Stoian v. Romania: the Court’s drift on disability rights intensifies

By Constantin Cojocariu

On 25 June 2019, the Court released an eagerly awaited judgment in the case of Stoian v. Romania, brought by a disabled child and his mother, who complained about the denial of the right to education. The Court, ruling as a Committee, rejected all claims, brutally ending an unprecedented litigation campaign on inclusive education that lasted a decade. While the judgment generated outcry among disability rights activists worldwide, it also displayed warning signs about procedural shortcuts taken by the Court and its approach to vulnerable applicants more widely. The judgment’s bottom line, that the fundamental rights of persons of disabilities are primarily a matter of resources that disqualifies them from protection under the Convention, is relatively unsurprising, though depressing and not befitting of a human rights court. What is more interesting is how the Court reached this verdict, by downgrading the case to the three-judge Committee level, by distorting the facts, by adopting the Government’s views wholesale and by refusing to apply meaningful scrutiny. In that sense, to some extent, what is lacking from the official record is more interesting than what was included. This is why an admittedly partisan account of the judgment such as the present one – I acted as the applicants’ co-counsel – may prove interesting to the readers of the Strasbourg Observers blog. Continue reading

Glaisen v. Switzerland : the Court still gives up on reasonable accommodation

By Morgane Ventura – PhD researcher at the Geneva University (UNIGE)

On 18 July 2019, the European Court of Human Rights published its inadmissibility decision in the case of Glaisen v. Switzerland, regarding the access of a disabled person to a cinema. Glaisen complained that the cinema company denied him the access to watch a movie that was projected in this one and only cinema in Geneva. Relying on its former case law the Court considers that access to a cinema is not a right and should not be imposed on private parties if there is not any domestic law forcing them to. Moreover, the Court relies on the Swiss authorities’ argumentation according to which the facts do not disclose any discrimination. In my opinion, the Court missed an opportunity to recognize a structural discrimination and to consolidate its case law about substantive equality by granting the right to have a reasonable accommodation. I first examine the decision of the Court and then link it to the notion of structural discrimination. I conclude my assessment with the notion of reasonable accommodation and its promises for the European human rights’ protection system, even though the Court misses a lot of opportunities to concretise it. Continue reading

Dupin v. France: the ECtHR going old school in its appraisal of inclusive education?

By Johan Lievens (VU Amsterdam) and Marie Spinoy (Leuven Centre for Public Law, KULeuven)

In Dupin v. France the European Court of Human Rights saw itself confronted with one of the key conflicts in education law: when parents and state officials disagree on which educational trajectory is best for a child with a disability, who gets the final say? This case concerned a mother fighting the decision of the French authorities to refuse her child, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to a general school (through a form of inclusive education). Instead, the child was referred to an ‘Institut medico-éducatif’, an institution established to provide care and a specialized type of education to children with an intellectual impairment. Seemingly going back on its prior case law, the Court did not consider the right to education of the child to be violated. Continue reading

Loneliness that is good for you: the European Court addresses the right to marry of people with disabilities

By Constantin Cojocariu, human rights lawyer specialised in disability and transgender rights

On 25 October 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its first substantive ruling under Article 12 regarding people placed under guardianship.[i] Delecolle v. France involved an elderly man who was not allowed to marry a long-time friend under the pretext that he was not able to understand the financial implications of that decision. The Court held that the right to marry and found a family under Article 12 benefited only those possessing full legal capacity. It did not engage with the justifications advanced for depriving the applicant of his capacity to marry, focusing instead on the quality of the national procedures. Worryingly, the Court endorsed reasoning that was impregnated with prejudice against and paternalism towards the elderly and the disabled. The Court has lately proven increasingly willing to consider the implications of the widely ratified Convention on Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for its jurisprudence. Several judgments have broken new ground, such as Çam v. Turkey on inclusive education and Guberina v. Croatia on accessibility and reasonable accommodation. With the Delecolle judgment, the Court reverts to an uncertain trajectory in the area of disability, characterised by a palpable inability to develop, and apply consistently, a coherent set of principles on difficult subjects such as legal capacity, accessibility, independent living or detention. Continue reading

Disability and University (pragmatic) Activism: the pros and cons of Enver Şahin v Turkey

By Joseph Damamme, PhD candidate at the Centre of European Law of the Université libre de Bruxelles, member of the Equality Law Clinic & Advisor to Counsel (Constantin Cojocariu) in the case of Gherghina v Romania.

