Bulgaria: Stefan Stankov continues his fight for independence
For 20 years, Stefan Stankov has been fighting for recognition as a person under the law. Sadly, his journey is one familiar to many people with psychosocial disabilities.
Mr. Stankov was deprived of his legal capacity in 1999 and then institutionalised for 15 years. He lived in appalling conditions, isolated from the community and under the control of the director of the institution who, as his guardian, was the person with absolute power to take all decisions concerning Stefan’s life. There was no law or rule requiring the guardian to consider what Stefan may have wished. What is more, Stefan had no right to go to court to challenge or be heard in matters concerning the guardianship arrangements. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found that the institutionalisation, the inhuman and degrading conditions of detention and the fact that he had no access to court all breached Stefan’s human rights as found by in its judgment of 17 June 2015.
Unfortunately for Mr. Stankov the judgment of the European Court did not bring about many of the changes he had hoped. He moved to smaller accommodation where the living conditions are better than in the previous large-scale institutions. He, however, did not regain the right to decide on matters concerning him. Moreover, the threat of being moved again to one of the big scale institutions from which he had just escaped is looming over his head. The contract for his current accommodation expires next year when he will be 62 years of age. It will then be decided by his guardian whether he must go back to a big institution. Because he still lacks legal capacity, he is not able to use the compensation he has received after the European Court judgment to buy or rent an apartment so that he could finally live independently. This situation persists despite the fact that, throughout his life, Stefan has demonstrated that, with the appropriate support, he could lead the life many of us take for granted.
It is for these reasons that he decided to file a lawsuit for restoration of his full legal capacity and access to support to help him make the decisions he wants in life. He is asking the Bulgarian Government to set up a system for support in decision-making for all persons with disabilities who need it in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 12 of this Convention clearly states that persons with disabilities have the right to legal capacity on an equal basis with others and that States should provide them access to the supports they may require to exercise this legal capacity. Some laws to this effect do exist in Bulgaria but the Government has not acted to implement them. For Stefan, this translates into a vicious circle where he is constantly afraid that he will again be placed in a prison-like institution just because he is not a ‘priority’ for the Government.
On 26 November 2021, Stefan, represented by Aneta Genova and Validity, lodged a new application to the European Court. This time, he argues that the Bulgarian Government’s failure to implement the existing laws violates his right to private life under the European Convention on Human Rights. With a little help, Stefan can live on his own, he could go visit his own town without needing his guardian’s permission and he could become a full member of the community with choice and control over all of his decisions. After more than 20 years of restrictions, he hopes that the European Court will decide that the deprivation of legal capacity is an excessive intrusion into his private life and autonomy, and that the Bulgarian authorities must implement a support system to make his rights effective in practice.
Validity calls for the Bulgarian Government to expedite reforms so that Stefan Stankov and many others in his situation will be treated with the respect they deserve.