The Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v Romania

Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS' role: Advisor to counsel on record
Keywords: Disability, right to life, health 

On 4 September 2013the case was heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Read our press release here and see a webcast of the hearing here.

On 7 June 2011 the European Court of Human Rights asked the Romanian Government to account for its treatment of Valentin Câmpeanu, a HIV-positive, intellectually disabled young man of Roma ethnicity, which resulted in his death at the notorious Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital in Romania. For more details on the communication and to read our press release, click here. A number of third party interventions have been filed in this case, most prominently by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, as well as by a range of international and national human rights organisations working to promote the human rights of persons with disabilities. All third party interventions filed to date are to be found at the bottom of this page.

This is the first case brought before the Court painting a grim picture of the range of extreme human rights abuses routinely inflicted upon people with disabilities placed in long-term stay institutions across Europe, and who are often unable to complain or seek remedies for their plight before a court, due to their disability or because they are prevented from doing so by the authorities.

On 23 April 2009 a full-scale application was filed with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu, who died in tragic circumstances in a Romanian psychiatric hospital.

Câmpeanu was abandoned at birth and lived all his life in social care institutions. He suffered from a unique and debilitating combination of afflictions: he had a severe intellectual disability, carried the HIV virus (most likely from birth) and at various times during his life suffered from additional diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. In accordance with domestic legislation, when he turned 18 (the age of majority in Romania), in September 2003, Câmpeanu no longer had the right to remain in an institution for children. The local authorities therefore set out to identify an alternative arrangement. Since none of the institutions contacted were willing to accept him, the local authorities fraudulently modified Câmpeanu’s medical record, by omitting his intellectual disability. 

Eventually, a social care home agreed to take Câmpeanu in. The local authorities failed however to make sure that upon his transfer (which took place on 5 February 2004), the social care home also received Câmpeanu’s medical record and the antiretroviral medication necessary for treating his HIV infection. After a stay of one week, during which period the state of his health deteriorated markedly, the social care home transferred Câmpeanu to the Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital, motivated by the fact that they lacked the facilities required for the treatment of people with mental health problems. The Poiana Mare Hospital reluctantly admitted the applicant, although it had previously informed the authorities that it lacked the facilities or expertise to treat HIV patients.

Câmpeanu died after seven days of hospitalisation at the Poiana Mare Hospital, on 20 February 2004. Monitors from the Center for Legal Resources who happened to visit the hospital on the day of his death found him alone in a cold room, wearing only a pyjama top, lying in a bed without bedding. Although he was incapable of using the toilet or feeding himself, the hospital staff refused to touch him for fear of being infected with HIV.

The official investigation into the circumstances of Campeanu’s death resulted in a decision of non-indictment. The investigation was limited in scope, superficial, overly deferential towards medical opinion, and extremely lengthy.

The application brought before the Strasbourg Court is important in several respects.

First, this is a test of the Court’s ability to ensure effective access to its proceedings for people with disabilities, and demonstrate implicitly that they too benefit from protection under the Convention. Currently the Court makes access to its proceedings in right to life cases conditional on the existence of a next of kin to bring a complaint on behalf of the deceased. Based on this approach, claims referring to deaths which occurred in social care institutions are effectively barred from being brought before the Court. This is because many people with disabilities who are institutionalised for lengthy periods of time are frequently effectively abandoned by their relatives or even lack any known next of kin. It is therefore submitted that on the basis of the circumstances of the case at hand and in the interest of human rights the Court should amend its rules on standing in order to reach a result more in line with the spirit of the Convention.

On the merits of the case, this case illustrates the attitude of Romanian social services towards people with intellectual disabilities. Major decisions concerning Câmpeanu’s life, liberty and security were taken without his involvement, and/or that of other independent representative. The relevant authorities were not concerned to enhance Câmpeanu’s autonomy and respect his inherent dignity, acting instead on the basis of widely shared stereotypes associated with his condition. In the Romanian context, this case also highlights the difficulties associated with the transitioning process from a social care home for children to, ideally, life in the community as well as the widespread stigma attached to positive HIV status.

In a parallel development, another complaint was brought before the European Court concerning the deaths of seven patients at the Poiana Mare Hospital as a result of a combination of factors including extremely substandard living conditions, as well as inferior care and treatment.

INTERIGHTS acts in the case as advisor to counsel, the non-governmental organisation Center for Legal Resources, which represented Câmpeanu at the domestic level.  

Click here to read an overview of challenges related to the standing requirements imposed by the Court in the cases Campeanu v Romania and Malacu and others v Romania.

INTERIGHTS contact: Constantin Cojocariu, Lawyer, Europe Programme, ccojocariu@interights.org

Documents and relevant external links

Application to the European Court of Human Rights

Third party intervention by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner

Third party intervention by the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Third party intervention by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Third party intervention by Human Rights Watch

Third party intervention by Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives

'Life Doesn’t Wait: Romania’s Failure to Protect and Support Children and Youth Living with HIV', Report by Human Rights Watch, 1 August 2006

Constantin Cojocariu, 'Handicapping Rules: The Overly Restrictive Application of Admissibility Criteria by the European Court of Human Rights to Complaints Concerning Disabled People,' first published by Sweet & Maxwell in [2011] E.H.R.L.R. 686