Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania¸ Application no. 47848/08
In its decision on a complaint filed before it, the European Court of Human Rights considers the rights to life and health of individuals with mental disabilities, as well as their access to justice. The Court holds Romania accountable for multiple violations of the European Convention of Human Rights.
On 17th July, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held the Romanian government accountable for violating the human rights of Valentin Câmpeanu, a youth with severe mental disabilities and HIV positive, who died in 2004. Abandoned at birth, he lived in public institutions all his life. When he turned eighteen, he was shifted to a social care home for adults, and afterwards, to a mental hospital. Here, left in isolation, and in the cold, without necessary health care and treatment, and deprived also of food and proper clothing, he died within seven days.
The Romanian NGO, Centre for Legal Resources (CLR) submitted a complaint on behalf of Mr. Câmpeanu before the ECHR. On the issue of standing, the Court found that the NGO would be permitted to represent Mr. Câmpeanu, even though the organisation was neither victim of the alleged violations, or next-of-kin to the deceased, since otherwise Romania would simply evade scrutiny. The ECHR held that State had failed to meet Mr. Câmpeanu’s most basic medical needs resulting in his death. In particular, Mr. Câmpeanu had been placed in medical institutions not equipped to provide adequate care for his health conditions, and the authorities had neglected to ensure the implementation of his HIV treatment course with antiretroviral medication. Moreover, the authorities, aware of the lack of resources and appalling conditions at the psychiatric hospital where he had been placed, had unreasonably put his life in danger. Thus the State had clearly breached his right to life under the substantive requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Also, Romania had violated the procedural requirements of Article 2 by failing to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances of his death. The Court also found a breach of Article 13 as the State had failed to provide an appropriate mechanism for redress to people with mental disabilities facing violations of their right to life.
Concluding that the human rights violations in this case is reflective of a more systemic problem, the Court recommended Romania to take the necessary general measures to ensure that persons with mental disabilities in a comparable situation were provided with independent representation enabling them to have complaints relating to their health and treatment examined before court or other independent body.
Implementation of the decision is currently in progress. There have been no meaningful changes in terms of policy or practice as of yet. Similar scandals erupt regularly in the media. It is to be noted that this case is subject to the enhanced supervision procedure before the Committee of Ministers which supervises the execution of judgments of the ECHR. In respect to this procedure, the Romanian government submitted an action plan in February 2015 and has undertaken to provide further information shortly. (Interview over email with Constantin Cojocariu, international human rights lawyer, and advisor to counsel in the Câmpeanu case, September 21, 2015)
The Center for Legal Resources, represented Câmpeanu, and Interights advised the Center for Legal Resources. There were third party interventions by the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch and the Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives. There was also a third party intervention by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner.
This case is a groundbreaking disability rights case concerning both access to justice for individuals with disabilities and also, their ill-treatment in long-term stay institutions. The decision shines a light on the plight of people with disabilities who face institutional abuse and are particularly vulnerable since due to their disability they are often unable to complain or seek judicial remedies to ameliorate their situation.
The decision will impact legal systems across Europe as the ECHR has held that NGOs can represent people with disabilities who died due to violations of their rights, when there was no one else to seek justice on their behalf. One interpretation is that the judgment more broadly refers to standing to act on behalf of people who died in circumstances engaging Art 2 (right to life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. (Interview over email with Constantin Cojocariu, international human rights lawyer, and advisor to counsel in the Câmpeanu case, September 21, 2015) It has been said that “the ECHR decision sets a precedent that will help tens of thousands of people in similar situations to Valentin Câmpeanu across Europe.” Already the Câmpeanu judgment has demonstrated its impact on ECHR jurisprudence: for example, in Garcea v Romania (2015), the Court accepted that an NGO has standing to represent a man who died in a regular prison, while the Câmpeanu holding that people with disabilities should benefit from independent representation is used to good effect in Ivanovic v Croatia (2014). In addition, a number of similar cases are pending before the ECHR which could further clarify the notion of de facto representation first discussed in Câmpeanu. (For example, Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Miorița Malacu and others against Romania, application lodged 2009, and Bulgaria Helsinki Committee against Bulgaria, application lodged 2012.) (Interview over email with Constantin Cojocariu, international human rights lawyer, and advisor to counsel in the Câmpeanu case, September 21, 2015)
Finally a number of international and national NGOs came together to work on this case and to promote the rights of people with disabilities. This reveals the multifaceted and vital role that can be played by NGOs in socio-economic rights litigation.
(Updated September 2015)