MOCANU & ORS v ROMANIA (third party intervention)

On 13 and 14 June 1990, anti-government demonstrations in Romania were violently repressed, resulting in several civilian casualties.  

CASE BACKGROUND 

The applicants in this case included (1) Mrs Mocanu, whose husband was killed, (2) Mr Stoica, who was ill-treated, and (3) Association “21 December 1989” (“the Association”), which was attacked and ransacked, and represented several of the parties injured during the protests.  

Mrs Mocanu lodged a domestic complaint immediately following these incidents. Mr Stoica lodged a complaint 11 years later. The investigation concerning Mr Stoica was ended in 2011 and the one concerning Mrs Mocanu was still not concluded by 2013. The applicants complained to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), alleging a failure by Romania to investigate the human rights violations, in violation of the procedural aspects of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention).  The Association joined the application, complaining of lengthy criminal proceedings. 

In response, Romania argued that Mr Stoica lodged his criminal complaint out of time. 

The ECtHR Chamber decided in favour of both Mrs Mocanu and the Association, finding a violation of Articles 2 and 6(1). In relation to Mr Stoica, the Chamber found no violation of Article 3. It stated that Mr Stoica was not diligent nor justified in bringing allegations of violence to the authorities 11 years after they occurred, found insufficient evidence of torture, and claimed that other alleged offences had already become statute-barred. 

The case was referred to the Grand Chamber. 

INTERVENTION 

REDRESS was given leave to intervene in this case on 24 July 2013. REDRESS’s intervention before the Grand Chamber is available here.

The intervention highlighted that States must prioritise the right to remedy and reparation, including by conducting a thorough and effective investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible for torture or ill-treatment. An investigation can and should be initiated on a State’s own initiative where there is sufficient evidence to alert the State to the possibility of torture.

The intervention also argued that prosecuting acts of torture as such is crucial to highlight the gravity of the crime, and allows for special procedural rules, including victim and witness protection and exceptions to statutes of limitation.

The intervention underlined that violence at the hands of the State can impact a person’s ability to trust others and state officials, acting as a significant obstacle to redress. If there is no sign of an effective investigation, victims of torture may not bring allegations of torture to the responsible authorities, both for fear of reprisals and a lack of hope for proper accountability.

REDRESS concluded that, as recognised by other international jurisprudence, limitation periods should not apply to the crime of torture and are contrary to the right to redress as provided for in the UN Convention against Torture.

CASE OUTCOME

European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber), 17 September 2014

The Court decided that there had not been an effective investigation for the purposes of Articles 2 and 3.

The Court recognised the difficulty Mr Stoica faced in bringing forward his complaint in light of the intense trauma he had suffered and lack of State action.

The Court highlighted the State’s duty to investigate human rights violations on its own initiative. It affirmed that all reasonable steps should have been taken to identify all potential victims, even those that did not submit a complaint. It also stressed that cases concerning torture or other ill-treatment should not be discontinued on account of a limitation period.

The Court also decided that the investigation lacked independence, was not thorough and was unduly prolonged. Mrs Mocanu was also not kept properly informed of developments during the investigation.

The judgment can be found here and can be cited as follows:
Mocanu and Others v. Romania [GC], App. Nos. 10865/09, 45886/07 and 32431/08 (ECHR, 17 September 2014)

QUICK FACTS

Case name: Mocanu and Others v. Romania (Application Nos. 10865/09, 45886/07 and 32431/08)

Court/Body: European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber)

Current status: Decision reached

Date of final decision: 17 September 2014

KEY WORDS

Statute of limitation/limitation period: a law or rule which sets out the time limits within which a prosecution or other legal action must take place. Once this period expires, such prosecution is deemed to be “statute-barred”.