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Tănase and Others v. Romania: In a successful pro bono case, McCarthy Tétrault obtains a human rights victory for Roma citizens mistreated by their own government


November 13, 2009


McCarthy Tétrault and the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) recently obtained an important victory before the European Court of Human Rights. They obtained an admission from the State of Romania that it had violated the rights of their Roma citizens and compensation for their 24 Roma clients.


The applicants in the Tănase case are Romanian nationals of Roma origin, who in 1991 lived in the village of Bolintin Deal. One evening in April 1991, a non-Roma member of the village was killed by another Roma villager. This death led to retaliation against the entire Roma community on a frightening scale. A mob of two thousand non-Roma villagers destroyed the applicants’ houses. Amongst the mob were a local priest and the village’s mayor. When the Roma tried to return to their village, more violence and burning of homes ensued.

The European Court of Human Rights’ 26 May 2009 decision, Tănase and Others v. Romania, was terrific news. The Romanian government acknowledged its responsibility for a series of breaches of human rights in this case. The European Court of Human Rights accepted their admission and awarded the applicants damages totalling approximately $877,000. The Romanian government has also made a commitment to implement policies to improve living conditions for the Roma community. Romania has also committed to improve inter-ethnic relations.

McCarthy Tétrault Notes:

McCarthy Tétrault has a long tradition of pro bono work. It has long been part of the firm’s culture for lawyers to get involved in the various legal causes they believe in for the public good. The firm now also has a policy to formalize its efforts and to integrate pro bono as part of each of its lawyer’s practices. McCarthy Tétrault’s Pro Bono Policy approves up to fifty hours of associate and partner annual billing time to Pro Bono activities. In addition, the firm is prepared to dedicate resources and its administrative infrastructure to supporting pro bono. The firm has acted pro bono in areas as diverse as civil liberties, human rights, financial, business, labour and employment law.

McCarthy Tétrault partnered with the IHRP to bring its litigation approach to the case, which was litigated in the same manner that the firm would conduct any other case. This meant, for example, that serious efforts were made to quantify the damages suffered by the applicants. The European Court of Human Rights has traditionally awarded quite modest damages. The firm retained Mark Berenblut, the Senior Vice President of National Economic Research Associates, Inc., to help set out a proper valuation of the victim’s financial loss. Mr. Berenblut also kindly agreed to provide his services pro bono.

McCarthy Tétrault is very proud of the success it helped achieve in this case, and of putting into practice its tradition of making a difference, one case at a time.