Djordjevic and Djordjevic v Croatia

Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS’ role: Advisor to counsel
Keywords: Disability hate crime, states' obligations

Zagreb-based lawyer Ms. Ines Bojić with the cooperation of INTERIGHTS has recently submitted observations on the merits and admissibility in the disability hate crime case Djordjevic and Djordjevic v Croatia (Application no. 41526/10) before the European Court of Human Rights.

The applicants, mother and son Radmila and Dalibor Djordjevic, are two Croatian nationals of Serbian ethnicity, living together in social housing provided by the Zagreb Municipality. Dalibor Djordjevic was born in 1977 and suffers from a combination of physical and intellectual impairments. In particular, he suffers from hydrocephalitis and has a ventricular catheter implant. As a result, his physical abilities are severely impaired: his eyesight is poor, his spine is painful, he suffers from severe foot deformation and he needs assistance to perform basic tasks. He has been deprived of his legal capacity and placed under his mother’s plenary guardianship. Both applicants are unemployed. Dalibor attends a workshop for adults with disabilities whereas his single mother’s sole source of income is the caretaker allowance she receives for taking care of her son.

Since 2006 the applicants have suffered ongoing abuse and harassment from a group of children and youths who live in their neighbourhood and attend the same school. Most harassment has consisted of relatively low-level anti-social behaviour, including name-calling, spitting, lewd comments, yelling. insulting drawings on the pavement in front of the applicants’ flat and causing damage to the applicants’ balcony, windows and door. The harassment has mostly occurred at the same time of the day, sometimes even daily – in the afternoon when children returned from school, in the evening, when they congregated around a bench situated in front of the applicants’ ground floor flat and sometimes even during the night. Harassment has been occasioned by a combination of factors, including Dalibor’s disability, both applicants’ ethnicity and their marginal social status.

As a result of the ongoing harassment and abuse Dalibor Djordjevic suffers from a high degree of anxiety and fear, as well as missed opportunities in terms of developing an independent and inclusive lifestyle. The applicants had to change their daily routines, by avoiding going out at certain times of the day, by taking alternative, longer routes to local amenities, and by taking walks in a park situated far from their neighbourhood.

Since 2009 the harassment has occasionally escalated into more serious acts of physical violence against Dalibor, which occurred while he was walking outside by himself. At different times, his hands have been burnt with cigarettes, his head has been banged against a wall, he was pushed against a fence and fell down becoming unconscious and he was hit with a ball in the face. The gravity of these incidents was greatly enhanced by his peculiar physical impairments.

The applicants started complaining about their plight since at least July 2008, asking the authorities on numerous occasions to identify and punish the perpetrators and to prevent further harassment. A wide range of authorities theoretically duty bound to support the applicants became aware of the situation, including the police, the Public Prosecutor, the Disability Ombudsman, the local school, the local Centre for Social Welfare and the Municipality. However, the harassment has continued unabated or even intensified at times, until this day. One of the main reasons invoked by the authorities for their failure to act was the minority of many of the perpetrators which prevented criminal prosecution. The police remained largely passive to the applicants’ predicament, downplaying at all times its seriousness, and failing altogether to take such basic steps as identifying the perpetrators. In addition, the authorities’ response was marred by a persistent confusion in relation to the specific statutory duties of various agencies involved, the failure to consider the whole pattern of harassment as an ongoing and escalating chain of events rather than a series of individual incidents seen in isolation and the failure by the various agencies involved to coordinate their actions.

Radmila and Dalibor Djordjevic argued in their application before the Court that by failing to prevent further harassment and abuse against them, Croatian authorities have violated their rights under Articles 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment), 8 (right to private life), 13 (right to an effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition the Court invited parties of its own motion to comment on whether the facts of the case disclosed an additional violation of Dalibor’s right to life under Article 2 of the Convention.

This case presents the Court with an opportunity to establish the contours of obligations incumbent on States in the context of disability hate crime. The Court has been invited to take into account the particular features of disability hate crime, which requires specific responses from authorities, including early intervention, effective inter-institutional cooperation and measures to support the victims. Furthermore, the Court was asked to determine the contents of States’ obligations in relation to discriminatory ill treatment perpetrated by private individuals motivated by a combination of factors including the disability and ethnicity of the victims.

The application in this case was submitted on behalf of the applicants by their representative Ms. Ines Bojić, a lawyer practising in Zagreb. INTERIGHTS acts in this case as advisor to counsel. The European Disability Forum submitted a third party intervention in this case.

INTERIGHTS contact: Constantin Cojocariu


Statement of facts issued by the Registry of the Court

Third party intervention filed by the European Disability Forum