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HFHR intervenes in case of prisoner’s death

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the death of an inmate of the prison at Sieraków Śląski. The HFHR has brought this case to the attention of the Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Częstochowa.

Inmate dies in prison

The HFHR learned about the death of the prisoner from a news release published on 1 March 2019 on the wp.pl portal. According to the article, after returning from work, the man was taken to his cell. After a short while, his cellmates realized that the man did not give signs of life. According to the news release, the prisoner suffered from a heart condition.

State officials responsible for prisoners’ lives

The HFHR has sent an intervention letter to the Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Częstochowa. In the letter, the HFHR referred to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life, a basic and fundamental human right.

It was emphasised that whenever state officials deprive a person of liberty, they assume responsibility for the life and physical integrity of this person. This responsibility also extends to omissions leading to a death, which involve, for example, a failure to provide appropriate medical care. The HFHR further indicated that in the event of a sudden loss of life, it is authorities that must show a convincing and satisfactory explanation of the situation.

A particular emphasis was put on authorities’ duty to provide immediate medical assistance to a detainee who has found themselves in a life-threatening condition. According to the case law of the ECtHR presented in the statement, the absence of treatment or improper treatment given to a detainee who later dies constitutes a violation of Article 2 of the Convention.

The HFHR also indicated the procedural aspect of Article 2: “It is the state’s obligation to investigate and explain each and every case of a loss of life that clearly does not result from natural causes. Such cases require to be investigated ex officio, and – if a need arises – later send to trial, during which all the circumstances of the case must be explained and responsible persons – identified and punished”, says Piotr Kubaszewski, a member of the HFHR legal team. “Importantly, criminal proceedings must be effective”, Mr Kubaszewski adds.

Prisoner’s death due to absence of treatment equals Article 2 violation, ECtHR rules

In the past, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has found many violations of Convention’s Article 2 resulting from a failure to ensure medical care or assistance for persons deprived of liberty. “There is no doubt that public officials should be expected to be able to notice a sudden deterioration of an inmate’s health and to call for help immediately”, says Julia Gerlich, a lawyer at the HFHR. “A failure to do so may constitute a violation of Article 2 of the Convention on account of the special responsibility of the State towards persons deprived of their liberty”, she adds.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has been dealing with similar issues for years. In November 2017, the HFHR intervened after the death of Agnieszka Pysz, who was held at the Warszawa-Grochów detention centre. According to press accounts and the Ombudsman’s inquiry, negligence of medical personnel of the facility could be a factor in the woman’s death.

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