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HFHR’s statement on events at hospital in Starogard Gdański

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has asked the Regional Prosecutor in Gdańsk to closely monitor the local prosecutor office’s probe into the cases of abuse and degrading treatment of patients of the Hospital for the Mentally and Physically Ill in Starogard Gdański.

In its letter sent to the Prosecutor, the HFHR has expressed concern over the course of the investigation, which has been pending for five years and is unlikely to be concluded any time soon.

“There is a reasonable suspicion that the case involves the use of torture and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment. Against that background, we would like to emphasise that the right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment is one of the crucial human rights. This right originates from each person’s dignity, which is the inalienable right of every human being, irrespectively of their health condition or age”, reads the letter.

“The Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights establish an absolute prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that applies not only to prisoners but also persons committed to hospitals due to a need to protect their life and health”, says Dr Dorota Pudzianowska, HFHR legal expert. “In cases that involve allegations of such serious abuses, standards of the Strasbourg case law require an utmost degree of care to be exercised in explaining the matter at hand. According to ECtHR case law, investigations into such cases should be effective, independent, impartial and quick”, Dr Pudzianowska notes.

The HFHR was also alarmed by a statement of one of the lead prosecutors in the case who said that testimonies of the hospital’s patients should have been treated with a degree of circumspection, because they suffered from various disorders. “This statement may give rise to the concern and assumption that the existence of mental conditions in the victims and witnesses have caused delays in the investigation conducted by the prosecutor’s office”, the HFHR’s statement concludes.

“The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that persons with disabilities should have effective access to justice, also as witnesses. It is entirely unacceptable that testimonies given by persons with an intellectual or mental disability are questioned solely on the basis of such a disability. One may not assume that such persons are incapable of being a witness”, Dr Pudzianowska explains.

In 2010 the HFHR intervened in another case that involved abuses of patients’ rights of persons treated at the Hospital for the Mentally and Physically Ill in Starogard Gdański. At that time, the Ombudsman for the Rights of Patients of a Psychiatric Hospital was appointed at the hospital.

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