‘I’m finally free!’: Moldovan courts quash guardianship order in favour of support
Following almost a decade of legal action, Natalia Sitova, our client from Moldova, achieved victory at the Chisinau Court of Appeal, in a claim to regain her autonomy which was discriminatorily restricted on the basis of her disability.
“Natalia has always considered herself as able to act on her own behalf. She can, directly, use her resources and income according to her own desires. She does not need other people to carry out her actions. If Natalia gets support in making decisions or assistance in specific situations, she will be able to complete a support a contract,” said her representative, Valerian Mămăligă, lawyer in the Litigation and Advocacy Program of the Institute for Human Rights in Moldova (IDOM).
In the decision, which has wide implications for persons with psychosocial disabilities in Moldova, the court upheld Ms Sitova’s right to fully exercise her legal capacity with the support of her family and community. The judgment follows a Constitutional Court judgment of 2016, in which Validity (Mental Disability Advocacy Centre) submitted a third-party intervention. In that case, the Constitutional Court rejected the previous practice of deprivation of legal capacity and placement under guardianship which is frequently imposed upon persons with psychosocial disabilities, stating instead that support in decision making must be provided before any restriction of legal capacity can take place.
“The Constitutional Court judgment recognised the importance of providing support to persons with disabilities to make decisions instead of simply stripping them of their rights and placing them under guardianship.Ms Sitova’s case demonstrates that placement under guardianship no longer has to be the norm. Thousands of people with disabilities who are threatened with placement under guardianship or who are already deprived of their decision-making rights can now have hope that courts will protect their right to legal capacity. It is crucial that lawyers use this case in arguments to defend their own clients so that rejection of guardianship orders and recognition of support becomes commonplace,” said Ann Campbell, Validity Co-Executive Director.
In 2003, Ms Sitova was declared ‘legally incapable’ based on psychiatric expertise. In 2006, the courts placed her under the guardianship of her husband without informing her of this decision. After her husband’s death, a new struggle arose when several individuals wanted to become her guardians in order to manage her property. They requested the court to establish guardianship for a period of 10 years, ignoring Natalia’s will and preferences. If guardianship was reinstituted, Natalia could be abusively deprived of a number of rights such as the right to be intimate, family and private life, the right to health care, the right to management of property and financial means, the right not to be discriminated against, and others.Guardianship is often presented as a measure of protection, but in fact serves to deny persons with disabilities their human rights. It is used to legitimise forced medical interventions, institutionalisation, and other severe human rights violations. It deprives persons with disabilities of the possibility to make fundamental, personal decisions in life, such as whether to marry, to have a family, or where to live.
In 2017, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities called on Moldova to restore the full legal capacity of persons with disabilities and establish a system of supports in decision making to replace the guardianship regimes. The Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality, a body charged with protection against discrimination in Moldova, also dealt with Natalia’s case. It emphasised that people do not lose personal desires and preferences by virtue of their disability. As all other people, persons with disabilities have the right to decide about matters in their life. This view, presented by the Council in the court proceedings, was upheld in the final judgment. The Chisinau Court of Appeal held that placing Natalia under guardianship is contrary to international standards, in particular to Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”The victory of the case gave Natalia the opportunity to enjoy legal capacity equally and at the same level as other people in all aspects of her life,” reiterated her representative, Valerian Mămăligă.