Maltreatment of prisoners and lack of investigation into death and degrading treatment. Violations of the ECHR
Cantaragiu v. Republic of Moldova 24.03.2020 (no. 13013/11)
Right to life, prohibition of torture, effective investigation.
The applicant, his brother and their father were arrested on suspicion of homicide. They were mistreated during their detention. The applicant’s brother died and the criminal proceedings against him were terminated. The Supreme Court ruled them guilty of premeditated murder, but found abuse during pretrial detention and an ineffective investigation by the authorities.
The Court reiterates that the right to life (Article 2) is one of the most fundamental provisions of the Convention, which, in a peaceful period, does not allow any derogation under Article 15 of the ECHR. Together with the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3), it enshrines one of the fundamental values of democratic societies.
Article 2 as regards the applicant’s brother
The Court found that the applicant’s brother had died from the rupture of his duodenum, a clear sign of ill-treatment. He also found that the investigation into his cause of death focused on the medical practice followed and not on the conditions of ill-treatment, and the investigating officers who had taken over the case were not included in the investigation. It therefore considered that the investigation was ineffective and found a violation of Article 2 in both the substantive and the procedural aspects.
Article 3 as regards the applicant
The Court upholds the Supreme Court’s ruling that the applicant was ill-treated during his detention and that the authorities’ investigations were inadequate, with no effect and that the only elements of the case were destroyed. It found a violation of Article 3.
The applicant, Vasile Cantaragiu, is a Moldovan national who was born in 1986 and, according to the
latest information available, was detained in Cahul.
The case concerned his complaints that he and his brother had been ill-treated while in detention,
which had led to his brother’s death.
Mr Cantaragiu and his brother were arrested on suspicion of murder in April 2005 and placed in
pre-trial detention. Their father was also later arrested on the same charge.
Mr Cantaragiu was taken to hospital in November 2005 and subsequently complained that he had
been ill-treated by the police. Prosecutors discontinued their criminal investigation into his
allegations in 2007, finding that no offence had been committed.
Mr Cantaragiu’s brother, 21 and a former junior judo champion, complained to prison staff on 30
October 2005 of pains in his stomach and headaches. He died in hospital on 3 November.
Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation but suspended it in September 2008, finding that it was
not possible to determine the cause of the rupture of the duodenum. Complaints by Mr Cantaragiu
and his father about the prosecutor’s decisions were rejected.
The courts, including the Supreme Court of Justice in February 2008, found Mr Cantaragiu and his
father guilty of murder. The brother was also found guilty, but proceedings against him were
suspended. In December 2010 the Supreme Court of Justice quashed the convictions, finding that
the three men had been ill-treated during their detention.
After fresh consideration, the courts again found the men guilty, rulings which were upheld by the
Supreme Court in April 2013. Nevertheless, it found it proved that the applicant, his brother and
father had suffered ill-treatment, that there had been no effective investigation of that matter, and
that their self-incriminating statements could not be relied on in the proceedings against them.
Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading
treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr Cantaragiu complained about his
brother’s ill-treatment and death in detention and of the subsequent ineffective investigation.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
- VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 2 AND 3 OF THE CONVENTION IN RESPECT OF THE APPLICANT’S BROTHER
The Court reiterates that Article 2 ranks as one of the most fundamental provisions in the Convention, one which, in peace time, admits of no derogation under Article 15. Together with Article 3, it enshrines one of the basic values of the democratic societies making up the Council of Europe. Having regard to the fundamental importance of the right to life, the Court must subject any possible interferences with Article 2 of the Convention to the most careful and thorough scrutiny, taking into account not only the actions of State agents but also all the surrounding circumstances. Consequently, where an individual is taken into police custody in good health but is found to be injured at the time of release, it is incumbent on the State to provide a plausible explanation of how those injuries were caused . The obligation on the authorities to account for the treatment of an individual in custody is particularly stringent where that individual dies
In the present case, the Court notes that the applicant’s brother, a former judo champion and aged only 21 at the time, was in good health when he was taken into the custody of the police. However, during his detention he died as a result of a rupture of his duodenum, a clear sign of ill-treatment. In such circumstances there is a strong presumption that the death occurred as a result of the actions of the authorities, which must provide an adequate explanation of those actions in order to refute the presumption. No such explanation was given either at the domestic level, or by the Government in the present case.
