expert recommended that:
"93. In accordance with its Constitutional provisions to respect the right to ethnic self-identification, the Government should ensure and protect this right, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association of members of the Macedonian and Pomak minorities.
94. Policies relating to the recognition and rights of minority groups must be assessed in relation to the State’s obligations under international human rights law. Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “in those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” The question of the existence of minorities is addressed by the Human Rights Committee in its general comment No. 23 (1994) on the rights of minorities. Article 5.2 states that “the existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State party does not depend upon a decision by that State party but requires to be established by objective criteria.”
95. With regard to identification with a particular racial or ethnic group, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has established in its general recommendation No. 8 (1990) on article 1 of the Convention that “such identification shall, if no justification exists to the contrary, be based upon self-identification by the individual concerned.” The right of individuals to freely identify as belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic group is therefore established in international law. Domestic law should recognize such rights and ensure that no individual or group suffers from any disadvantage or discriminatory treatment on the basis of their freely chosen identity as belonging (or not) to an ethnic, religious, linguistic or any other group.
On Bulgaria’s refusal to abide by judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, the views of the Independent Expert were quite explicit:
96. Bulgaria should comply fully with the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) relating to persons belonging to such communities and implement its rulings without further delay. Associations should be allowed to register and function without impediment, use their chosen names and express their ethnic identities freely. Associations that have been denied in the past should promptly be given official registration.
The Independent Expert also recommended the introduction of the Macedonian language to the Bulgarian education system:
“97. The Government’s position not to allow the use of mother tongue languages as the language of instruction in schools, particularly in regions where minorities are a majority or constitute a large percentage of the population, is a concern for minorities, including the Roma, Turkish Muslims and Macedonians. Bilingual education commencing in the early years of schooling would enable children to become proficient in their mother tongue as well as in Bulgarian. Furthermore, it would enable them to maintain their ethnic and linguistic identity and help minority pupils to achieve positive educational outcomes. The Government is urged to consider introducing bilingual education and to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages”
OMO “Ilinden” PIRIN, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, together with the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) demand that the Bulgarian Government takes note of the report of the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues and implements, in full and without delay, each of the recommendations contained in the report.
The full report can be downloaded here.