Economic and time constraints are often used as a justification for refusing or delaying necessary changes to the environment that would allow persons with disabilities to be more included in society. A balancing exercise between these constraints and the rights of these individuals was the subject of the ECtHR Chamber judgment Enver Şahin v Turkey (only available in French for now). Therein, the Court clarified somehow the content and contours of the State’s (and the University’s) responsibility, when faced with accessibility requests by their students with disabilities. The positive outcome of the Court’s ruling contrasts with some missed opportunities and unanswered questions that are addressed by Judge Lemmens in his valuable dissenting opinion. Continue reading

A.M.V. v. Finland: Independent Living, a Bridge Too Far for the European Court of Human Rights

By Constantin Cojocariu, human rights lawyer specialised in disability and transgender rights

The recently adopted judgment in the case A.-M.V. v. Finland on the right of an intellectually disabled man to decide where and with whom to live makes for a fascinating, although frustrating reading. This is a timely reminder of the considerable challenges remaining on the journey towards the goal of independent living, celebrated on the 5th of May across Europe. Continue reading

V.M. and others v. Belgium: The tragic story of yet another “disappeared case”

Guest post by Moritz Baumgärtel, lecturer and researcher at the Department of European and International Public Law at Tilburg University. Moritz recently defended his PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles. His project was a part of the IAP research network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective”.

On 17 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided to strike off its list of cases the application in V.M. and others v. Belgium. The case concerned the reception conditions and the exposure to a risk of inhumane and degrading treatment of a Roma family in the context of a “Dublin transfer” from Belgium to France. The matter was referred to the Grand Chamber following a judgment of the Second Section on 7 July 2015, which had found violations of articles 3 and 13 of the ECHR. In striking out the application because the lawyer failed to maintain contact with the clients, the Grand Chamber added yet another chapter to the already lengthy volume on “disappeared cases”. The Court’s decision raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of its remedies and the problems it poses for strategically minded lawyers in the migration domain.

Continue reading

Guberina and Gherghina: the two sides of the Court’s disability jurisprudence

This guest post was written by Constantin Cojocariu, human rights lawyer specialised in disability and transgender rights, who acted as the applicants’ representative in both cases reviewed in this article.

The Court’s disability jurisprudence generally concerns the management of compulsion in institutional settings, including with respect to detention/institutionalisation, forced medical treatment or restraint or incapacitation. On the other hand, the gamut of issues facing people with disabilities living in the community is comparatively underrepresented. In that sense, several judgments delivered in 2016 (one of which – Çam v Turkey, has been recently reviewed on this blog) provide an interesting addition to the Court’s disability canon. This post reviews two of those judgments, with contrasting outcomes – Guberina v Croatia, concerning the discriminatory application of taxation rules to a disabled child and his family in Croatia, and Radi and Gherghina v. Romania, concerning the conditions of employment of personal assistants in Romania.

Continue reading

Silence as Acquiescence: On the Need to Address Disability Stereotyping in Kocherov and Sergeyeva v. Russia

By Corina Heri, PhD candidate at the University of Zürich / Visiting Scholar at Ghent University

In Kocherov and Sergeyeva v. Russia, a Chamber judgment issued on 29 March 2016, the ECtHR held that the restriction of a mentally disabled father’s parental authority had violated his rights under Article 8 ECHR (the right to respect for private and family life). In the past, the ECtHR has found violations of Article 8 ECHR where the domestic authorities failed to provide sufficient reasons for measures withdrawing parental care or contact rights from disabled parents (compare Olsson v. Sweden (No. 1), Kutzner v. Germany, and Saviny v. Ukraine). One of the most interesting aspects of the Kocherov and Sergeyeva case, however, concerns another provision, namely the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 ECHR. The complaint made in this regard concerned the fact that Mr. Kocherov was considered an unfit parent based on stereotyped assumptions about parents with mental disabilities, contrary to the evidence about his actual ability to care for a child. The fact that the majority did not find it necessary to examine this complaint represents a missed opportunity to confront stereotyping head-on.

