Human Rights Court awards damages to man held in inhuman conditions" of psych institution

February 3, 2012

The European Court of Human Rights said on January 17 2012 that it was ordering Bulgaria to pay 15,000 Euro ($19,700) in damages to a man forced to live for years in inhuman conditions in a psychiatric institution.

The court found that there had been violations of six articles of the convention on human rights:

1. The man had been illegally detained in the institution;

2. It had been made impossible for him to challenge the legality of his detention in court;

3. It had been made impossible for him to apply for compensation for his illegal detention,

4. The degrading treatment represented by the conditions in which he had to live;

5. The impossibility for him to apply for compensation regarding his degrading living conditions;

6. Violation of his right to a fair hearing in that he was denied access to a court to seek restoration of his legal capacity.

The applicant, Rusi Kosev Stanev, was born in 1956 and lives in Pastra in the municipality of Rila, south-western Bulgaria.

In 2000 and 2001 the Bulgarian courts found Stanev to be partially incapacitated, on the grounds that he had been suffering from schizophrenia since 1975 and was unable to manage his own affairs adequately or realise the consequences of his actions.

In 2002 he was placed under the partial guardianship of a council officer as his family did not wish to take on guardianship responsibilities for him.

Without consulting or informing Stanev, on December 10 2002 his guardian had him placed in the Pastra social care home for men with psychiatric disorders, in a remote mountain location near the village of Pastra. He has lived there ever since.

The director of the home subsequently became his guardian. Stanev was only allowed to leave the institution with the director’s permission.

On one occasion, when he did not return from a period of organised leave, the director contacted the police, who located him. He was then returned by staff members.

Conditions in the institution, built in the 1920s, were considered to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment by Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its official visits in 2003 and 2004.

The CPT noted that the buildings were dilapidated, there was no running water in the buildings and the toilets were decrepit and in an execrable state in the yard.

The available heating was inadequate, as was the residents’ diet, which contained no milk or eggs and rarely fruit and vegetables.

No therapeutic activities were provided and residents led passive, monotonous lives.

In addition, the home did not return clothes to the same people after they were washed. Improvements to the home were not carried out until 2009.

Stanev tried to have his legal capacity restored in November 2004.

In 2005 prosecutors refused to bring a case, finding that he could not cope alone and that the institution was the most suitable place for him, following a medical report of June 15 2005 which stated that he showed signs of having schizophrenia.

Stanev tried unsuccessfully to have his partial guardianship over-turned by asking the mayor of Rila to bring a court case. His application for judicial review of the mayor’s refusal was rejected on the ground that an application could be made by his guardian.

Stanev has made several oral requrests to his guardian to apply for release which have all been refused.

On August 31 2006 a private psychiatric report found that Stanev had been incorrectly diagnosed as schizophrenic on June 15 2005 but that he was prone to alcohol abuse, the symptoms of which could be confused with schizophrenia.

It was also found that his mental health had improved and was not at risk of deteriorating and that the home’s director thought he was capable of being reintegrated into society. On the other hand, his health was being damaged by his stay in the home, where he risked becoming institutionalised.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on September 8 2006.

A Chamber hearing on the admissibility and merits of the case was held in public, on November 10 2009, and it was declared admissible on June 29 2010.

On September 14 2010 the Chamber dealing with the case relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A Grand Chamber hearing was held in public on February 9 2011.

Source: "European court orders Bulgaria to pay damages to man held in 'inhuman conditions' in psychiatric home," The Sofia Echo, January 17, 2012.


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