Russia: government must establish independent investigation into hospital fire deaths
Budapest (Hungary) and St. Petersburg (Russia), 12 December 2006. Following two fires in institutions in less than a day, killing over 50 people, the Mental Disability Advocacy Center calls on the Russian government to establish effective independent investigations, and to commit to a closure of institutions.
46 women died as a result of a fire in the early hours of Saturday 9 December in Hospital No. 17, a drug rehabilitation institution in southern Moscow. They are reported to have died whilst struggling to leave the building as smoke suffocated them. Doors, including fire escapes, were allegedly locked, and the metal barred windows could not be opened.
Moscow fire department spokesman Yevgeny Bobylyov is reported to have said that emergency assistance arrived far too late, and that hospital staff were ineffective in evacuating people. It was further reported by the press that fire officers had demanded the hospital's closure over nine months previously, in March. Allegedly, such demands remained ignored.
In a similar incident just two days later on 11 December, a fire broke out in a psychiatric institution in the town of Taiga in the province of Kemerovo, Siberia. The AFP news agency reported that eight people died and more were injured. The BBC reported that a third fire also broke out on the same day at a sanatorium in Tver, a town north of Moscow. One Russian media report said the Tver institution was for children with mental health problems. In this instance, all escaped serious injury.
In a letter to the Russian Minister of Justice, MDAC's Executive Director Oliver Lewis said, 'the Russian government should open its institutions – to human rights monitors, health and safety inspectors, and to fire inspectors. It must follow the recommendations of these bodies. The government should also close its large institutions where many thousands of children and adults with disabilities are warehoused for their entire lives.'
In its letter MDAC reminded the Russian government of five of its obligations arising from Article 2 (the right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is legally binding on Russia. These obligations include a requirement to carry out effective investigations into fatal incidents. 'Effective' investigations include, at a minimum, the following components:
- Any person or body carrying out the investigation must be wholly independent from those implicated in the incidents. In this case this includes anyone associated with the hospitals, or the Ministry of Health.
- The Russian authorities must act on their own motion now that the incident has come to their attention. They cannot wait for relatives of the deceased, or the injured themselves, to initiate criminal or civil investigations.
- The investigation must be capable of leading to both an identification, and punishment, of those responsible. This is not an obligation of results, but of means.
- The investigation must be prompt, thorough and carried out with reasonable expedition.
- There must be public scrutiny of the investigation. In addition the next-of-kin must always be involved in the procedure in order to safeguard their legitimate interests.
MDAC looks forward to receiving confirmation that any investigations into these, and other similar incidents will comprise these basic components.
For more information contact Oliver Lewis in Budapest, firstname.lastname@example.org or Dmitri Bartenev in St. Petersburg, email@example.com.
Mental Disability Advocacy Center
H-1241 Budapest, PO Box 263, Hungary
tel: (+361) 413-2730
fax: (+361) 413-2739