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December 16, 2009

Hello, all.

I haven’t been blogging for a while – so here are the most recent news around the investigation.

1. It was published in Vreme, Serbia, and in many, many, many websites and blogs across the region.

2. It was awarded the third prize in the Balkan Awards for Journalistic Excellence.

3. It was聽published in Der Standard, Austria, yesterday.

All great news, as you can see 馃檪

I’ll keep you posted about all future developments.

Thank you for your interest.


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聽argued before the ECHR on 11 November聽–聽Mitev v. Bulgaria. Mr Mitev died in Pastra last year and his case was continued by his sister.聽The two cases聽were both brought jointly by the nongovernmental organisations聽Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the聽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聽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聽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:

路聽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);

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

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

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

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

路聽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);

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

路聽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聽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聽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.聽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



Promo video of the investigation

November 4, 2009

Please, do share. Thank you.

Words by Judith Klein, director of OSMHI

October 30, 2009

Foreword to the article 鈥淚nstitutions Remain Dumping Grounds for Forgotten People鈥 in聽the newsletter of the European Coalition for Community Living, Issue No. 10, October 2009

By Judith Klein, Director of the Open Society Mental Health Initiative

Having worked for almost 15 years in Central and Eastern Europe supporting the development of community-based services for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health problems, I applaud Yana Buhrer Tavanier鈥檚 article on long stay institutions in this region. Buhrer Tavanier provides an in-depth look at an issue that governments in the region would prefer to ignore.

The Open Society Mental Health Initiative (MHI) has successfully supported the development of person centered, quality, cost effective community-based services such as supported housing, day programs, crisis intervention and supported employment in many Central and Eastern European countries. The target group for these programs is people with mental disabilities, including the most severely and multiply disabled people, and these programs are often held up as models of contemporary practice by national governments. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how governments can continue the unjustified and inappropriate life long institutionalization of people with mental disabilities when the community-based services offer viable and sustainable alternatives that respect the rights of the individuals receiving them.

I have two theories for why the segregation of people with mental disabilities, which is a very severe human rights violation in itself, is allowed to continue. One theory is that society as a whole fails to make the connection between the people incarcerated in institutions and what we expect for ourselves, our family, friends and fellow citizens. This is because, as Buhrer Tavanier鈥檚 article portrays so movingly, the residents of these institutions are systematically dehumanized. They are dehumanized by government practices, by staff in the institutions who have no time to treat them as individuals, and by the general public who prefer not to think about this issue. I think of this as the 鈥榰s and them鈥 mentality. People with mental disabilities are regarded as 鈥榣ess than human鈥, an inferior form of being.聽 Couple this with the widespread and ingrained stigma and prejudice against them. The result: large, remote institutions where people spend their lives, dying of abuse and neglect, marginalized and forgotten. The bitter irony of this theory is that similar treatment of animals would be an immediate public scandal. This cannot be right.

The other theory is there is a lack of real political will in Central and Eastern Europe to take action necessary to end this appalling practice. At the global level, where deinstitutionalization has been successfully implemented on a large scale, there has, in every case, been strong political will from the central government to support it.

In Central and Eastern Europe, while 鈥榙einstitutionalization鈥 has become a popular turn of phrase in policy circles, the truth is that not one government in this region, including the new EU member states, has concrete plans or financing mechanisms to develop networks of community-based alternatives to institutions, which are an absolute prerequisite for successful deinstitutionalization. Alarmingly, new institutions for people with mental disabilities continue to be built across the region, often with European taxpayer funding.

Clearly, there is much work to be done. Thank you, Ms. Buhrer Tavanier for bringing people with mental disabilities in Central and Eastern Europe out of the shadows. MHI will continue its work to enable them to be reunited with their local communities, where they have always belonged.

Thank you.



October 25, 2009


Thanks for the hundreds of comments, direct messages, blog posts, facebook shared items and twitter RTs.

Here鈥檚 what some of you have been saying:

John Mulligan :聽鈥淭his situation exists because the rest of Europe has decided that it is acceptable鈥 There was full knowledge of these abuses within the Enlargement Commission, but they did absolutely nothing to put pressure on these countries to end these appalling scandals. If anything, they concealed the true extent of the problem from the European Parliament鈥 Where is the Commission in all of this now? Are these victims somehow lesser citizens of Europe? Unbelievably, the EU is now providing funding to renovate institutions at the expense of community living, thus further compounding the wrong done to these men and women. This disgraceful approach is a matter of great shame on all of the people of Europe.鈥

bgles :聽鈥溾 the word 鈥榙ifferent鈥 should not mean ‘invisible’鈥”

Ina :聽鈥溾hange is being achieved and we鈥檇 better stop waiting someone else to achieve it for us. Change is in our hands鈥.

Justine :聽鈥溾ut the dumping grounds for people continue to exist and nothing, nothing, nothing has changed for decades. Humiliating. Impossible. Till when?鈥

Nervous shark :聽鈥淪hock and shame. That鈥檚 what I personally feel in this case. Hitler鈥檚 Germany and Stalin鈥檚 Eastern Europe are the things that spring to mind鈥 Bulgaria in 2009 did not move up from the bottom of the swamp, not even with one centimeter”.

Radan :聽鈥淭his is not merely about the fate of several thousand Bulgarian citizens, locked up and treated in an unutterable way. This is about the fate of a society, which deals with its social problems by excluding the vulnerable and the different鈥.

Epistemic Murk :聽鈥淚nstitutional fetishism… The state care is manifested as care for the physical conditions of the institution, not as care [for the people inside] and as services directed to them鈥.

+ Stefan,聽Bend your circuit,聽Galya,聽Monev,聽Silvia,聽Niki,聽Peio,聽Petar and whoever I am leaving out – *bow*

Thank you all once again for trying to turn this into a public debate.


So many of you have been saying 鈥渨hat can we do鈥?

Asking the question is already the first step.

Letting more people know is the second.

And here鈥檚 the third. More info about that is coming soon.


Update: The investigation has been published in English by Balkan Insight and republished by The Sofia Echo online.

For all of you, who read Bulgarian

October 22, 2009

I have just uploaded the full-length interview with the director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Krasimir Kunev (english translation coming soon).

The interview goes into detail not only about the human rights abuses in institutions, but also about the crucial legal capacity issue (more about that here).聽In short – many people are deprived of legal capacity, thus of almost all their rights, and put into institutions forever, only because of the greed of their relatives.

In case you haven’t seen it – here’s the Bulgarian government position (also only in Bulgarian).

Published in Bulgaria

October 21, 2009

The Bulgarian daily Dnevnik has just published the investigation on their website.
They are also running a photo-gallery.

The investigation is going to appear on paper as well, in today’s issue.

A BIG thank you to Ms. Velislava Popova, editor-in-chief.

Update: October 22, 2009, 11:40 am

The Bulgarian Indymedia has just republished the text.

Thank you, Peter!