Friday, 28 June 2019

Court goes rogue in inclusive education case - initial thoughts on Stoian v. Romania judgment



The Court's judgment in Stoian v. Romania has to stand as a major stain on the record of an organisation, that is anything but unblemished. 
A HUMAN RIGHTS court that distorts and truncates the facts. 
A HUMAN RIGHTS court that reduces a case that resulted from years and years of litigation, that includes mountains of evidence, that attracted multiple interventions from prestigious organisations, concerning an uncharted area of jurisprudence, to a committee case (formed of such luminaries as the judges from ROM, HUN and BiH), to be dismissed definitively with a minimum of fuss.
A HUMAN RIGHTS Court that cherry picks the facts and brushes complexity aside to suit a pre-determined outcome.
A HUMAN RIGHTS Court that refuses to engage with the facts of case, effectively denying people with disabilities protection under the Convention. 
A HUMAN RIGHTS court that dismisses a story that boils down to a woman carrying her disabled child on her back to school for years on end, as responsible state policy.
A HUMAN RIGHTS court that characterises a police operation that involved forcefully removing a mother from school for providing personal assistance to her disabled child and causing her injuries that required 45 days of medical treatment as not in any way "disproportionate."
A HUMAN RIGHTS court that systematically dismisses people with disabilities as a drain on public resources and as essentially disposable.
Is not a court and has nothing to do with human rights. 
I have worked with this court for fifteen years and during this time I have had good moments and bad moments. But nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for this blow, that left me and my clients in tears and gasping for air. 
This is shameful, but it also portents great danger ahead. Our assumptions are collapsing before our eyes, as far as I am concerned I no longer take anything for granted.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Persoanele cu dizabilități la moment de sărbătoare: între un prezent apăsător și un posibil viitor incluziv

 Am scris acest articol pentru publicatia Jurnal Social a Consiliului National al Dizabilitatii din Romania, cu ocazia Zilei europene a vietii independente, celebrate pe 5 mai 2019. 

Ziua europeană a vieții independente, sărbătorită în fiecare an pe 5 mai, oferă persoanelor cu dizabilități un prilej de a revendica o societate mai bună, care le respectă autonomia, care oferă oportunități egale și care le asigură accesul la aceleasi opțiuni și la decizii proprii în viața de zi cu zi. Viața independentă presupune un mediu construit accesibil, accesul la tehnologii asistive, accesul la asistență personală și la servicii de sprijin localizate în comunitate. Această viziune generoasă vine în contrast cu realitatea cotidiană din România, caracterizată de precaritate socio-economică, dependență, segregare, excluziune, prejudecăți și stigmă.

Faptul că persoanele cu dizabilități duc o viață foarte grea este o afirmație banalizată prin repetare. Dincolo de generalități și sloganuri, avem niște oameni mai degrabă invizibili și familiile lor. Multe persoane cu dizabilități, de ordinul sutelor de mii, trăiesc izolate în comunitate. Ele sunt mai sărace decât restul populației și multe nu au un loc de munca. Persoanele cu dizabilități sunte adesea blocate într-o relație de depedență față de Stat (care le acordă unele beneficii modice) și față de familie (ca singură sursă de suport). Lipsa accesibilității mediului construit completează acest peisaj deprimant. Pe de altă parte, avem persoanele cu dizabilități din instituții, de ordinul zecilor de mii. Acolo ajung cei care nu respectă profilul mai sus amintit, de obicei pentru ca au pierdut într-un fel sau altul sprijinul familial sau din cauza unui șoc economic în contextul regimului de austeritate și degradare economică de după căderea comunismului. Instituționalizarea este în vasta majoritate a cazurilor un drum cu sens unic. Deși pretextul instituțiilor este caritabil si asistențial, în fapt ele au menirea de a controla o gamă largă de indivizi cu trăsături indezirabile din diverse motive. Sistemul instituțional reproduce si consolidează stereotipurile negative la adresa persoanelor cu dizabilități, previne crearea unor alternative efective de sprijin în comunitate și este caracterizat de dezechilibre vaste de putere între ‘beneficiari’ și angajații statului, fapt ce crează condiții prielnice pentru săvârșirea și disimularea unor abuzuri grave. 

