Men detained in prison without water, power and heating suffered rights violation
Pocasovschi and Mihaila v. Republic of Moldova and Russia 29.05.2018 (no. 1089/09)
The case concerned the applicants’ complaint about being held in poor conditions in a Moldovan prison whose electricity and water had been cut off by the separatist “Moldavian Republic of Transdniestria” (the “MRT”).
The Court found that although the municipal authority which ordered the utilities to be cut had been controlled by the “MRT”, the prison itself had been under full Moldovan Government control.
The Court agreed with the domestic findings that the men had been held in inhuman conditions between September 2002 and April 2004 owing to a lack of water, electricity, food and warmth.
The domestic courts had awarded compensation, however, the amount was below that normally given by the Court. The men had therefore suffered a violation of their rights under the Convention and the Court ordered each to be paid further amounts in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
Article 6 § 1
The applicants, Ruslan Pocasovschi and Ion Mihăilă, are Moldovan nationals who were born in 1975 and 1976 respectively and live in Cahul and Cetireni.
Mr Pocasovschi and Mr Mihăilă were serving sentences in Prison no. 8 in the town of Tighina/Bender in the Transdniestria region. The prison is under Moldova’s jurisdiction, however, the town of Tighina/Bender is controlled by the separatist “MRT”.
In September 2002 the town cut off the prison’s water, power and heating supplies, with water and electricity not being reconnected until February 2003. The prison was cut off again in July of the same year, with the “MRT authorities” insisting that the prison had to be closed down.
Mr Pocasovschi and Mr Mihăilă, who had tuberculosis, remained at the prison throughout the period when the utilities were cut off. They were transferred to other prisons respectively in September 2004 and March 2004. They have both since been released on parole.
With the help of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Moldova, the applicants and other detainees put pressure in 2003 and 2004 on the Moldovan authorities to improve conditions at the prison and to intervene with the “MRT authorities” to prosecute those responsible for cutting off its water and power, but no prosecution has taken place.
In March 2004 the Helsinki Committee launched civil compensations claim on behalf of detainees, including the applicants. The Bender Court of Appeal in June 2009 ultimately awarded the applicants 1,266 euros in compensation, acknowledging a breach of their rights on the grounds of inhuman conditions of detention. The court found that after the utilities had been turned off, the prison had no longer been able to offer food or proper treatment for tuberculosis. There had been no access to showers and only two hours of power per day, supplied by a low-power generator.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
The Court first found that the two men had lodged their application against Russia outside the six-month time-limit and so the complaints against that country were inadmissible. It also found that Moldova had full jurisdiction over the prison, even if the town itself was controlled by the “MRT”.
It then noted that the domestic courts in Moldova had found that the conditions in the prison between September 2002 and April 2004 had been inhuman. While the Government had stated that it had taken measures to improve the situation, those steps had only been taken after February 2004, towards the end of the applicants’ period of detention.
Agreeing with the domestic courts’ judgments, which were an acknowledgment of a violation of their rights, and noting the award of compensation to Mr Pocasovschi and Mr Mihăilă, the Court said that the question that remained was whether they could still claim to be victims of a violation of their rights under the Convention.
To answer that question it looked at the amount of compensation, which was the equivalent of 1,266 euros. The Court found that sum to be far below what it had awarded in similar cases, especially given the harsh conditions in which Mr Pocasovschi and Mr Mihăilă had been held and the fact that they had been detained in such conditions for a relatively long time.
The two men could therefore still claim to be victims and the Court found that there had been a violation of their rights under Article 3.
The Court found that the length of the civil compensation proceedings, six years, had not violated the men’s rights to a fair trial under Article 6 § 1 as the case had been complex and the Helsinki Committee had contributed to the delay.
However, it found a violation of Article 13 in respect of the first applicant as domestic court action was not an effective remedy in improving conditions of detention, only providing compensation. The first applicant had still been in prison when he began his court action and had therefore had no effective remedy. Conversely, the second applicant had already been released and could not therefore ask for an improvement in his conditions.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that the Republic of Moldova was to pay 3,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage to the first applicant and EUR 1,800 to the second applicant. It awarded EUR 1,500 jointly in respect of costs and expenses(echrcaselaw.com editing).