4. Human rights in Europe and in Bulgaria


Bulgaria is part of Europe and the European Union. This module discusses basic principles and documents related to Bulgaria and Bulgarian law and to important European directives. The information is presented in a way so that young people become aware of the current basic human rights laws in Bulgaria and Europe.


The European Human Rights System. Human Rights in Bulgaria

Short description of the session 

This session starts with an activity in which the children and young people are to investigate their local communities in a human rights perspective. To what extent are human rights respected and fulfilled? After they will learn about the human rights system in Europe. They will learn that when the Bulgarian state commit itself to the provisions in the European Convention of Human Rights, it does what 46 other European states have done namely to promise to uphold a high human rights standard in the country. During visits to the museums, the pupils will learn that individuals and groups with great efforts in earlier times as well as today, have addressed human rights challenges and worked for better living conditions. They will see that the contemporary human rights situation in many ways is better than before, but still with big challenges. Hopefully the youngsters will be inspired and see that they can play important future roles in order to better the situation.

Learning goals

  • By using their local knowledge, the pupils will understand that human rights not only are nice words on paper, but influences people´s everyday lives even in their own communities
  • Give the children and young people knowledge about the Council of Europe, the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg
  • Make the pupils understand that when states legally bind themselves to international human rights treaties, they must work to better the situation in the country
  • Motivate engagement for ideal and human rights work at local level


  • Time: 1 – 4 hours (depending on the time the pupils are given to prepare)
  • Requirements: A marker and a flip chart for each group. A copy of the Universal Declaration for each participant
  • Preparations: A short lecture about the European human rights system. Equipment to show a film about the European human rights court in Strasbourg, France.


Activity: Human rights all around you

To do this activity, the pupils must have basic knowledge about human rights (for example through working with module 1).


  1. Introduction: The teacher invites the pupils to brainstorm about human rights. What are human rights and why are they important? Can they name certain human rights? He/she writes down the comments on the blackboard.
    Important points:
    - Human rights are rights that all people are entitled to, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, nationality, political opinion, religion, e.g. We have human rights simply because we are humans.
    - The values behind the notion of human rights are human dignity and equality, operationalized through the non-discrimination principle
    - It is the state authorities that has the responsibility to respect, protect and promote human rights for its population
    - Important human rights: rights to life, freedom, security, rule of law, information and expression, religion, movement, assembly, privacy and family life, election, private property, education, jobs, social rights, health care, culture and more.
  2. The teacher divides the pupils into groups which will be given two (or more) articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to work with. (The following articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is recommended for the analyses: 4, 5, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 26.) Each group will analyze how these human rights are implemented in their local community/city. They shall prepare a presentation for the class. The information can, at least partly, be obtained from outside the classroom, by for example through study-trips to the local community. The pupils can present their findings in many ways, for example through taking pictures (with their mobile phones) and/or by interviewing ordinary people, researchers, journalists, representatives from vulnerable groups, public authorities or others.
    The presentation may answer these questions:
    - Which are the rights individuals are entitled to according to this human right?
    - Do all individuals get his/her right fulfilled in the local community, or are there some persons that do not get their rights fulfilled? Explain your findings.
    - What are the consequences for a) the individual and b) the society, that persons don´t get the rights they are entitled to?
    - What can/should public authorities do to ensure all people this right?
    - What can I/your group do to ensure that this right is being realized for all people, including vulnerable groups?
    - Which international human rights conventions include this human right? (can be the European Convention of Human Rights and/or the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights and/or the Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)
    - Is this particular human right mentioned and protected in the Bulgarian Constitution?
  3. The groups present their findings in the plenary



Human rights are not only nice words on paper but influence our reality and daily life. If individuals or groups are denied their rights, both themselves and the community will suffer in many respects. The difficulties tend to propagate so that for example if a person does not get his/her right to education, the person will have less possibility to get a job with decent payment, and then also his/her children will be suffering. People need their human rights to be respected to create good societies. The Bulgarian constitution as well as the European Convention of Human Rights and other international human rights conventions that Bulgaria has ratified, give the population a wide range of human rights.


Following up work

Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), once said: “The destiny of human rights is in the hands of all our citizens in all our communities”.

  • What do you think Roosevelt meant by this?
  • What concrete action can citizens do to increase the respect for human rights in their local communities?