Noțiuni generoase precum viața independentă, încorporate de altfel în Convenția ONU pentru drepturile persoanelor cu dizabilități, par un alt exemplu de auto-iluzionare si escapism, o beție cu apă rece. Avem doar și noi legile noastre care garantează drepturi fundamentale pentru toți și care interzic abuzurile, dar care co-există cu o viață segregată incepând din copilărie (în școli speciale) și până la moarte (în instituții rezidențiale). Legile noastre par mai mult o perdea de fum, menită să ascundă și să cosmetizeze precaritatea și lipsa de speranță a vieții de zi cu zi. Deși, date fiind aceste condiții vitrege, fatalismul și renunțarea sunt de înțeles, e bine de știut totuși că există destui care nu au depus armele. Văd două posibile strategii pentru ieșirea din pasivitate și dependență: activismul juridic și implicarea politică. 

În ceea ce privește activismul juridic, există unele condiții favorabile. Avem pe de o parte mai-sus menționata Convenție pentru Drepturile Persoanelor cu Dizabilități, adoptată cu participarea persoanelor cu dizabilități și ratificată universal, care articulează aspirația la participare și incluziune pentru toți, o unitate de măsură care ne permite să evaluăm situația actuală si direcția în care ne îndreptam, care conferă putere simbolica și suport moral. Avem mai apoi acces la un sistem de instanțe rezonabil de independente și competente, care trebuie învățate să înțeleagă experiența persoanelor cu dizabilități și să acorde protecție efectivă împotriva discriminării. Problema cu pasivitatea este că transformă predicția privind inutilitatea drepturilor în realitate – dacă nu te lupți pentru drepuri, nimeni nu va veni să ți le ofere pe un platou, sau cel puțin nu în Romania.

În ciuda aparenței unei populații amorfe și supuse, există multe persoane curajoase și cu spirit de sacrificiu care se luptă de ani întregi cu sistemul. Ele trebuie cunoscute mai bine și celebrate pentru munca de pionierat pe care o fac. Mamele (singure) de copii cu dizabilități, care fac totul de la cărat copilul în cârcă la școală, supravegheat în timpul orelor, agonisit traiul de zi cu zi, făcut munca de predare acasă, mers în instanțe judecătorești pentru lupte de ani întregi cu autorităţile statului. Bărbatul în scaun rulant care dorește să studieze, dar care ajunge până la CEDO pentru a se plânge de lipsa de accesibilitate a universităților. Bărbatul cu schizofrenie închis pe nedrept timp de 17 ani într-un spital de psihiatrie, care merge în instanță an de an pentru a-și revendica drepturile, care ajunge până la CEDO și este pus în libertate. Bărbatul în scaun rulant dat afară de la servici atunci când biroul său este mutat la etajul unei clădiri inaccesibile, și care constată ca instanțele sunt de asemenea inaccesibile. Copilul cu dizabilități de clasa a V-a hărțuit și insultat de profesori și alți copii timp de luni întregi, ai cărui parinți merg în instanță și obțin condamnarea vinovaților. 

