European Court of Human Rights Hands Down Decision for Bulgarian Domestic Violence Case
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 3:30 PM

The case, Bevacqua and S. v. Bulgaria was brought forward on 23 November 2000 by two Bulgarian nationals, a mother and her son. The mother, who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, was seeking a divorce and custody of their child. She alleged that Bulgaria failed in its obligations under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. She further declared that the court failed to assist her as a victim of domestic violence in her prosecution of her abuser, and that it failed to find within a reasonable amount of time on the dispute concerning the custody of the child.

Under Bulgarian law, when domestic abuse consists of a light bodily injury, the obligation is on the private individual to prosecute the offender. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that it was unfair to expect a victim to prosecute and investigate in the situation of domestic violence, and that Bulgaria violated its obligations under Article 8 of the Convention to provide adequate response from authorities. However, the European Court also decided that it may be possible for States to require self-prosecution and fulfill Article 8, but that it was not reasonable under these specific circumstances.

On the issue of prompt response on child custody during the interim of the divorce proceedings, the ECHR also found Bulgaria in violation of Article 8. They held that it should have been obvious that prompt measures were needed, in particular, in the child's interest. It was found that this error, in combination with the problems of ineffective assistance from the court and police officers to provide protection from domestic abuse, resulted in the violation of Article 8 obligations. The European Court awarded the applicants 4,000 Euros for damages and 3,000 Euros to cover costs.

The full legal repercussions of the case are still to be felt, but the case is significant because it is the first domestic violence case to be decided in the European Court of Human Rights.  Advocates in Bulgaria feel that while the decision could have been stronger in condemning violence and the lack of action on the part of the government, it opened doors to future cases.


Compiled from: Bevacqua and S. v. Bulgaria, European Court of Human Rights, 12 June 2008.

Case Commentary by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation:


This is the first judgment of the European Court of Human Rights against Bulgaria on Article 8 of the ECHR with clear reference to domestic violence against women as a human rights violation.   Although not so strong as a judgment in the field, we consider this a breakthrough, which will help other women to make stronger arguments in front of the Court in Strasbourg. The strong link made between violence against women and violence against children will be also a very useful tool to be used before national courts.


We would like to congratulate the woman who decided to bring this case in 2000 – 2001.  At that time, she was the first client of the Legal aid program of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation /BGRF/. She had the courage to stand for her and her child’s rights during all these years and to wait for justice for him and for herself.


We would like to thank all those who supported us in this effort- Velina Todorova but also Andrea Coomber from Interights.


Detailed comments of the judgment are in preparation and will be posted soon.


Genoveva Tisheva and Daniela Gorbounova

The Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation