BULGARIA: Concern over legal proceedings for de-registration of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

(Council of Europe)

On behalf of the Conference of INGOs and its Expert Council on NGO Law, we express our concern regarding legal proceedings for de-registration of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), which were recently initiated by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VRMO) in Bulgaria.

We believe that this kind of action aims to discredit the work carried out by BHC and can also have a chilling effect on other Bulgarian human rights NGOs, particularly when engaging with lawyers, judges, prosecutors and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that the European Court of Human Rights has underlined on many occasions that de-registration should always be a measure of last resort should there be any legitimate concerns about the activity of an NGO.

However, the work of BHC in the field of human rights is exactly the form of essential contribution made by NGOs that was underlined in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe.

The support expressed during the last days toward BHC and the strong responsiveness of civil society sector (more than 70 Bulgarian and 40 international NGOs expressed their concerns and support) shows a high level of international recognition for the work and expertise provided by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in the fields of human rights, democracy and rule of law. In this perspective, taking into account the positive obligations of the Member States under Art 11 of the ECHR, the government of Bulgaria must protect human rights organizations from harassment and threats.

In addition, in the context of strong polarisation, we believe the Government of Bulgaria should engage in a positive campaign regarding the contribution of the civil society sector to democracy in order to avoid misunderstandings or mistrust in the general population about the wholly legitimate advocacy and accountability roles of NGOs. The Conference of INGOs will pay close attention to the response provided by the Bulgarian authorities to the threats faced by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.