Implicarea politică, temă predilectă a organizațiilor europene din zona dizabilității în acest an electoral, poate de asemenea reprezenta o soluție. Conform statisticilor oficiale, avem aproximativ opt sute de mii de persoane cu dizabilități. Dacă includem și rudele apropiate, ajungem la cifra respectabilă de peste un milion de votanți direct interesați de politicile statului în domeniul dizabilității. Trebuie însă să coborâm cu picioarele pe pământ. Obstacolele structurale menționate mai sus limitează în egală măsură participarea in viața publică. Impedimente de ordin practic sau juridic precum lipsa accesibilității, lipsa informației în format accesibil, procedura punerii sub interdicție sau izolarea în instituții, împiedică adesea exercitarea dreptului la vot. În plus, persoanele cu dizabilitati, lipsite de informație și cu un nivel mediu de educație mai scăzut, sunt susceptibile cântecelor de sirenă populiste din partea unor partide care pledează de fapt pentru politici care le defavorizează, cum ar fi cele de reducere a statului.  Și aici avem de a face cu un cerc vicios, căci lipsa de participare transmite ideea politicienilor că interesele persoanelor cu dizabilități nu sunt demne de luat în considerare, sau că acestea sunt incapabile de a-și exercita drepturile cetățenești. Este important ca persoanele cu dizabilități să fie mai exigente cu politicienii, prioritizând drepturile proprii atunci cand evaluează ofertele electorale. 

Și în această privință există motive de optimism, în ultimul timp făcându-și apariția pe scena politică unele inițiative care prioritizează explicit drepturile persoanelor cu dizabilități. Demos este un partid social democrat nou înființat, care își asumămisiunea politicăde a lupta împotriva inegalităților sociale și pentru respectarea drepturilor fundamentale pentru toți. Dizabilitatea este inclusă transversal în toate documentele, politicile și luările de poziție ale partidului, dublat de o înțelegere nuanțată a resorturilor social-economice care împing persoanele cu dizabilități spre marginea societății. Demos își propune sărecruteze în mod activ persoane din categorii vulnerabile si dezavantajate în structurile sale, deja numărând activiști cu dizabilitățidiverse din comunitate, dar și din instituții, printre membri si simpatizanți. În plus, campania candidatei independente la alegerile pentru Parlamentul European, Mădălina Turza, care a reușit performanța remarcabilă de a aduna zeci de mii de semnături în sprijinul unei platforme dedicate exclusiv drepturilor copiilor cu dizabilitățila participare si incluziune socială. 

Constantin Cojocariu este avocat si activist Demos. Ajută persoanele cu dizabilități de 15 ani să-și reclame drepturile în instanțele din România și din Europa. 



Thursday, 28 March 2019

Deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric patients in Romania

This is a short note that I wrote for the European Implementation Network website, where it was published originally


On 29 January 2001, Alexandru Nabosnyi was arrested and committed to a psychiatric hospital, based on a short news story in a local newspaper, accusing him of various sexual crimes. A psychiatric report subsequently stated he lacked discernment due to being diagnosed with schizophrenia and a court formally validated the psychiatric detention order. The criminal investigation, which was protracted and superficial, resulted in most charges against him being dropped. Regardless, Mr. Nabosnyi went on to spend his next seventeen years involuntarily detained in high security psychiatric hospitals. 

Mr. Nabosnyi went before courts regularly, asking to be released, but the default position was that he was too ill and too dangerous to be released, despite the charges against him having been dropped. The European Court of Human Rights took a different view. By a judgment delivered on 28 February 2018 in the case N. v. Romania, the Court decided that Mr. Nabosnyi had been unlawfully detained since at least 2007. The national authorities had failed to adduce any evidence to prove that he was dangerous. His release was delayed by the absence of suitable facilities helping patients re-settle after long periods of detention. The proceedings reviewing the validity of Mr. Nabosnyi’s detention were flawed due to poor ex officio legal assistance and widespread procedural irregularities. In line with Mr. Nabosnyi’s request, the Court made use of its powers under Article 46 and instructed the Romanian Government to immediately release him in conditions meeting his needs and to take general measures ensuring that psychiatric detention was lawful, justified and not arbitrary.

