Nencheva and Others v. Bulgaria
European Court of Human Rights
Nencheva and Others v. Bulgaria, Application no 48609/06, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, 18 June 2013
18 June 2013
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 2 (Right to life)
This case was brought by the parents of seven children who died at a state institution for children with serious mental disabilities. Over the winter of 1996-1997, the country was experiencing hyperinflation, which affected the budget allocated to the children’s institution, leaving the local authorities unable to bear the costs for food and other necessities. In addition, due to the harsh weather conditions that winter, the home which was located in a mountainous region, was inaccessible by car. The heating only came on for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, and the “food was highly inadequate” with staff and nearby villagers bringing in some provisions.The post of a medical doctor was vacant. By the end of the winter, due to the poor living conditions, fifteen children had died.
Issue and resolution:
Right to life. Institutional care. The Court found that the state had violated the children’s right to life. The Court ruled that the national authorities could have prevented the deaths, as information about the serious risk to the lives of the children had been available as early as September 1996, i.e. three months prior to the first death.
The State had failed to fulfil its positive obligation to protect the right to life of its citizens as provided for in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was described by the judges as one of the most fundamental values of the Convention. This positive obligation means that, under certain circumstances, public authorities must take preventative measures to protect the individual’s life. The Court emphasised the vulnerable situation of the children living in the institution – children with serious mental or physical abnormalities who were completely dependent on the care provided by the State. It was also held that the procedural aspect of Article 2 was violated due to failure to take appropriate measures to investigate the deaths and impose liability on those responsible, which according to the Court should have been a matter of public interest.
The Government of Bulgaria has enforced this decision in so far as compensation was awarded according to the Court’s ruling.
In 2010, the Government adopted a national strategy for deinstitutionalisation of children, which puts in place a plan for replacing institutional care for children with family-type child care. For more information, please, visit https://www.crin.org/en/library/publications/deinstitutionalization-chil….
Link to Full Judgment:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.