European Court reaffirms NGOs standing to secure justice for victims of state abuse

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Romania for failing to effectively investigate the death of a man with mental health issues who died in a prison hospital due to the alleged negligence of medical staff. Notably, the Court followed up on its recent judgment in Câmpeanu v. Romania where it recognised the importance of challenging state immunity in those cases where people die and have no relatives to seek justice.

European Court of Human Rights.

Last July, MDAC welcomed the Court's landmark judgment in the case of Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania. In that case the Court opened its doors to hear a claim brought by an NGO on behalf of a young man who had been abandoned and died in a Romanian psychiatric hospital due to abuse and neglect. Valentin Câmpeanu died in appalling conditions, barely clothed, and was denied access to treatment for HIV. He died without any next-of-kin who could initiate an investigate his death. Despite the vigorous objections of the Romanian Government, the Court decided that NGOs can in such cases demand that States be held accountable for human rights violations. 

Yesterday, on the 24th of March, the case of another man with mental health issues who died in Romanian state detention, Ionel Garcea, was dealt with by the Court. Ionel Garcea died in July 2007 at Rahova prison hospital in Bucharest. He complained several times about being subjected to psychical abuse at the hands of prison guards, about the conditions of detention and the lack of adequate medical care. His allegations were constantly rejected by the Romanian authorities. In 2007, after inserting a nail into his forehead, Mr. Garcea underwent surgery. He died one month later in the prison hospital. The official investigations related to the circumstances of his death are still ongoing. 

The Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania - Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) was contacted by Mr. Garcea while he was still alive and the association supported him in complaining against the abuses. They continued a quest for justice after his death, and when national authorities failed to admit responsibility, the association turned to the Strasbourg Court. The Romanian Government immediately contested APADOR-CH’s standing. In its judgment, the Court took into consideration that Mr. Garcea had died while he was in State custody, left no known relatives and that the allegations regarding violations of Convention rights were serious (para. 43). Moreover, APADOR-CH had assisted him on several occasions to bring his complaints before the authorities, which were all reasons for the Court to grant the NGO standing. The Court relied on its ruling in Câmpeanu, notwithstanding that Mr. Garcea, during his life, was able to and indeed lodged complaints seeking redress for the human rights violations he suffered.

The Court also found that Romania violated the procedural limb of Article 2 of the Convention, which sets out the obligation to conduct proper and effective investigations into deaths resulting from the actions or neglience of States.

MDAC welcomes the decision of the Court to tackle State impunity for human rights violations. We call on the Romanian Government to take effective measures to prevent violence and abuse against people with mental disabilities in all places where they are in deprived of their liberty, whether in prisons or institutional settings. The judgment is a further warning that abuse and neglect cannot go unpunished. States now have to ensure that those responsible for serious human rights violations are held accountable.

The full judgment can be found here.

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