The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR, or Strasbourg Court) condemned the Republic of Moldova in the rape of three women with intellectual disabilities at a psychiatric hospital in Bălți, which took place in 2013. All three women were subjected to repeated inhumane treatment by one of the heads of the hospital and forced to abort without consent. The ECHR ruled that the Moldovan judiciary authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation in this case and ordered the payment of 30,000 euros to one of the patients and 25,000 to the other two, plus 5,000 euros in court costs for all three women.
In the decision of the Strasbourg Court of 22 November, it was unanimously held by the seven judges that the imposition of abortions and birth control measures on the three intellectually disabled women in the neuropsychiatric asylum violated their mental integrity. The ECHR also found that the authorities had failed to effectively investigate the applicant’s complaints of ill-treatment in 2014 when they lodged criminal complaints of the forced termination of their pregnancies but were told that they had been lawful and provided for by domestic law.
The judge’s decision rested on the violation of Article 3 substantive aspect (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and procedural aspect (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment: obligation to conduct an effective investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Court considered that the invasive medical interventions, combined with the applicants’ vulnerability due to their gender, disability, and institutionalization, were sufficiently serious about coming within the scope of Article 3 of the Convention and decided, therefore, to examine the case from that standpoint,” the ECHR’s court decision said.
In 2016, Stanislav Florea, the doctor from the Bălți hospital, was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years for raping 16 women with intellectual disabilities who were residents of the asylum, including the three plaintiffs. Florea appealed the sentence, and the magistrates decided that he could only be arrested after a final decision was issued. Prosecutor Viorel Tureac stated to IPN, an independent news agency based in Chișinău, that the sentence was too mild and demanded 15 years. It wasn’t until 2019 that the Moldovan Supreme Court definitively sentenced Stanislav Florea to 15 years of imprisonment and awarded all the women compensation.
While the judgment from the ECHR brings a welcome recognition and justice to the victims after a complex legal battle when they were deprived of their liberties behind closed doors, this case highlights the issue of abuse of persons with disabilities and the high levels of impunity of violence against women. Given the attention of this case, it is crucial to urge authorities to take decisive steps to create independent and regular systems of inspection to eradicate exploitation, violence, and abuse of persons with disabilities, that represents about seven percent of the country’s total population of 2.6 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
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