Friday, December 18, 2009

Abuse of the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities Resident in Social Care Institutions

By Charles O’Mahony

Bestea and others v Romania (the Poiana Mare Hospital case)

On Friday 11 December 2009, the Center for Legal Resources and Interights filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of five patients who died at the Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital Romania in 2004. The hospital has a poor reputation with regard to human rights abuses perpetrated against its residents. From 2002-2003 one hundred and fifty five patients died at the hospital and a further twenty-eight persons died during the first five months of 2004. Many of these deaths took place during wintertime.

The applicants in this case are four women and a man who suffered from various mental health problems and spent long periods (in some cases their entire lives) in social care institutions. The applicants died from a combination of poor care, inadequate treatment and substandard living conditions (including insufficient food and heating).

This case raises important issues about access to justice for persons with disabilities, the failure of authorities to prevent the abuses perpetrated against persons with disabilities inside social care institutions and psychiatric hospitals. This case presents the European Court of Human Rights with an important opportunity to further strengthen the case against long-stay residential institutions in favour of community living for persons with disabilities. This case is also important in adapting the rules of locus standi in permitting Interights and the Center for Legal Resources to take actions on behalf of persons with disabilities. The relaxing of these procedural rules is important, as permanent residents in institutional settings do not have the necessary family or legal supports to take actions to vindicate their rights.