From the outset, two obstacles hampered the implementation process. First, after having spent seventeen years in psychiatric detention, Mr. Nabosnyi lacked a network of support in the community, besides not owning any property. Far from being a mere formality, his release and transition to living in the community required substantial preparation and assistance. Second, at the beginning of 2018, after separate proceedings occasioned by his initial complaint to Strasbourg, a local court placed him under plenary guardianship and named a local village mayor to act as guardian. This decision had complex ramifications to do with being able to take decisions related to living in the community or enjoying the just satisfaction awarded by the Court.  

On 2 May 2018, I filed a Rule 9§1 submission on Mr. Nabosnyi’s behalf, informing the Committee of Ministers about the bureaucratic inertia hindering his release to a suitable community-based arrangement and about his placement under guardianship. Following the submission, on 29 May 2018, Mr. Nabosnyi was finally released from the psychiatric hospital and transferred to a social care home in Bucharest, his hometown. Although that is also a closed institution, it is a superior arrangement that provides a sense of progress after seventeen years of psychiatric detention. On 20 August 2018, I made the second Rule 9§1 submission, attempting to dispel the Government’s argument to the effect that the social care home constituted a satisfactory solution, rather than, as I argued, a mere stepping-stone to a community-based arrangement, corresponding with the Court’s Article 46 request. 

Beyond individual implications, Mr. Nabosnyi’s case shines a light on Romania’s forensic detention system, which warehouses psychiatric patients in very poor conditions, often indefinitely, without meaningful judicial scrutiny. A European Implementation Network workshop in May 2018 helped me prepare the forthcoming exchanges with the Romanian Government before the Committee of Ministers regarding general measures. On 29 October 2018, the Government submitted a poor action plan, devoid of meaningful substance. On 21 November 2018, I submitted a detailed Rule 9§2 briefing on behalf of three disability rights non-governmental organizations, providing the Committee of Ministers with information regarding the general state of the forensic detention system in Romania and outlining the general measures required with a view to achieving reform and ensuring access to justice for patients. 

In December 2018, the Committee of Ministers issued a very positive decision, in line with our expectations. On general measures, the CM asked the Government to submit a revised action plan. On individual measures, the CM accepted that the social care home was but a temporary arrangement and called on the Government to ensure Mr. Nabosnyi’s move to community living as soon as practicable. In addition, the CM strongly criticized the guardianship system in place in Romania, which deprived Mr. Nabosnyi of “the exercise of his civil and political rights,” called for immediate reform and asked the Government to ensure his interests were safeguarded in the interim period. 

The Committee of Ministers process constituted a catalyst for increased advocacy at the domestic level to reform the forensic detention system. New alliances were formed, that engaged in dialogue with the Government. Other procedures were leveraged for pressure, including by securing positive references in the Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on her visit to Romania in November 2018. On individual measures, the authorities are working towards securing Mr. Nabosnyi’s transfer to the first state-run sheltered housing facilities in Bucharest, that are due to be opened this year. 


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Disability inclusive education case communicated by European Court of Human Rights

This is a short note regarding an inclusive education case v. Romania communicated recently by the European Court of Human Rights. I act as the applicants' co-counsel, along with Catalina Radulescu.

The case M.C. and others. v. Romania involves an 11-year old child with persistent disciplinary problems attributed to a diagnosis of oppositional disorder, and his parents. In 2010, an NGO contracted by the parents to evaluate and monitor his condition, issued the school in Bucharest where he was enrolled with detailed advice about handling the situation, including by creating a predictable, rule-based learning environment, using a support teacher and a school counsellor, highlighting positive behaviour and ignoring minor incidents, keeping criticism at a minimum. 

However, once the NGO team left, the situation deteriorated fast. The school failed to take any of the measures available under the law to evaluate and accommodate the child’s disability and started instead to blame him for the disruption.  At the beginning of 2011, the child’s parents installed a hidden recording device in his school uniform. Thus, they obtained many hours of recordings of intemperate and vicious abuse inflicted on the child by teachers and other children. Confronted by the parents, the school applied pressure on the applicants to seek a transfer, instigated other parents to complain about and campaign against the presence of a disabled child in school, blamed and denigrated the parents and the child and applied increasingly more severe disciplinary sanctions. The regulatory and supervisory agencies refused to get involved. The child was effectively forced to drop out from school. He started the next academic year with a private school where he received the support he needed and eventually flourished. 