Follow up work Human Rights in Bulgaria. Group work

  • Does the Bulgarian Constitution include human rights? Can you name some of these rights?
  • Which of these international human rights conventions has Bulgaria ratified: 9 core UN conventions and the European Convention of Human Rights?
    These links may be helpful: https://indicators.ohchr.org and https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=basictexts&c=
  • What kind of obligations does a state take on when it ratifies human rights conventions?


Follow-up assignment 

The questions below can be follow-up assignments after the students have got knowledge about the European human rights system. They can also be used for group work.

  • Write an article about a person or group that has won a case in the European Court of Human Rights. The subject of your article may be from your own or another country.
  • Write an article about the Commissioner for Human Rights. The Commissioner acts as an independent institution and is responsible for promoting awareness of and respect for human rights in all Council of Europe member states.


Human rights in Europe  and Bulgaria

As member of the Council of Europe, Bulgaria like the rest of the council´s 46 member states, has ratified the European Convention of Human Rights and thereby obliged itself to respect the human rights for its population. If a person or a group in the country believes that their human rights have been violated under the Convention, he or she (or the group) may bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights. For the Court to accept the application, certain criteria must be met. If he/she wins the case, the Bulgarian state must pay a compensation and ensure that such a violation must not happen again. To learn more about the Bulgarian obligations concerning human rights, it can be fruitful to first get to know the European context.


Historical background: WWII

To understand how the European system of human rights came into being, we must go back to the Second World War. The six years of war experience with atrocities that took more than 55 million lives, including those killed in the Nazi concentration camps, should fundamentally be both a global and European lesson never to be forgotten. The global response was the establishment of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 which immediately started to work on a “Bill of Rights”. The idea was to encourage the member states to respect and promote fundamental human rights for their residents in order to preserve peace, both in and between countries. After two years of work, the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (UDHR) was adopted. For the first time in history there was a set of universal human rights. However, as a declaration, the UDHR was not legally binding for the states. Even if many had wanted the UN to adopt a legally binding treaty, this turned out to be too big a task for the international community at that time. The cold war had already started, and negative sentiments were having a detrimental impact on the relationships between countries.


The Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights

The states in Europe were the first ones to adopt a legally binding human rights treaty. Reflecting their desire to never again experience the atrocities that were committed in the mid-twentieth century, ten of the European states founded the Council of Europe in 1949. The organisation’s aims were to create peace and respect for fundamental human rights and to develop democracy and the rule of law. Today the Council of Europe has 47 member states.

Immediately after its establishment, the Council of Europe started to work on a legally binding human rights treaty. Inspired by the UN’s efforts, it took less than two years before the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was opened for signature in 1950. The treaty came into force in 1953 as the first international legal instrument guaranteeing the protection of human rights. Since its adoption, states wanting to become members of the Council of Europe must first ratify the Convention.

The following civil and political rights are protected:

  • Right to life (art 2)
    •    Prohibition of torture (art 3)
    •    Prohibition of slavery and forced labour (4)
    •    Right to liberty and security (5)
    •    Right to a fair trial (art 6)
    •    No punishment without law (art 7)
    •    Right to respect for private and family life (art 8)
    •    Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art 9)
    •    Freedom of expression (art 10)
    •    Freedom of assembly and association (art 11)
    •    Right to marry (art 12)
    •    Right to effective remedy (art 13)
    •    Prohibition of discrimination (art 14)

The Convention has been amended a number of times and supplemented with many rights in addition to those laid down in the original text. A number of optional protocols have also been adopted. The European Convention of Human Rights has also evolved because of the interpretation of its provisions by the European Court of Human Rights. Through its case law, the Court decides how the norms in the European Convention are to be interpreted at any point in time.


The European Court of Human Rights

Article 19 of the European Convention declares that a European Court of Human Rights is to be established. In 1959, the Court was established as the first ever international human rights court. Its mission is to oversee the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights in the member states.

The Court is based in the landmark Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, France. It is composed of one judge from each Council of Europe member state. The judges are elected for a term of nine years by the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly. The judges are fully independent and do not represent any national interests.

