Malenko v. Ukraine

Download Judgment: English
Country: Ukraine
Year: 2009
Court: The European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Chronic and noncommunicable diseases, Health care and health services, Infectious diseases, Prisons
Human Rights: Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

The applicant was a Ukrainian national who was serving his sentence in a prison due to his conviction on murder; his detention started in April 1999. Before his conviction, he had been recognized as invalid due to his spine disease. He lodged his claim before the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR) alleging that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) had been violated as a result of the conditions of his detention.

The applicant stated that he and his inmates had to take turns to sleep due to lack of sufficient beds, there hadn’t been sufficient nutrition and ventilation, he hadn’t been provided with the medical care his spine disease required, and had contracted TB in detention, for which he hadn’t been treated for a year and half. During his detention in one of the cells, he hadn’t been provided with sufficient food and medical care and was exposed to insanitary conditions that affected his health. In another cell, his sight deteriorated as a result of lights improperly managed, and hadn’t been provided with medical treatment for it or consulted by an Ophthalmologist despite his request.  He had been exposed to smokes due to inadequate ventilation and had been detained in overcrowded cells. While working at the prison, he was strip searched back and forth by officers in front of inmates as there hadn’t been a place designated for this purpose.

The applicant also stated that he had complained to the State Department for Execution of Sentences regarding the conditions of his detention and his need for medical assistance. He had addressed the same complaint to the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Parliament of Ukraine stating that his complaints to the relevant authorities had been neglected and that his leg was becoming less functional due to lack of treatment for his spine disease.

The government argued that the applicant had been provided with 3 m2 of living space at the prison, sufficient nutrition and individual bedding in compliance with domestic laws. The government also argued that the applicant had been provided with medical treatments for the TB and had been examined and treated by Ophthalmologist.

The ECHR held that the government had failed to support its argument with evidence as to the sufficiency of the ventilation, nutrition, access to day light, and living space provided to the applicant. It rather found the arguments of the applicant regarding the conditions of his detention to be in compliance with the reports of the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Ukrainian Parliament. The ECHR thus found the conditions of his detention to be degrading in violation of Article 3 of the convention.

The ECHR noted that the government hadn't demonstrated the applicant's treatment for his spine disease while this disease had been known to the prison administration throughout his detention. The ECHR held that his amounted to a treatment under Article 3 of the Convention. The ECHR noted that the government hadn't submitted justifications for conducting the strip search of prisoners in front of others with no separate facilities for the purpose. The ECHR held that this act degraded the applicant's human dignity and amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

The ECHR awarded non-pecuniary damage to the applicant.


" considering whether treatment is “degrading” within the meaning of Article 3, the Court will have regard to whether its object is to humiliate and debase the person concerned and whether, as far as the consequences are concerned, it has adversely affected his or her personality in a manner incompatible with Article 3. Even the absence of such a purpose cannot conclusively rule out a finding of a violation of this provision." [Para. 46]

"In accordance with this provision the State must ensure that a person is detained in conditions which are compatible with respect for his human dignity, that the manner and method of the execution of the measure do not subject him to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and that, given the practical demands of imprisonment, his health and well-being are adequately secured." [Para. 47]

"The Court accepts that the medical assistance available in prison hospitals may not always be at the same level as in the best medical institutions for the general public. Nevertheless, the State must ensure that the health and well-being of detainees are adequately secured by, among other things, providing them with the requisite medical assistance." [Para. 53]

"The mere fact that a detainee was seen by a doctor and prescribed a certain form of treatment cannot automatically lead to the conclusion that the medical assistance was adequate..... The authorities must also ensure that a comprehensive record is kept concerning the detainee’s state of health and the treatment he underwent while in detention...., that the diagnoses and care are prompt and accurate..., and that where necessitated by the nature of a medical condition, supervision is regular and systematic and involves a comprehensive therapeutic strategy aimed at curing the detainee’s diseases or preventing their aggravation, rather than addressing them on a symptomatic basis..... The authorities must also show that the necessary conditions were created for the prescribed treatment to be actually followed through..." [Para.54]