The best way to solve today's challenges is when we, together, think about them, discuss, analyse, debate and test new options. The more global this effort is, the more guarantees of success we have. We at BCNL are happy to share with you the report of our fellow Aliya Behar from McGill University.
I have been lucky enough to work with the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law, stationed in Sofia, Bulgaria, over the last three months thanks to their joint initiative with the McGill Law International Human Rights Internship Program. As a third-year law student born and raised in Montreal, Canada, my passions for human rights and justice deeply excited me about contributing to BCNL’s initiatives.
Within my first few days of arriving in Sofia, I joined members of the BCNL team at large-scale protests in the city center. Between adjusting to a new city, culture, language, and time zone, I plunged into the deep end of Bulgaria’s political and social discourse. This report blossoms out of conversations with my peers at BCNL, as well as local activists, on freedom of expression within the country.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the Bulgarian constitution and international law. However, this right is not absolute. The right to freedom of expression has longstanding limitations, notably regarding the extent to which one’s speech can infringe on the rights of others. Hate speech lies in this grey area.
There exists a consensus that hate speech in Bulgaria is widespread and commonplace, flooding the political, social, and media landscape. This report analyzes Bulgaria’s treatment of hate speech through the compilation of desk research as well as qualitative interviews with experts on the subject, focusing primarily on the LGBTQ+ and Roma communities. It assesses the Bulgarian hate speech framework’s compatibility with European and international legal obligations and identifies systemic problems. Most strikingly, the existing legislative framework leaves certain vulnerable groups unprotected by criminal law. Further, issues with implementation and public perception hinder adequate justice for victims. Justice system actors are unequipped to recognize, address, and counteract hate speech. Procedural and evidence-gathering hurdles prevent the success of online hate speech claims. Hate speech, in general, remains largely underreported and under-prosecuted, with ignorance, myths, and stereotypes remaining pervasive across society. Though these issues are, by nature, complex, multidimensional, and interdisciplinary, the report concludes by presenting avenues for legal and social improvement to better enshrine international standards and protect vulnerable communities.
I feel overwhelmingly grateful for my time with BCNL, and hope that this report provides a stepping-stone for future work on hate speech and freedom of expression reforms.
You can read the report HERE.