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Women's Program Report on Bulgaria Conferences, May, 2003
7/11/2003 11:25 AM

On May 23, 2003, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights delegates Aviva Breen, Cheryl Thomas, and Julie Tilley traveled to Bulgaria to participate in meetings and conferences on a new law introduced into the Bulgarian parliament on protective measures for domestic violence victims.  Three conferences took place during the week of May 26 through May 31.  All three delegates made presentations at each conference. 


The impetus for this series of conferences was the proposed law on domestic violence introduced into the Bulgarian parliament in April 2003.  The proposed law is one of the first of its kind in the Central and Eastern European region, and is modeled after civil order for protection laws in Minnesota and other states and countries.  It would allow battered women to seek civil orders from the court that direct abusers to stay away from victims.   Similar to laws in Minnesota, the Bulgarian law would provide immediate protection to victims of domestic violence without requiring that they pursue criminal remedies against or divorce from their abusers.   The proposed law and the conferences are landmark achievements for Bulgarian women and for women throughout the region, and are an example of a uniquely successful and productive partnership between human rights advocates across borders. 


Since 1993, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR) has worked in partnership with human rights and women's rights advocates in Bulgaria (and in 21 other countries in the CEE/CIS region) to address the urgent problem of violence against women.  In 1995, at the invitation of women's groups in Bulgaria, MAHR sent a delegation to investigate and document domestic violence and, using a human rights framework, analyzed the legal system's response to domestic violence.  The delegations' findings were published in 1996 in a report entitled Domestic Violence in Bulgaria.  That report documented a legal system where police regularly failed to respond to calls from domestic violence victims, prosecutors felt that domestic violence was a family matter that government should not be involved in, and judges did not hold offenders accountable for their violent crimes.  There were no shelters and few services for victims of domestic violence.  


Since the report was published, MAHR has partnered with human rights groups and women's groups in Bulgaria to train legal professionals and advocates to better protect the safety of battered women.  MAHR has also consulted with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF) in drafting the new civil order for protection law that was the subject of the May 2003 conference.   Minnesota's history and experience with the creation and enforcement of civil order for protection laws has been a source of information and guidance to the Bulgarian advocates as they work on their own landmark law. 


Conference summaries:


  • The first conference, at the Sofia School of Journalism on May 26, 2003, focused on media coverage of domestic violence cases, and included presenters from the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.  Presentations and discussion covered the dynamics and causes of domestic violence, how to use the media to educate the public about the issue and its effects on victims and on the community, and how domestic violence is currently portrayed in the media in Bulgaria.  The proposed new law on domestic violence was also discussed.  Journalists, students, and members of the NGO community attended the conference.


  • The second conference, at the Bulgarian Parliament on May 27, 2003, featured members of the Bulgarian parliament and state institutions, representatives of Bulgarian NGOs serving domestic violence victims, and the Minnesota delegation.  The Bulgarian presenters reviewed the proposed Bulgarian law on domestic violence - the need for the law, its history, and the future work needed to pass and implement the law.  Minnesota presenters reviewed a similar law passed in 1979 in Minnesota, and discussed the potential benefits and difficulties presented by this type of civil protection order law. 


  • The third conference took place on May 28, 2003, in Varna, with a dual focus on the proposed Bulgarian law and the new court monitoring program established in Varna. Presenters included Bulgarian NGOs and the Minnesota delegation.  In addition to covering various aspects of the proposed law and its counterpart in Minnesota, presenters and participants also discussed the initial findings of the new court monitoring program in Varna, and a similar ten-year-old program in Minnesota, and how such programs can improve the justice system's response to domestic violence cases.  The role of the media in the effort to eliminate domestic violence was also presented by the Minnesota delegation.  Participants included judges, lawyers, advocates, and members of various government agencies.  This conference received extensive media coverage by print, television, and radio journalists.