Criminal proceedings focused narrowly on the liability of one teacher, who received a suspended prison sentence of one year for abusive behaviour. Civil proceedings focusing on bullying, the lack of reasonable accommodation and support were thrown out, with courts rejecting the use of audio recordings as evidence on the basis that they were done illegally, and ignoring the verdict rendered in criminal courts that they theoretically were bound to follow. The decisions handed down at the national level are rife with negative stereotypes regarding the ability of children with psychosocial disabilities to learn in mainstream schools and disregard for relevant regulations that would accommodate disability. 

We lodged the complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in September 2018. The Court communicated the case in in record time, in February 2109. All relevant issues are well represented in the questions asked by the Court – the States’ obligation to prevent, protect from and investigate bullying, the accommodations required in order to ensure equal access to education for children with psychosocial disabilities with challenging behaviour, access to justice with respect to abuses taking place in school, and in particular the use of evidence from hidden recording devices, disability-based discrimination. The evidence is very persuasive and the case has been argued reasonably well at all stages. 

This is an important opportunity for pushing the Court to develop its standards on inclusive education for children with psychosocial disabilities. We therefore invite support in any form, including third party interventions. The communication is available HERE.

This is the second disability education case against Romania that a team of lawyers involving Constantin Cojocariu and Catalina Radulescu have brought before the European Court of Human Rights. The first one, still pending, is Stoian v. Romania, which drew third party interventions from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights among others. The Court communications in that case are available HERE and HERE





Friday, 18 January 2019

Positive outcome in transgender case before the European Court of Human Rights

Last week, I was saying that I usually got one good and one bad judgment from the European Court every year and was wondering where this one would sit. It turns out it sits somewhere in between.
The X. v. Macedonia judgment announced yesterday by the Court holds great promise for the future in that it requires Macedonia to adopt legislation on legal gender recognition in line with international standards. Macedonia remains one of the last countries in Europe without even a semblance of legislation on legal gender recognition, with trans people forced to flee the country or live in limbo. 
The dissenting opinion of judges Pejchal and Wojtyczek on the other hand is the latest and perhaps most vicious signal that reactionary conservative propaganda is well and truly entrenched at the Court, raising a worrying question about values and about the nature of the mandate entrusted to judges sitting on a human rights court. More about this in due time. 
I am particularly delighted with a small but meaningful detail in the first paragraph of the judgment, stating that "Respecting his self-identification, the Court will refer to his gender as male." The practice of the Court so far on designating trans applicants has been rather mixed so far, with misgendering a source of great frustration for applicants and their representatives. The Court's clearly-stated commitment to self-identification is a telling response to a question I raised during the meeting between Court and applicants that took place in Strasbourg one month ago. It is very encouraging to see that dialogue make a meaningful difference, rather than being an empty notion!
My role in this case has been as main cheerleader and supporter to the applicant's lawyer, Natasa Boskova, whose hard work and selfless commitment through the years were truly inspirational and whom I am grateful to call a friend. Last but not least, I would like to salute X for his resilience and optimism in the face of great adversity. I hope your case gets settled and that a great new law will finally be adopted soon enough!

ILGA Europe statement is available HERE
The judgment is available HERE


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Important development in the area of mental health detention from the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights’ recent ruling in the case N. v. Romania (decided on 28 November) has important implications in the areas of mental health detention and community living. The applicant was a man diagnosed with schizophrenia who complained about the legality of his detention in various psychiatric hospitals since 2001, on account of unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations that had never been reviewed in court. On 28 November 2017, the Court ruled that his detention lacked a legal basis or justification at least since 2007 (the Court declined to examine the period before 2007, including the initial decision to detain the applicant, for reasons of admissibility). In addition, the Court held that the judicial proceedings for the review of the applicant’s continued detention since 2007 had not afforded sufficient safeguards against arbitrariness. Consequently, the Court found several breaches of Article 5 (right to liberty) of the European Convention on Human Rights and awarded the applicant 38,050 Euro in damages and costs. This is a brief analysis of the main points of interest in the judgment.

