Thursday 12 June 2008

More Judgments on Detention Conditions

Yesterday, the Court found a violation of Article 3 in the case of Kotsaftis v. Greece. Kotsaftis suffered of hepatitis B and complained that he had incurred the disease during detention. His medical condition was so bad that he needed to be treated in hospital several times. During a leave from prison, he absconded and was only arrested two years later again. Although the Court found no proof that the applicant had been infected by hepatitis during his stays in prison, it did conclude that the authorities had not done what could reasonably be expected of them in view of the severity of Kotsaftis' illness. No sufficient or appropriate care had been offered to safeguard his physical integrity. In a remarkable obiter, the Court also lamented the fact that he had been detained in a cell with ten others, although his disease was highly infectious. This served as an additional argument to conclude that Kotsaftis had been submitted to inhuman treatment. But going beyond that, one can read into this a confirmation that there is duty of care to protect prisoners against infectious diseases of their fellow prisoners.

In a relatively rare use of interim measures (Rule 39 of the Rules of Court), which are mostly used to stay extraditions or expulsions, the Court had ordered Greece in March 2007 to transfer the applicant to a medical centre to be tested and treated until doctors would find that he could return to prison without his life being endangered. It did so within a week and Mr Kotsaftis' health improved as a result. The whole saga indicates the seriousness of his condition, but also a novel way to use Strasbourg as a life-saving mechanism.

The press release of the judgment can be found here. The judgment itself is only available in French. Une semaine francophone!

On the same day, the Court found another violation of Article 3 in a detention case. In Shchebet v. Russia, a Belorussian applicant was held for 34 days in a very small cell at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, which was normally used for short-term detention of only a few hours. For food she was fully dependent on her family and the goodwill of the attending police officers. Interestingly, the Court held that the detention was not only contrary to Russian law, but in addition was based on a misreading of the Russian-Belarussian extradition treaty! This is an ironic judgment in the sense that the applicant would not be able to complain about violations by her own country, since Belarus is the only European country which is not a party to the European Convention. Involuntary cross-border human rights tourism with a sad twist...