The applicants in Mago held tenancies for life of flats within Bosnia-Herzegovina (with the exception of Mrs Mago, whose husband was the tenant) and they were compelled for varying reasons to leave their homes following the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. Security of these flats could be lost in a limited range of circumstances, including where the flat was left unoccupied for a continuous six month period or more. Once the tenants left, their properties were treated as abandoned by the authorities.
After the end of the war, the applicants made claims for restitution of their former homes. The Statute under which they made these claims contained an exception for those who served in foreign armed forces after 19/5/92. The majority of the applicants were members of the Yugoslav People’s Army and their claims and appeals were dismissed because they fell foul of this exception. The applicants petitioned the ECHR alleging breaches of Art 1 Protocol 1, Article 8 and Article 14.
The Court held that there had been no violation in three of the complaints as the applicants in question had been provided with alternative flats in Serbia and Montenegro. Although the deprivation of property rights might in normal circumstances lead to a finding of a violation, the exceptional circumstances of the case and the fact that the loss of the accommodation was the result of war and the dissolution of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia meant that the Respondent was under no obligation to make reparations under Art 1 Protocol 1 (para 104)
In Mrs Mago’s case, the Court held that the exception had been incorrectly applied as she was entitled on her divorce from Mr Mago to inherit the rights to the flat. Mrs Mago was not involved with any foreign forces and the Court accordingly held there had been a breach of Art 1 Protocol 1. The two remaining applicants (Radovic and Krstevski) had been members of the VJ forces and the Court accepted the argument that membership of certain armed groups depended largely on one’s ethnic origin. The Court held that the measures depriving the applicants of the right to restitution had the effect of treating individuals differently on ethnicity grounds and there could be no justification for deprivation in these circumstances. The Court found a violation of Art 1 of Protocol 1.
The overall award ranged from EUR 58000 to 90000.
This claim was brought by members of the Bulgarian Roma community, who inhabited vacant land in a district of Sofia from the 1960s onwards and constructed tenements (without the permission of the authorities) for between 200 and 300 people. The State sold the land occupied by the community to a private investor in 2006 and the Courts ordered the community’s expulsion on the grounds that they had no proprietary interest in the land, despite the time they had already lived there with the State’s acquiescence.
Nevertheless, the eviction was delayed pending a decision whether they should be rehoused and the applicants in the meantime petitioned the ECHR on the grounds of breaches of Art 1 Protocol 1, Articles 3, 8 and 14.
In deciding under Art 8 whether the authorities were pursuing a legitimate aim, the Court rejected the applicants’ argument that the State was motivated by a racist agenda and it accepted that the buildings were unlawfully built, that they were structurally unsafe and sub-standard and that there were inadequate sanitary facilities.
The relevant question for the Court was whether expulsion was necessary in a democratic society. The Court noted that alternative methods of dealing with the risks to health and safety had not been properly explored (for example legitimation of the community’s occupation of the land, improving sanitation and providing adequate re-housing). The Respondent was also criticised for describing the risk of homelessness as “irrelevant” when the principle of proportionality required due consideration to be given to the consequences of removal (para.126).
Furthermore, the Court recognised (para. 129) that “Such social groups, regardless of the ethnic origin of their members, may need assistance in order to be able effectively to enjoy the same rights as the majority population…..In the context of Article 8, in cases such as the present one, the applicants’ specificity as a social group and their needs must be one of the relevant factors in the proportionality assessment that the national authorities are under a duty to undertake.”
This factor provides an important qualification to the principle that there is no duty under Article 8 to be provided with a home and that “an obligation to secure shelter to particularly vulnerable individuals may flow from Article 8 of the Convention in exceptional cases”.
Accordingly, the Court held there to be a violation of Article 8 and it declared that either the 2005 order be repealed or it be suspended pending implementation of Convention-compliant measures (the Court having recognised that Art 8 gave no right to occupy land unlawfully in perpetuity). No damages were awarded.
The ECHR has recently posed questions to the parties in the controversial night-time care case of McDonald v UK, namely:
1. Did the withdrawal of the night-time care service interfere with the applicant’s right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the Convention? If so, has there been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (a) from 17 October 2008 to 4 November 2009; and (b) from 4 November 2009 onwards?
2. Was the respondent under a positive obligation under Article 8 of the Convention to provide the applicant with a service which enabled her to live with dignity? If so, in withdrawing the night-time care service was it in breach of this obligation?
We’ll stay alert for any developments in this one.