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M.C. v Bulgaria

    Citation. Eur. Ct. H.R., 39272/98 (2003)

    Brief Fact Summary. A girl who was almost 15 years old and a citizen of Bulgaria claimed that two men had raped her in Bulgaria. When the Bulgarian officers could not find sufficient proof to show that she was physically forced to have sex with the men, they closed their investigation.


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a member state closes a rape investigation on the premise of insufficient proof of physical force without also considering whether the victim was subjected to forceful circumstances, that member state has not met its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

     


    Facts. M.C. (P) was alleged to have been raped by two men, P. and A, when she was 14 years and 10 months old. M.C. (P) revealed that the rapes occurred the night she went to disco with the two men and another man. The men later took her to a reservoir for a swim later that night despite her objections. The criminal law in Bulgaria (D) defines rape as “sexual intercourse with a woman…..who was compelled by force or threats.” The investigation into M.C.’s (P) allegation was closed by the Bulgarian authorities (D) because they in their opinion, viewed M.C’s (P) evidence of physical resistance as insufficient to warrant prosecution. An application for damages against the Bulgarian government (D) was filed by M.C. (P) in the European Court of Human Rights.


    Issue. When a member state closes a rape investigation on the premise of insufficient proof of physical force without also considering whether the victim was subjected to forceful circumstances, has the member state fulfilled its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights?

     


    Held. (Per curiam) No. When a member state close a rape investigation on the premise of insufficient proof of physical force without also considering whether the victim was subjected to forceful circumstances, that member state has not met its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This statute at issue has been interpreted by the Bulgarian Supreme Court to include less than direct violence against a woman. This interpretation of Bulgarian law is in tandem with international norms in both and the United States; today, even in the absence of physical force, coercive circumstances can make sexual intercourse non-consensual as required in prosecutions for rape.
    Positive obligations on member states to conform local law to the Convention’s standards have been imposed on member states by the European Convention on Human Rights. The provision of the Convention was contravened by the Bulgarian officials (D) when they did required proof of physical resistance in a rape case. Investigations into the circumstances which could have been sufficiently coercive to vitiate M.C’s (P) consent under the recognized standards of international law and the Convention was not followed up by the Bulgarian authorities (D). Hence, the defendant partly contributed to M.C’s (P) psychological trauma. [Damages awarded to applicant]


    Discussion. The failure of a member state to prosecute rape in compliance with contemporary international standards was the reason why the European Court of Human Rights awarded damages in the M.C. v Bulgaria case. The interpretation of the rape statute by the Bulgarian Supreme Court is broad and in the view of the European Court of Human Rights, this interpretation was the narrow, outdated manner of enforcing the statute.



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