Bulgaria's Failure to Adequately Investigate an Alleged Rape Violates European Human Rights Convention
Thursday, December 4, 2003 12:00 PM

Today, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the Case of M.C. v. Bulgaria holding the government of Bulgaria in violation of Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  The case arises from the failure of Bulgarian prosecutors to investigate sufficiently rape allegations because there was no direct evidence of significant physical resistance.  M.C., the applicant in this case, alleges that this is reflective of a predominant practice of prosecuting rape perpetrators only in the presence of significant physical resistance in contravention of the European Human Rights Convention, the policy of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and established principles of international criminal law.

Interpreting Articles 3 and 8 of the European Human Rights Convention

The Court has interpreted Article3's prohibition of torture to require States to "take measures designed to ensure that individuals within their jurisdication are not subjected to ill-treatment, including ill-treatment administered by private individuals."  The Court has interpreted Article 8's protection of the right to respect for private and family life to require "efficient criminal-law provisions" to deter "grave acts such as rape, where fundamental values and essential aspects of private life are at stake."

Interpreting Articles 3 and 8 together, "[t]he Court considers that States have a positive obligation ... to enact criminal-law provisions effectively punishing rape and to apply them in practice through effective investigation and prosecution." 

Court Findings

Applying this obligation to the facts of the case of M.C., and without making a determination on the guilt of the alleged perpetrators, the Court today found "that the effectiveness of the investigation of the applicant's case and, in particular, the approach taken by the investigator and the prosecutors in the case fell short of the requirements inherent in the States' positive obligations--viewed in light of the relevant modern standards in comparative and international law--to establish and apply effectively a criminal-law system punishing all forms of rape and sexual abuse", including in cases where there is no evidence of resistance.  The Court awarded to the applicant damages, costs and expenses in the amount of 12,110 Euros. 

Execution of the Judgment

The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers will be supervising the execution of the Court's judgment in this case and will soon complete the case with a final resolution detailing steps Bulgaria will take to comply with the judgment.


For a copy of the judgment, please see the European Court of Human Rights website.  For more information on the European Court of Human Rights, please see the International Law: European Human Rights System Section of this website.