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Rusi goes to Strasbourg (and then back to Pastra)

November 12, 2009


This is Rusi Stanev. He is a resident of the social care home in Pastra, Bulgaria.

His case was argued before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg two days ago.

Rusi attended the Court hearing in person, becoming the first person from a social care institution to bring his case before Europe’s human rights court.

Apart from Stanev v. Bulgaria, there was another case argued before the ECHR on 11 November – Mitev v. Bulgaria. Mr Mitev died in Pastra last year and his case was continued by his sister. The two cases were both brought jointly by the nongovernmental organisations Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the Mental Disability Advocacy Center.

Watch the public hearing.

Here’s more from the joint press release by the BHC and MDAC, from yesterday.

“In both cases, the applicants were deprived of legal capacity and placed under guardianship against their will. They applied to the local municipality as well as the prosecutor’s office to restore their legal capacity, these being the two mechanisms which have the discretion under Bulgarian law to apply to a court to have someone’s legal capacity restored. The guardians in both cases refused to cooperate. Mr Mitev’s guardian was his daughter who wanted his legal capacity to be deprived and wanted him to remain in an institution, while Mr Stanev’s guardian was the director of the social care institution where he still resides. The municipality and the prosecutor’s office refused to cooperate. In fact, despite numerous attempts, no Bulgarian court has ever considered the merits of restoring the legal capacity of either applicants.
Both of the men were ordered by their guardians to be placed in a social care institution. Mr Mitev’s guardian arranged for a private security company to escort him to the Pravda institution, which was featured by the New York Times in January 2009. In December 2002 Mr Stanev was detained in the Pastra institution, which in 2003 was visited by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The Committee’s resultant report of their visit stated that “[t]he deficiencies in the living conditions and care of residents […] created a situation which could be said to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In their applications to the European Court of Human Rights, both applicants alleged:

· That the deprivation of legal capacity was done in such a way as to violate their right to a fair trial (in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights);

· That the deprivation of legal capacity affected the enjoyment of their private and family life (Article 8);

· That they were arbitrarily and unlawfully detained in the social care institution (Article 5(1));

· That there was no judicial review of the lawfulness of their detention (Article 5(4));

· That Bulgarian law allows for no possibility to seek compensation for their unlawful detention (Article 5(5));

· That the conditions of detention (in Mr Stanev’s case) in the Pastra social care institution constituted inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment (Article 3);

· That institutionalisation is itself a violation of the right to respect for private life and home (Article 8); and

· That there were no effective remedies for the above violations (Article 13).
Mr Stanev’s trip to Strasbourg was the first time he had left Bulgaria. The authorities created enormous difficulties for him to leave the institution temporarily to attend the Court hearing. His travel was funded by legal aid of the European Court.

Back in 2002 the Bulgarian government told the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture that they would close the Pastra institution. Government representatives told the Court on Tuesday that this is still the plan. The truth is somewhat different. No steps whatsoever have been taken. Mr Stanev returns to the Pastra social care institution today. In the institution he will wear his winter coat (the heating is turned on only on 20 November) and await the Court’s judgment, which will be issued in several months.

Mr Stanev has been institutionalised in deplorable conditions with a hundred other people for over seven years. Bulgaria – a Member State of the European Union and a member of NATO – is still in denial that it is responsible for subjecting people labelled with mental disabilities with life-long detention, stripping them of their right to make decisions about their own lives, and turning its back on neglect, abuse and death.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the Mental Disability Advocacy Center will continue to remind the Bulgarian government of its commitments under international law to children and adults with disabilities. They call upon the government to issue an immediate moratorium to new admissions to social care institutions: if the government will not take active steps to close these institutions and develop community-based services, the least they could do is to ensure closure by attrition. When a resident dies their bed should be destroyed. This simple act would force local authorities to find alternatives to segregation and neglect”.


Rusi with his lawyer, Aneta Genova - sitting in the restaurant where Rusi helps with various tasks, and in return gets a meal, coffee, and the feeling to be useful. Rusi has no right to work.


the road to Pastra


inside Pastra



One Comment leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 4:01 pm

    Pastra is one of the scariest places you can visit in Bulgaria. A hard to find, hard to reach place, beautiful too – tucked high in the mountain, pristine air, a lively brook runs through the property, in the shade of old trees. But horror thrives in the Alpine scenery. The “social care home” has little to do with society, even less – with care, and is certainly no home. The white house on the picture above is hell as you have never imagined it. It has dirty corridors – dark and soaked in human stench, quiet and yet – you feel the madness lurching behind the closed doors, there to get you. The feeling is like being thrown in dark waters – you cannot see, nor hear, but you know you are not alone, and not in a comfortable way.
    And when you scramble outside, where there is colour, and sun, and birds singing, you take in the mountain air, and regain your senses with relief. Because you know an hour in the quiet darkness of that white house would break you and drive you mad.
    Outside you see the men who were kept in there too long. They, too, squint in the sun and search to regain normality, but they’ve been inside too long, and have lost the way in these corridors with doors to nowhere. They cannot take a breath back to sanity, because mountain air doesn’t work for them anymore. Instead, they smoke – and so much, that their fingers end in black stubs, for sucking on too many cigarettes for too long. They have sucked for sanity for so long that they have smoked their fingers to the bone. As you would, if you were not leaving at 1600, because you have a train to catch.
    They would swear at you and throw small stones in your face, and then they would beg for cigarettes. But not to the nurse, oh no, they want to keep away from her, like beaten dogs would keep away from boots and sticks. The nurse is small, but she gives you the pills, and you don’t want that, do you? Not to think, not to be able to move the cigarette to your mouth, you don’t want that, they do it every evening anyway, you don’t want it in the morning too, do you?
    But then these people come and they say you shouldn’t have to go to the dark white house, that the pills are bad, and that you have rights and need intellectual stimulation and proper care. Funny people, those, good that they bring cigarettes, but then they have a train to catch and when they go the nurse screams more than usual. You want to think about the people who come and what they say when they return, but how can you concentrate with the pills?
    One day the people take you with them, and tell you nice things (would be good if you could remember, maybe if you smoke some more between the pills you will). The people take you down the road, and many roads later you arrive to the big place where they tell you about justice, which should be yours – all yours, like a whole pack of cigarettes, or a winter coat that wasn’t somebody else’s before. Funny people, those, with the justice – you like it, because it sounds warm, this justice, like someplace they don’t scream or gives you pills. Then you go back the roads, to the white house and the nurse and the other mad men. The people, they told you to wait, and that the justice may soon be yours. So, you wait. You snuggle in somebody’s winter coat, and smoke somebody’s cigarette butts. And now that they don’t give you pills, you think – about this justice, and how you will wear it, and smoke it, and take it down the road to a place with no dark corridors and muffled screams. A place where maybe, only maybe, you can remember what it felt to be a man.

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