Bulgaria in breach of human rights convention over care home deaths in 1997

15 children with mental and physical disabilities died from shortage of food and the effects of cold, court finds


The European Court of Human Rights has found Bulgaria in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights after 15 children and young adults with special needs died in a state care home there.

The children, who had severe mental and physical disabilities, died from a shortage of food and the effects of cold as well as a shortage of medicines and basic necessities. The case was taken by the parents of seven of the children.

The judgment, delivered by a seven-judge chamber, outlined how in the winter of 1996/1997, inflation rose in Bulgaria to over 1,000 per cent and the funding to the home in Dzhurkovo lost a significant part of its value.

It was inaccessible by car because of weather conditions and the hospital was 40km away. The heating came on for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. The “food was highly inadequate”, the judgment said and staff and nearby villagers brought in some food.

The manager of the home wrote to the ministry of employment and social policy and to the foreign aid agency in December 1996. She received no response and the first child died.

In January 1997, the manager appealed “several times to the regional committee of the Red Cross” and the ministry was contacted again. A one-off payment was eventually sent by the ministry at the end of February, by which time 15 children were dead.

The court noted that only two parents had visited the children before their death and the staff of the home organised their funerals.

It found specific information about the risk to the children had been available to authorities as early as September 1996. The tragic events had not occurred in a sudden, one-off and unforeseen manner, it found.

The authorities should have known there was a real risk to the lives of the children and had breached article 2 of the convention, the right to life, the court found.