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Women's Program travels to Bulgaria at invitation of Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation for police and judges training
2/19/2004 2:00 PM

Bulgaria Mission

November, 2003


Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Women's Program sent a delegation to Sofia, Bulgaria November 16 through November 23 at the invitation of long time partner, the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation.  The purpose of the visit was to provide trainings for judges and police on 1) the proposed domestic violence law introduced into parliament in April 2003 and 2) the dynamics of domestic violence.  Delegates to Bulgaria included Mary Louis Klas, retired judge, Julie Brunzell, Special Agent, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Loretta Frederick, Legal Counsel, Battered Women's Justice Project, Cheryl Thomas, Director, Women's Program, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Robin Phillips, Executive Director, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.


In addition to the trainings for police and judges, the MAHR delegation met with members of Parliament who are sponsoring the proposed Civil Order for Protection Law.  The MAHR delegation also met with numerous journalists and were featured on national radio and in the newspaper.  Interviews with the press focused on the proposed law and how our similar law has been implemented in Minnesota. 


 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.   The law is expected to pass in early 2004.


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 November 2003 trainings.  In May, 2003 a MAHR delegation visited Bulgaria to meet with parlimentarians and journalists about the proposed law.   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. 


Training for Judges - November 19, 2003


            The MAHR delegates presented a training on the dynamics of domestic violence and in particular the proposed civil Order for Protection Law to judges from the Sofia Regional Court. The judges who participated in the trainings preside over divorce cases and other family matters.  Other legal professionals also attended the training.  Participants cited an urgent need for more effective remedies for domestic violence victims in Bulgaria and thus expressed strong support for the new law.  The judges estimated that at least half of their cases involved domestic violence. 


            The training addressed the definition of domestic violence, prevalence of the problem, risk assessment, lethality indicators, custody issues and judicial demeanor.  Trainers also presented information about the effectiveness of Minnesota's similar Civil Order for Protection Law and shared their experience in implementing this law over the past 25 years.



Training for Police - November 21, 2003


            The MAHR delegates presented training on the dynamics of domestic violence and in particular the proposed civil Order for Protection Law to police from Sofia and Burgas.  The police attending the training expressed an urgent need for new legal remedies for domestic violence victims and thus expressed strong support for the proposed law.   As one police officer said about being called to the scene of so many domestic assaults, "We need the power to do something."


 The training addressed effective investigative techniques in domestic violence cases, report writing, lethality indicators and police conduct at the scene of an assault.