If a person or a group in a member state believes that their human rights have been violated under the Convention, he or she (or the group) may bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights. For the Court to accept the application, the following criteria must be met:

  • Individuals complaining of violations of their rights must, as a main rule, first have taken their case through the courts of the country in question, and up to the highest possible level of jurisdiction. They must, in other words, have lost in the Supreme Court
  • The applicant must lodge his or her complaint with the Court within six months after the final verdict in the country concerned
  • An applicant’s allegations must concern one or more articles in the Convention
  • The applicant must be personally and directly a victim of a violation of the Convention, and must have suffered a significant disadvantage
  • He or she cannot be anonymous

The Court receives an enormous number of applications each year. Tens of thousands of people turn to the Court because they feel their fundamental human rights have been violated. For many, it is their last hope to achieve justice. The vast majority of the applications is however rejected during the admissibility phase because one or several of the above-mentioned criteria have not been satisfied. Only a small proportion of the cases are brought before the Court, which then rules on whether or not there has been a violation of the convention.

The Court’s judgements cannot override national judgements but are binding on the countries concerned. In the event of a violation being found, the state concerned must endeavour to ensure that no such violations occur again in the future, otherwise the Court may deliver new judgements against them. In some cases the state will have to amend its legislation to bring it into line with the convention. The Court can also order governments to pay financial compensation to victims.

The Council of Europe’s Minister Committee supervises the state's compliance with the judgements delivered against them. The Court has proven to be a productive and influential European instrument. In general, one can say that the states respect the Court´s judgements. But the Court’s success has led to one disadvantage. Its positive reputation has led to many more applications than it has managed to handle. Hopefully, new reforms will make the system more efficient.


Dynamic Interpretation and a Common European Standard

Since it was established in 1959, the Court has completed the examination of hundreds of thousands of applications. More than 22 500 judgements have been given[1]. The judgments have led the member states to amend their legislation and practice in many areas.

Through its case law, the Court decides how the norms in the European Convention of Human Rights are to be interpreted at any point in time. The Court thus extends the rights afforded in the Convention and applies them to situations that were not foreseeable when the Convention was first adopted. This dynamic interpretation results in the protection of new groups or new rights that were not initially covered by the Convention. Psychological torture or homosexuality are examples of matters that were not mentioned when the Convention was adopted but have gained protection today. Moreover, the adoption of optional protocols extends the protection areas. Among many success stories is the abolition of the death penalty. Since 1985, the abolition of the death penalty has been a requirement for membership in the Council of Europe. Today the Council of Europe's 47 member states form a death-penalty-free zone.

Due to the fact that the judgements represent guidelines for all member states and that the Court interprets the Convention in a way that takes into account societal developments, makes the Convention a powerful instrument that addresses new challenges and strengthens democracy and rule of law in Europe.


Subject-matter of the Court´s violation judgements in 2019        

In 2019, the Court delivered 884 judgments concerning 2,187 applications. All in all, more than 40 000 applications were decided in 2019, whether according to a judgment or decision, or by being struck off the list.

Of the violation judgments delivered by the Court in 2019:

  • nearly a quarter concerned the right to a fair hearing, either due to the fairness or the length of the proceedings (Article 6)
  • more than 20% concerned the right to life or the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 2 and 3)

Human Rights in Bulgaria

Bulgaria became member of Council of Europe in 1992 and ratified the European Convention of Human Rights the same year. In 2019 the Court dealt with 766 applications concerning Bulgaria, of which 746 were declared inadmissible or struck out. It delivered 19 judgments (concerning 20 applications), 13 of which found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found violation of the right to liberty and security, right to an effective remedy, protection of property, among others. [2]

Now the pupils are ready to see a film about the European Court of Human Rights



How to use the museums

Many museums can be visited in order to raise the pupil´s awareness about human rights in Bulgaria.

The pupils can work in groups or individually with different tasks. They can work with the subject for shorter or longer periods. They can write essays or prepare presentations for the others in the classroom and open up for questions and discussions.


Human rights in Bulgaria - before and now

The underlying ethical values behind the vision of human rights are human dignity and equality. The idea that all human beings are entitled to some fundamental human rights dates far back into history. The need for people to formulate human rights grew out of the need to protect individuals from arbitrary abuse, violations and discrimination perpetrated by those in power. Human rights were written down as legally binding obligations for state authorities for the first time during the American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions. In time, different human rights became a part of many state constitutions. After WWII universal and regional human rights instruments have created systems which impose a long range of juridical binding human rights obligations for the states.