The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the State is responsible for the applicant’s brother’s death.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 2 of the Convention in its substantive limb.
As for the procedural limb, the Court notes that the parties did not inform it of any investigation in respect of the applicant’s brother’s death and ill-treatment other than the one concerning medical malpractice. It also notes that the Supreme Court of Justice found that investigation ineffective
Indeed, the investigation into the death of the applicant’s brother started almost a month after the event, without any reasons being given for this delay during the crucial first days. It focused on the possibility of medical malpractice rather than ill-treatment being the cause of the death. It appears that during the investigation a number of persons were interviewed, but that did not include any of the persons handling the criminal case against the applicant, and who obtained a procedural benefit from the self-incriminating statements made by the applicant’s brother. The Court thus agrees with the Supreme Court of Justice in finding that the investigation into the applicant brother’s death was ineffective.
In view of the grounds on which it has found a violation of Article 2 (see paragraphs 29–33 above), the Court considers that no separate issue arises under Article 3 in respect of the applicant’s brother
ΙΙ. VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION IN RESPECT OF THE APPLICANT
The Court reiterates that the obligation to carry out an effective investigation into allegations of treatment infringing Article 3 suffered at the hands of State agents is well established in the Court’s case-law. In addition to a thorough and effective investigation it is necessary for the State, in order to remedy a breach of Article 3 at national level, to have made an award of compensation to the applicant, where appropriate, or at least give him or her the possibility of seeking and obtaining compensation for the damage he or she sustained as a result of the ill-treatment. In cases of wilful ill-treatment the breach of Article 3 cannot be remedied only by an award of compensation to the victim. This is so because, if the authorities could confine their reaction to incidents of wilful ill-treatment by State agents to the mere payment of compensation, while not doing enough to prosecute and punish those responsible, it would be possible in some cases for agents of the State to abuse the rights of those within their control with virtual impunity, and the general legal prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, despite its fundamental importance, would be ineffective in practice .
In the present case, the Court notes that the Supreme Court of Justice expressly found a breach of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the applicant, in relation both to his ill-treatment in detention and to the ineffective investigation thereof . The Court therefore finds it established, in the light of the documents in the file attesting to injuries caused while in detention and the judgments of the Supreme Court of Justice, that the applicant was subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.
In the case of the applicant no such investigation has ever taken place, as the prosecutor refused to initiate one on 17 May 2007. It is also apparent from the parties’ submissions that after the decision of 17 May 2007 concerning the applicant was adopted, no further investigation was carried out. Despite the Supreme Court of Justice finding in 2010 that the applicant had been ill-treated, the prosecution decided to discontinue the investigation on 26 October 2011 . In addition, the prosecution did not reopen any of the investigations after the final decision of 9 April 2013 confirmed that ill-treatment had taken place. Instead, the authorities decided to destroy the only documents concerning the initial verification of his complaint. The Court considers that this inaction by the authorities, in failing to effectively attempt to elucidate the events that lead to the ill-treatment suffered by the applicant, is striking. It cannot but conclude that the authorities’ conduct constituted a manifest disregard of their Convention obligations which also compromised their ability to properly investigate the case in the future.
In such circumstances, the Court finds that the Moldovan authorities have not fulfilled their obligation to investigate the serious allegations of ill-treatment. Accordingly, the applicant can still claim to be the victim of a breach of Article 3 of the Convention, and the Government’s objection is therefore dismissed. Moreover, the Court finds it established, in the light of the finding of the Supreme Court of Justice, that the applicant was subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.
The Court therefore finds a breach of Article 3 in its substantive and procedural limbs in respect of the applicant.
ΙΙΙ. VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 13 OF THE CONVENTION
The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible. However, it considers that, in the light of its findings as to the ineffectiveness of the investigation and of the breach of the procedural limb of Articles 2 and 3, there is no need to examine separately the complaint under Article 13.
Just satisfaction: 40,000 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage), and EUR 650 (costs and expenses)