Continue reading

Disability discrimination because of denial of “reasonable accommodations”: a very positive connection between the ECHR and the UNCRPD in Çam v. Turkey

This guest post was written by Joseph Damamme, PhD student at the Centre of European Law of the Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) and member of the Equality Law Clinic.

The Strasbourg Court recently delivered a significant judgment on the inclusion of students with disabilities in the field of (non-compulsory) education. Çam v. Turkey (ruling only in French for the time being) concerns a person who was refused enrolment at the Music Academy because of her blindness.

In this judgment, the ECtHR examines the issue of discrimination (art. 14 ECHR) under several dimensions. Indeed, in addition to the prohibition of discrimination, attention is focused on the importance of positive steps to ensure that students with disabilities are provided education on a non-discriminatory basis. In this vein, the ECtHR states that the denial of reasonable accommodations is a form of discrimination under article 14 ECHR. As far as we can ascertain, this is a statement that had never been expressed so clearly by the Strasbourg Court.

Continue reading

Silencing the Voices of People with Disabilities: Recent Developments before the European Court of Human Rights

This guest post was written by Constantin Cojocariu, human rights lawyer[1]

Recently, I got involved in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights – N. v. Romania – on behalf of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, who claimed that his detention for 14 years in high security psychiatric hospitals has been unlawful. I was surprised to notice that although he claimed breaches of Articles 5§1 and 6, the case had only been communicated under Article 8, and that the Court effectively requested the Romanian Government to place him under guardianship so that he may be represented in proceedings before it. Far from being exceptional, this case is part of a broader trend in disability cases, whereby the Court increasingly focuses on issues of process instead of offering substantive guidance, with the result that entrenched abuse and discrimination remain unchallenged. In this post, I examine critically several cases against Romania, mostly decided already, but also pending, including N. v. Romania, that in my view depart from well-established case law and which establish differential standards of scrutiny for persons with disabilities. Continue reading

Ivinović v. Croatia: legal capacity and the (missing) call for supportive decision-making

Valeska David is a PhD Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and a member of the Research Network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective.”

We have all heard about the so-called paradigm shift brought about by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The social model of disability and the duty of reasonable accommodation are some of the “conceptual innovations” reshaping human rights law. However, we know much less about what that means in practice. One field in which this question has utmost importance is that of legal capacity of persons with disabilities, particularly of those with intellectual, psychosocial and sensory impairments. The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Ivinović v. Croatia, like other cases decided against the same state, deals with that issue: the legal capacity of persons with disability. The decision is part of a growing corpus of disability case law and is welcome for a number of reasons – which I briefly sketch here. Yet, in this post, I suggest looking at this judgment as somewhat of a missed opportunity. Continue reading

HIV-based employment discrimination: the ECtHR takes a strong stance in I.B. v. Greece

The Strasbourg Court has recently delivered its first judgment on the topic of HIV-based employment discrimination. I.B. v. Greece (judgment in French!) concerns a man who is HIV-positive and who was fired from his job, because his employer wished to keep the company running smoothly. What happened was that a group of I.B.’s co-workers, finding out about his HIV diagnosis, had called for his dismissal because they were afraid of contagion.