People have in all times fought for freedom and better lives for themselves and their fellow human beings. In reality they have fought for respect for their right to life, freedom, security, property, work, social welfare e.g. Can you find examples in the museum´s exhibitions that show individuals or groups that have fought for increased respect for different human rights?

  • Who is the person/group? Explain how he/she/them got engaged and fought for one or several human rights. What was the historic and/or societal context?
  • Which human right(s) did they fight for? How did they fight? Did they succeed? Why? Why not?
  • Was the human right in question defined as a human right at that time? If not, has it been defined as a human right later in the Bulgarian Constitution or in international human rights conventions?


Analyzing the human rights situation in Bulgaria

This activity consists of group work, presentation and follow-up discussion.

45 -150 minutes (dependent on how in-depth the teacher wants to go)
Requirements: A marker and a flip chart for each group. The following articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is recommended for the analyses: 4, 5, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 26. A copy of the Universal Declaration for each participant.
Preparation: The teacher must be sure that the participants should have basic knowledge about human rights before doing this group work. They should know that human rights are the rights of individuals and that it is that state authorities that have the main responsibility.


  1. The pupils are divided into groups of 3-5 persons. Each group get a marker and a flip chart that the facilitator has prepared (e.g below). Each participant (or group) also gets a copy of the Universal Declaration.
Art. 5


Art. 18 Art. 19 Art. 21 Art.26


  1. Each group gets four or five articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for analysis. The task is to evaluate how the particular article/ right is respected and implemented in the country. The participants must analyse the real situation, and not how the human rights are protected in the national laws (the laws are often perfect). The group shall discuss the situation regarding the particular rights, and give mark according to the following criteria and on a scale from 5 (best) till 1 (worst):
  • Mark 5: The situation regarding this right is perfect. Everybody enjoys this right. There are no violations.
  • Mark 4: The situation regarding this right is very good in the society. Not many violations.
  • Mark 3: The situation regarding this right is ok, but there are systematic problems that need to be dealt with.
  • Mark 2: The situation regarding this right is bad. Many violations are happening
  • Mark1: The situation is terrible. Only those in power and nobody else enjoys this right.


  1. When the groups have finished their analysis, the participants present their results and explain their marks to the others in the plenary. Comments and questions from the others are desirable. The teacher should also use the opportunity to present facts and figures and share his/her knowledge.


  • The teacher should underline that the group work has revealed that the participants are experts on their own society. The work has also shown that they know a lot about human rights.
  • Even if the group work has shown that there can be major human rights challenges in the country (/all the countries), it is important to underline that if we see the situation in a historical perspective, there has often been positive developments, both worldwide and in our own societies. The situation many years ago, is often worse than today (except in countries where there is war and conflict). This shows us that positive change is possible and that we all should engage in developing our societies.

Tips to the facilitator:

  • The groups´presentations is not a competition. On the contrary, the purpose is to listen to different views and arguments in order to have as much information on the human rights situation as possible.
  • Sometimes the participants in a group will not agree on the marks. This is ok! Then they can present different arguments and views to the others, and everyone will learn more.
  • The groups can be given different articles to work with to avoid repetition. Sometimes it can be effective that two groups get with the same articles to work with. If there are e.g. four groups, two groups can get the same. Then one group can present their marks and arguments, and the others can comment if they have something to add. Often fruitful discussions can be the result.
  • This group work functions very well also in groups with participants from different countries. Then it also can be valuable to have groups working with the same articles. Then the situation for the same human rights can be addressed in different countries for comparison.
  • An option is to dig into each human right´s article deeper by giving students a task to make a research. What does research tell about the real situation with this human right challenge in our country? Can concrete examples be found? What do reports from civil society institutions say? How does the press/the media cover this particular human right?
  • The Universal Declaration for Human Rights is very suitable for this group work. It is however also possible to use the European Convention on Human rights (1951).



[1] More than a third of the judgments have concerned 3 member States: Turkey (3,645), the Russian Federation (2,699) and Italy (2,410).

[2] Factsheet about Bulgaria: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/CP_Bulgaria_ENG.pdf