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Bulgaria: Court Rules Lukanov's Human Rights Were Violated

Prague, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - In a major ruling announced this morning, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Court has decided in favor of a claim submitted by Andrei Lukanov, the former Bulgarian Communist Prime Minister who was shot dead in front of his home five months ago.

The Court ruled that Lukanov's human rights had been violated in 1992, when he was arrested on charges of misappropriation of funds and detained by Bulgaria's then anti-Communist Government until the end of the year. After Bulgarian authorities turned down his repeated appeals to be freed, Lukanov filed his claim in September 1992, the same month that Bulgaria ratified the Council of Europe's European Human-Rights Convention and accepted the Court's compulsory jurisdiction. This occurred soon after Bulgaria was admitted as a Council member state in June 1992.

Today's decision by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights was its first in a case involving a claim from of any of the 16 Central and East European states that have become Council of Europe members since 1990. All Council members must sign the European Human-Rights Convention, which allows an individual citizen to go over the head of his government and seek a ruling from the Court. The member state concerned must abide by the Court's decision or face eventual sanctions from the Council of Europe.

The Court ordered the Bulgarian Government to pay Lukanov's widow and two children more than $7,000 (40,000 French francs) as compensation for any stress and anguish they might have incurred as a result of the violation of Lukanov's human rights. It also ordered the Sofia Government to reimburse the Lukanov family for the close to $15,000 ($13,456 plus 7,067 francs) they incurred in legal expenses to present their case to the Court. Most of those expenses went to paying fees and travel costs for the Lukanov family's Bulgarian lawyer, Ms. Ina Loultcheva, who represented them before the Court..

In October of last year, after Lukanov's murder -- which is still under investigation in Bulgaria -- his immediate family formally requested the Human Rights Court to continue its proceedings on the case. The Court agreed to do so. In the decision announced today, the Court said that "it was not disputed (by the Bulgarian Government) that, following the applicant's death, his widow and two children were entitled to pursue the (claim) on his behalf and the Court saw no reason to hold otherwise."

The Court also noted the Bulgarian Government's previous acceptance of a finding by its Commission that Lukanov's human rights had been violated. The Court's Commission decides whether claims it receives are admissible to the Court.

The Court's decision was taken by judges from nine different countries that are Council of Europe members, including a Bulgarian judge, Dimitar Gotchev. The other nations represented were Norway -- whose judge, Rolv Ryssdal, presided over the proceedings -- Austria, Sweden, Britain, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia and Andorra.

Judge Ryssdal read the nine jurists' unanimous judgment out in open court this morning in Strasbourg. Their decision was based on a finding that Lukanov's arrest and detention were in violation of Article 5.1 of the Human-Rights Convention. The clause states that "everyone has the right to liberty and security of person" except in certain special circumstances.

Those circumstances include what the Convention calls "the lawful arrest or detention of a person...on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offense." But the Court decided that, in its words, it "had not been provided with any fact or information capable of showing that (Lukanov was in 1992) reasonably suspected" of a crime.

The specific crime Lukanov was accused of in 1992 was that, by taking part as Deputy Prime Minister during the late 1980s in Bulgarian Government decisions to grant assistance and loans to several developing nations, he had been involved in misappropriation of public funds. The developing nations concerned ranged from Cuba to Afghanistan. The Human-Rights Court dismissed that charge today because, it said, nothing in the Bulgarian Criminal Code of the time "specified or even implied that anyone could incur criminal liability by taking part in collective decisions of this nature."

Lukanov was also accused in 1992 of using the funds said to have been appropriated to Third World nations to gain what the Court called "an advantage" for himself or others. Critics of Lukanov have alleged that the funds were actually embezzled and used as start-up capital for Bulgarian-based international criminal groups.

But in its decision the Human-Rights Court recalled that early last year its Commission had found "to be unsubstantiated" the Government's argument that there had been what it called certain "deals" made by Lukanov. It went on to point out that the Government had not contended either to the Commission or the Court "that the funds had not been received by the (developing) states concerned."

For these and other reasons, the court stated today, it decided that Lukanov's arrest and detention had constituted a clear violation of Article 5.1 of the Human-Rights Convention.

In November 1989, after the ouster of Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, Lukanov served as prime minister for six months. When he was killed last October, Lukanov was serving as a Socialist (former Communist) member of parliament. Colleagues in the divided Socialist Party have charged that Lukanov was about to expose high-level government corruption. Critics say Mafia elements were probably responsible for his death.