The Court criticized the authorities’ failure to undergo a “rigorous” assessment of the applicant’s needs or secure his release in conditions that matched those needs despite a judicial order ending his compulsory hospitalization issued at the beginning of 2017. The Court remarked that this case was symptomatic of a systemic problem in Romania in that there was a lack of social services to assist people transitioning from institutional living. Despite the authorities’ formal adherence to international norms advocating for community living, there was a failure to provide the applicant with suitable services upon his release. In view of these circumstances, the Court took the unusual step of demanding that the applicant be released “without delay […] in conditions meeting his needs.” These findings and the wording of the remedial measure create a crucial new opening in the Court’s jurisprudence in this area, suggesting that Article 5 may be construed to imply a positive obligation incumbent in State Parties to provide the community services needed facilitate the release of individuals from unjustified mental health detention.

The Court also noted the superficial manner in which national courts reviewed the necessity of the applicant’s ongoing detention between 2007 and 2017. In particular, they failed to establish the main criterion in domestic law for detention of this type, namely that the person in question represented a danger to society. National courts impermissibly inferred the existence of danger from allegations of sexual assault that had never been proven in court and from the applicant’s diagnosis in itself. In that respect, the Court recalled under Article 14 of the CRPD, “the existence of a disability could not in itself justify a deprivation of liberty.” The successive sets of proceedings on review were flawed for a number of additional reasons. Notably, the Court criticized the ineffectual performance of the ex officio lawyers appointed to represent the applicant through the years, who had either argued in favor of his continued detention or had left the matter to the discretion of the courts, and never got in touch with him before the hearings took place.

The Court warned that these deficiencies were likely to give rise to other well-founded applications in the future. It therefore indicated additional general measures to the Romanian State: to ensure that the detention of individuals in psychiatric hospitals was lawful, justified and not arbitrary; and to ensure that any individuals detained in such institutions are entitled to take proceedings affording adequate safeguards with a view to securing a speedy court decision on the lawfulness of their detention. The Court uses its power to indicate individual or general remedial measures under Article 46 of the Convention on an exceptional basis, in cases that highlight systemic or structural problems with the potential to generate significant numbers of similar complaints in the future.

The judgment is infused with references to the CRPD and the work of the CRPD Committee. The Court cited with approval Article 14 of the CRPD (“liberty and security of the person”), the CRPD Committee’s statement of interpretation on Article 14, its Marlon James Noble v. Australia decision, with facts that are strikingly similar to those in N. v. Romania, as well as Article 19 (“living independently and being included in the community”). Thus, the N. v. Romania ruling is another step in the process of reconciling the two human rights instruments, including with respect to such divisive issues as mental health detention. Also notable is the Court’s willingness to highlight the systemic underpinnings of the violations found and indicate individual and general remedial measures to the Romanian State. The Court had previously made similar use of its remedial powers in another disability case originating from Romania, Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Campeanu, decided in 2014, urging the Romanian authorities to “envisage the necessary general measures to ensure that mentally disabled persons […] are afforded independent representation, enabling them to have Convention complaints relating to their health and treatment examined before a court or other independent body.” These two judgments, in addition to other jurisprudence, constitute a strong platform that Romanian advocates may use to push for badly needed reform in the areas of access to justice and deinstitutionalization.   

The Court’s judgment (in French) is available here:


The press release (in English) is available here:



The applicants in N. v. Romania, as well as in Valentin Campeanu v. Romania, were represented by Constantin Cojocariu, a lawyer licensed to practice in Romania and based in London.