Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Bulgaria: Validity intervenes at European Court of Human Rights on voting rights of people with disabilities

By Erzsébet Oláh 20th February 2018


The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is currently examining the case of a Bulgarian man who was not allowed to vote in the parliamentary election in May 2017 due to his placement under partial guardianship. With the help of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee he has challenged his disenfranchisement before the ECtHR. Validity submitted a third-party intervention  in the case supporting his right to vote.

Mr. Marinov was placed under guardianship in May 2000 against his will, at the request of the director of the institution where he lived.  The order automatically prevents people from voting in Bulgaria. Two years before the 26 March 2017 parliamentary election, Mr. Marinov had initiated proceedings requesting the lifting of his guardianship order, however the case remained pending at the time of the election, meaning he was unable to cast a vote.

As he could not challenge the denial of his right to vote in Bulgaria, Mr. Marinov turned to the ECtHR.  With the help of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, he argued that his disenfranchisement as a person with a disability under guardianship violates his right to vote guaranteed by Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention).

In its intervention, Validity submitted that the right to vote is universal and international law guarantees this on an equal basis to all persons with disabilities. Depriving persons with disabilities of the right to vote is therefore discriminatory amounting to a human rights violation.

Many countries deny the right to vote and political participation to persons with disabilities, an issue which Validity seeks to tackle under its “I’m a Person” campaign. Frequently, states justify disenfranchisement by challenging the “mental” or “cognitive” capacities of persons with disabilities, rather than recognising their right to receive support to exercise their political rights. Such approaches are fundamentally discriminatory and undermine the democratic participation of persons with disabilities.

Barbara Méhes, Validity Lawyer, noted: “International human rights law requires states to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities on an equal basis with others. One essential way of protecting those rights is through ensuring the accessibility of elections and supporting people with disabilities to vote. The European Court now has the opportunity to remind Member States to fulfil their obligations in this regard.


Validity would like to thank Christopher Johnson from Doughty Street Chambers, London, for assisting us with the intervention.