The applicants who were of Serbian and Croatian ethnic origins were all convicted of war crimes against Bosniac civilians. They were sent to Zenica Prison, the only maximum-security prison in that part of the country. The prison population was approximately 90% Bosniac. At first an insulting graffiti regarding the applicants was discovered in prison canteen. Approximately month later the applicants were attacked by their fellow inmates of Bosniac origin leading to the applicants’ admission to the hospital.
The applicants complained that the authorities had failed to protect them from persecution by their fellow prisoners in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
The Court reiterated that in the case of prisoners, the States must ensure that a person is detained in conditions which are compatible with respect for his human dignity, that the manner and method of the execution of the measure do not subject him to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and that, given the practical demands of imprisonment, his health and well-being are adequately secured. In the case at hand the Court emphasized that inter-ethnic relations were strained and occurrences of ethnically motivated violence were still relatively frequent in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the period under examination.
Taking into consideration that the majority of prisoners in the particular prison were Bosniacs, it was clear to the Court that the applicants’ detention in this prison entailed a serious risk to their physical well-being and the prison administration was aware of that. Despite this the applicants were treated like any other prisoner and they had to share cells and common areas with a large number of other inmates with no specific security measures in place. In addition the Court did not accept the government’s argument that Zenica prison was the only maximum-security prison in that part of the country emphasizing that such structural shortcomings are of no relevance to the obligation of the respondent State to adequately secure the well-being of prisoners.
Since the applicants were only separated from the general population after they were attacked and went on a hunger strike, the Court concluded that their physical well-being was not adequately secured in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.