Although much of the legal reasoning in this judgment is familiar (notably from the landmark case of Kiyutin v. Russia), this ruling is notable for the strong message the Court sends about the harms of HIV-based stigma and discrimination. In this post I will highlight what are to my mind the most noteworthy aspects of this judgment, namely that the Court applies a social model of disability and that it uses the concept of vulnerable groups to narrow the margin of appreciation. The drawback of this judgment, I conclude, is that it does not give much support to HIV-positive people requiring some form of accomodation from their employer. Continue reading

Forthcoming Publication on Vulnerable Groups in the Court’s Case Law

This post was written by Alexandra Timmer and Lourdes Peroni

Alexandra and I are happy to announce the forthcoming publication of our joint Article “Vulnerable Groups: The Promise of an Emerging Concept in European Human Rights Convention Law.” The piece will be published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law – I•CON.

In this Article, we critically examine the development and consequences of the concept of “vulnerable groups” in the Strasbourg case law. Our analysis includes a number of high-profile cases, from M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, to V.C. v. Slovakia, Alajos Kiss v. Hungary, Kiyutin v. Russia and the recent case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary.

The Article was an excellent opportunity to reflect and work together on issues of common interest, such as non-discrimination, equality and vulnerability.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of “vulnerable groups” is gaining momentum in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has used it in cases concerning Roma, people with mental disabilities, people living with HIV and asylum seekers. Yet the appearance of the vulnerable group concept in the Court’s legal reasoning has so far escaped scholarly attention. Drawing on theoretical debates on vulnerability and equality as well as on the Court’s case law, this Article offers a descriptive and normative assessment of the concept. Reasoning in terms of vulnerable groups opens a number of possibilities, most notably, the opportunity to move closer to a more robust idea of equality. However, the concept also has some inherent difficulties. This Article argues for a reflective use of the concept and points out ways in which the Court can avoid its pitfalls.

Non-nationals, living conditions and disability: Situating S.H.H. v. United Kingdom within Strasbourg’s Article 3 case-law

This guest post was written by Elaine Webster. Elaine holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is currently a lecturer and director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde. 

In S.H.H. v. United Kingdom a chamber of the ECtHR, by four votes to three, found that a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment had not been established and found no potential violation of Article 3 ECHR. The applicant in this case sought and was refused asylum in the United Kingdom. It was argued that, as a result of his severe physical disabilities, return to his home country of Afghanistan would give rise to a violation of Article 3. The core question in this case was which line of the Court’s authorities was most appropriately aligned with the facts in S.H.H.  Continue reading

Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary: a strong new Roma school segregation case

The Strasbourg Court has once more delivered a judgment in a Roma school segregation case. The applicants in Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary are two young Roma men, who were diagnosed as having mild mental disabilities when they were children. As a result of these diagnoses, they were placed in a remedial school. Their education there was poor: the curriculum was underdeveloped, their schooling did not give them access to the type of job they wanted, and they ended up de facto segregated from the wider population. The applicants claim that their education in the remedial school constituted ethnic discrimination in their enjoyment of their right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1 in conjunction with Article 14 ECHR). The Strasbourg Court rules that they’re right: it finds a violation of the Convention on the ground of indirect ethnic discrimination.

Much of the reasoning in this case is familiar from other Roma school segregation cases, such as, notably, D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic (2007) and Oršuš and Others v. Croatia (2010). In this post, I will discuss the judgment and try to highlight what’s new in the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

Remembering the private and family lives of mentally disabled persons

In the case of Stanev v. Bulgaria the Grand Chamber gives hope for future developments in the Court’s approach towards the protection of private and family lives of mentally disabled people (Lycette Nelson from the Mental Disability Advocacy Center has also blogged about this case, read it here). Even though the majority did not find it necessary to examine Mr. Stanev’s complaint under Article 8, the dissenting opinions of four judges show that there are voices within the Court that consider that the institutionalization of mentally disabled persons has more aspects the Convention should protect. Continue reading

Stanev v. Bulgaria: The Grand Chamber’s Cautionary Approach to Expanding Protection of the Rights of Persons with Psycho-social Disabilities

This post is written by Lycette Nelson, Litigation Director, Mental Disability Advocacy Center*

