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.

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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.

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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.

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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.