Belgium: Prison strike led to inmate’s human rights violations

A prisoner has argued successfully before human rights judges that the worsening of  detention  conditions during Belgium’s 2016 jail wardens’ strike amounted to degrading treatment.

In its 28 May Chamber judgment in the case of Clasens v. Belgium (application no. 26564/16) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and

a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 3.

As Just Satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Belgium was to pay the applicant, John Clasens 3,480 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,300 in respect of costs and expenses.

Clasens was in jail in April 2016, when strike action by wardens affected prisons in Brussels and Wallonia.

As a result, the guaranteed minimum service was no longer provided and the ordinary prison regime was suspended, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the prison in question.

In May 2016, Clasens lodged an urgent application with the president of the tribunal de première instance (TPI), asking her to order the Belgian State to restore the ordinary regime and complaining about his conditions of detention.

The next day, the president of the TPI allowed this request in part, ordering the Belgian State to provide and/or restore various services, subject to a daily penalty of 10,000 euros (EUR) per offence for non-compliance.

In its judgement, the European court found that Clasens’ conditions of detention during the prison wardens’ strike amounted to degrading treatment, resulting from the cumulative effect of ongoing lack of physical exercise, repeated breaches of the hygiene regulations, a lack of contact with the outside world and the uncertainty about whether his basic needs would be met.

It considered that Clasens had been subjected to distress of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention.

The court also held that the Belgian system, as it functioned at the relevant time, had not provided an effective remedy in practice – in other words, a remedy capable of affording redress for the situation of which Clasens was a victim and preventing the continuation of the alleged violations.

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