The Grand Chamber’s recent judgment in Stanev v. Bulgaria has enormous significance for the rights of thousands of persons with psycho-social disabilities and intellectual disabilities throughout Europe. In finding violations of Articles 3, 5§1, 5§4, 5§5, 6§1, and 13, the Grand Chamber opened the possibility for persons in social care institutions to challenge both their deprivation of liberty and the inhuman and degrading conditions in institutions, and reaffirmed its jurisprudence regarding the right of persons whose legal capacity has been restricted to have access to a court to challenge their loss of rights.  However, the  Court’s narrowing of its holdings and failure to examine the applicant’s claim under Article 8 limit the scope of the judgment. The D.D. v. Lithuania judgment, coming immediately upon the heels of Stanev, brings the limitations of Stanev into focus. Read together, the two cases raise questions about the Court’s willingness to broaden its approach to protection of the rights of persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities and to go beyond acknowledging the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as the international standard for the rights of persons with disabilities to engage substantively with the paradigm shift the CRPD embodies.

Continue reading

Strasbourg Court condemns Belgian internment policy

On 6 December 2011, the European Court of Human Rights found the Belgian internment policy to be in breach of the ECHR. The case of De Donder and De Clippel v. Belgium concerned Tom De Clippel, a mentally ill person who had committed suicide while interned in an ordinary prison. Under Belgian law, internment (“internering” / “internement”) is a “safety measure” to protect society against a dangerous mentally ill individual who was committed a serious offence, but who is not considered to be criminally liable due to his or her mental illness.

According to the Court, the authorities should have been aware that there was a real risk that Tom De Clippel, as a paranoid schizophrenic, might attempt to commit suicide while detained in an ordinary prison environment. The Court found a substantive violation of Art. 2 ECHR (the right to life) on the ground that Tom De Clippel should never have been held in the ordinary section of a prison. Continue reading

Kiyutin v. Russia: landmark case concerning the human rights of people living with HIV

Recently, the Court came down with a judgment that strongly condemns the stigmatization of people living with HIV. Kiyutin v. Russia is, as far as I was able to ascertain, the first case in which the Court rules on the merits of a claim of discrimination on the ground of a person’s HIV-positive status. Straight away, the Court has chosen to become a leader in the battle against stigma and discrimination of people with HIV. Continue reading

The Court offers protection to those who have a disability and are in detention (Jasinskis v. Latvia & Raffray Taddei v. France)

In the most recent round of judgments, squeezed in just before the festive season, are two interesting cases concerning the detention of persons with a disability: Jasinskis v. Latvia and Raffray Taddei v. France. These two cases are exemplary of many others, in which people with a disability are held in detention in appalling conditions. However, the cases get a bitter twist because the national authorities try to lay the blame on the detainees themselves. The Strasbourg Court does a good job protecting the human rights of the applicants.

What happened
The facts that constitute these cases are widely different. The first case concerns Valdis Jasinskis, who was deaf and mute since birth. Continue reading

A Strasbourg victory for the mentally disabled

The Strasbourg Court (Second Section) came out with a landmark judgment yesterday; Kiss v. Hungary. The applicant, Mr. Kiss, suffers from manic depression. Due to this condition he was placed under partial guardianship in 2005. In 2006, with the elections coming up, he realized that the Hungarian law forbade him to vote, as all persons put under (partial or complete) guardianship were disenfranchised. The Court holds that article 3 of Protocol 1 (right to free elections) is violated.

Kiss v. Hungary is a great case for a few reasons. To begin, this is the first time the Court refers to the recent United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“the Disability Convention”). Thus the door is opened for further and more intensive use of this recent Convention. This will undoubtedly gladden all the proponents of a disability-sensitive case law.

But the part the Court’s reasoning that excites me the most is where they explicitly condemn the stereotyping indulged in by the Hungarian legislators. To my knowledge – and I readily admit I haven’t done thorough research on this topic yet – this is the first case where the Court explicitly employs an anti-stereotyping approach in a disability-context. Even though scholars, like Michael Perlin, have maintained for years that stereotypes pollute all aspects of disability law. Continue reading