'Strong stance' needed against Bulgaria anti-Roma demos: UN

4th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN human rights office called Tuesday on Bulgaria's top political leaders to "take a strong stance" against anti-Roma demonstrations that have raged in the southern European state.

"The political leadership must take a strong stance against hate speech and ensure that police officers continue to be deployed in sufficient numbers to protect Roma neighbourhoods from threats of retribution and harassment," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The death of a youth hit by a van driven by relatives of "King Kiro", a Roma clan boss in the southern village of Katunitsa had sparked the latest unrest in Bulgaria.

After locals and people from the surrounding area went on the rampage, rallies with anti-minority and even Nazi slogans have taken place across the southern European country on a nightly basis.

The UN human rights office expressed regret at the death, and said the individual responsible should be brought to justice.

However, it stressed also that the "hate speech that has been fuelling the anti-Roma protests is of great concern."

"It is unacceptable for an entire community to face collective punishment for an offence allegedly committed by an individual," stressed Colville.

"We call on Bulgarian authorities at the highest political level to publicly restate this principle of individual criminal responsibility," he added.

Noting that anti-Roma protests have also surfaced in Hungary and the Czech Republic, Colville warned that "in such an atmosphere, inter-ethnic tensions rise and Roma risk becoming scapegoats of broader dissatisfaction."

Bulgaria's 700,000-strong Roma minority, nine percent of the population, lives mostly in depressed areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of education than the national average.

Public frustration with corruption, a yawning gap between rich and poor and the weakness of the justice system, has helped to turn people against them, as well as against Bulgaria's Turkish minority, experts say.

© 2011 AFP

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