Victims of ‘vulnerability’: Balancing protection, privacy and participation of child victims in X and Others v. Bulgaria

By Prof. Dr. Ton Liefaard[*], Jessica Valentine (LL.M)[†] and Lisanne van Dijck[‡]

‘This is a sad case’ begins the joint partly concurring and partly dissenting opinion of Judge Spano and others in the case of X and others v. Bulgaria. The judgment, delivered by a Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 2 February 2021, certainly concerns sad circumstances: three children (siblings) were abandoned by their mother and placed in an orphanage in Bulgaria where they were allegedly victims of sexual abuse before being adopted by an Italian couple. The separate opinion notes the case concerns ‘some of the most vulnerable of applicants that have come before this Court’. The applicants allege that, following their claim that they had been subjected to sexual abuse at the orphanage, the Bulgarian authorities failed in their positive obligation to protect them against that treatment and in their obligation to conduct an effective investigation into those allegations.

In a divided judgment, the Grand Chamber ultimately found that the Bulgarian authorities had breached their procedural obligation under Article 3 of the ECHR, which requires authorities to conduct an effective investigation into arguable claims of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Although the Bulgarian authorities had taken a series of investigative steps, the Grand Chamber ultimately found that these had not met the required level of ‘effectiveness’. One of the reasons for this was a failure to take any steps to involve the victims in the investigation (§208). In its interpretation of Article 3, the Grand Chamber took into account other applicable international instruments and in particular the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the ‘Lanzarote Convention’).

The joint separate opinion by Judge Spano and others suggests that the majority’s desire to respond to the applicants’ ‘sad story’ leads it astray (§2). The decision, according to this opinion, potentially exposes future child victims to excessively intrusive and unreliable investigative measures (ibid). We argue below that the dissenters’ reading risks overlooking the procedural rights of children.

Continue reading

Vulnerability, Rape, and Coercive Obligations: A Discussion of E.B v. Romania

By Corina Heri, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam

Three years ago, on this blog, Lourdes Peroni wrote about the failings of the domestic response to the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl in M.G.C. v. Romania. Today, the ECtHR is continuing to apply ‘coercive obligations’ regarding rape and sexual violence, as crystallized by that judgment. On 19 March 2019, it issued the latest in a line of cases concerning failures to protect victims of sexual violence and to put in place a system that allows for the effective punishment and prosecution of sexual offences. In this specific context, the Court has issued some of its arguably most victim-oriented and context-sensitive jurisprudence to date, relying heavily on the vulnerability of the victims. Continue reading

A, B and C v. Latvia: gender-blindness and trivialisation of indecent acts against adolescent girls

By Yaiza Janssens

Not many ECtHR cases that focus on a possible obligation under Article 8 of the Convention to conduct a criminal investigation and even fewer cases where the facts fall exclusively concern minors. In A, B and C v. Latvia, a Chamber judgment issued on 31 March 2016, the applicants complained that the authorities had failed to investigate their complaints of sexual abuse by their sports coach. The Court found no violation of Article 8. In this post, I will argue that the Court should have concluded that the criminal investigation of the Latvian authorities was not effective.

Continue reading

Clothes on Trial: M.G.C. and the Need to Combat Rape Stereotypes

Those who think stereotypical beliefs about rape are a thing of the past will probably be surprised to read the domestic reasoning in cases that have recently reached Strasbourg. Allusions to women’s “immoral” behavior in I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova and insinuations that women should have resisted “by scratching or biting” in Y. v. Slovenia show that these beliefs continue to pervade domestic justice (see here and here). M.G.C. v. Romania is the latest example of the tenacity of harmful stereotypes in domestic assessments of rape complaints. The domestic courts found that the applicant – eleven years old at the time – had “provoked” the alleged perpetrators to have sex with her largely because she was “scantily dressed.”

Continue reading

The Court’s Approach in Y. v. Slovenia, Annotated

By Corina Heri

This guest post was written by Corina Heri, Ph.D. researcher at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, and visiting researcher at the Human Rights Centre, Ghent University.

On the 28th of May, the Fifth Section of the Strasbourg Court issued its judgment in Y. v. Slovenia. The judgment in the Y. case ties in to some of the criticism recently formulated by Yaiza Janssens on this blog concerning the I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova case. While noting the novelty of the Court’s approach under Article 8 in Y., the present contribution will point out some remaining room for improvement in the Court’s approach to sexual violence-related cases.

Continue reading

I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova: missed opportunity to tackle rape myths

By Yaiza Janssens

In the recent case of I.P. v. the Republic of Moldova, the European Court of Human Rights examined state responsibility to establish an effective legal and judicial framework with regard to rape under Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention. In this post, I show that the Court failed to acknowledge that fundamental values and essential aspects of private life are at stake in a rape case and to tackle domestic authorities’ reliance on rape myths.

Continue reading