European HR Court hear case of a Bulgarian Roma


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Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 09:18:25 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: European HR Court hear case of a Bulgarian Roma

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org>

European HR Court hear case of a Bulgarian Roma


On Thursday 20 January 2000, the European Court of Human Rights at
Strasbourg heard a case filed by the European Roma Rights Center on
behalf the widow of a Romani man who died at the hands of police in
Bulgaria in 1994. The Human Rights Project (HRP), a Bulgarian Roma
rights organisation, had steered the case through the Bulgarian
domestic courts. European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) counsel Yonko
Grozev represented the applicant at the hearing in Strasbourg.
 
Slavcho Tsonchev, a Romani man, died in the Pleven Police station at 2
am on 25 September 1994 of injuries sustained after brutal beating,
about twelve hours after he had been taken into custody. The European
Court of Human Rights will deliver their decision in due course.
 
At 2 pm on 24 September 1994, two uniformed police sergeants brought
Mr Tsonchev from his aunt's house to the Pleven Police Department to
answer allegations of cattle theft.  According to police testimony, Mr
Tsonchev was too inebriated to be questioned.  At approximately 7 pm,
the police requested medical assistance for Mr Tsonchev.  A physician
and a para-medical assistant came, conducted a cursory examination,
then left, at which point Mr Tsonchev was placed in a lock-up. Shortly
after midnight the police requested medical help a second time.  At
around 2 am on 25 September, the same physician arrived and pronounced
Mr Tsonchev dead.
 
At 2.30 am the Regional investigator arrived and examined the body
noting only a 'bruise' 'on the right side of the face' and '[b]ecause
of the dark color of the skin' ..no other visible injuries of the
body.'  In violation of Bulgarian criminal procedures, the inspection
record was not signed by any of the witnesses present, but only by the
investigator.
 
A criminal investigation was subsequently opened on 25 September
1994.  The report of an autopsy conducted that morning documented
numerous bruises all over the body which the initial inspection had
failed to record, including a hemorrhage under the right lower eyelid,
bruises on both sides of the face, the lower jaw and the chin, 
'massive' bruises on both arms, and three long bruises on the
buttocks. The report concluded that death was caused by 'acute
anemia', resulting from the 'huge and deep hemorrhages' on the body.
 
In the ensuing three years and five months, the authorities conducted
an inadequate investigation which shed no light on the causes of Mr
Tsonchev's death.  In the process they denied the applicant access to
civil remedies and persistently obstructed her efforts to obtain
information about the course of the investigation.
 
On 12 May 1995 and again on 28 February 1996, HRP counsel Dimitrov
filed requests with the Office of the Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor
asking for the investigation to be expedited.
 
On 19 March 1996, well beyond the time limit established in the
Criminal Procedure Code, the Regional Prosecutor suspended the
investigation on the ground that it was impossible to determine where
the victim had been beaten, and who - the police officers or the
owners of the cattle Mr Tsonchev was alleged to have stolen - was
responsible. In an order of 8 July 1996 the Office of Chief Prosecutor
granted Counsel's appeal and ordered that the investigation be
reopened. The 8 July order found that the investigation to-date had
not been thorough or complete and directed that further specific steps
be taken to determine liability for Mr Tsonchev's death and for the
failure to provide adequate medical assistance during detention.
 
In January and again in May 1997, HRP counsel filed renewed written
complaints with, respectively, the Pleven Regional Prosecutor's Office
and the Office of Chief Prosecutor, alleging that contrary to the 8
July order, no investigation was taking place.  On 17 August 1997,
counsel received by mail a copy of a letter dated 3 June 1997 in which
the Pleven Regional Prosecutor's Office explained to the Office of the
Chief Prosecutor that no further investigation was possible, and that
the investigation should again be suspended.
 
The ERRC is unaware of any decision or action taken by the Office of
Chief Prosecutor since then.  As a result, with the investigation
still languishing, there is no reason to believe that the Bulgarian
authorities are any closer today than they were in September 1994 to
providing legal remedies for the death of Mr Tsonchev.
 
In view of the above, on 8 May 1998, the widow of the victim, Mrs
Tsoncheva,  represented by counsel, submitted an application to the
European Court of Human Rights alleging that several rights under the
European Convention of Human Rights had been violated, including the
following:
 
Article 2: violation of the right to life. The applicant claimed that
Mr Tsonchev died whilst in police detention after the police inflicted
fatal injuries on him and/or they had failed to provide him with
adequate medical care. Further, that the authorities had failed to
carry out an effective official investigation to determine the cause
of death.
 
Article 6: violation of the right to a fair trial.  Under Bulgarian
law and practice, the authorities' failure to carry out an adequate
criminal investigation culminating in formal charges has deprived Mrs
Tsonchev of her civil right to sue in court for the purpose of
establishing civil liability and recovering damages.
 
Article 13: violation of the right to an effective remedy. Mrs
Tsonchev has been denied an effective remedy for the murder of her
husband.
 
Article 14: violation of the right to be free from discrimination on
the basis of race, in conjunction with articles 2, 3, 6 and 13.  Mrs
Tsonchev submitted that her husband's death at the hands of the police
and the inadequate investigation which followed were in large part the
result of her husband's and her own Romani ethnicity.
 
Article 25: hindrance of access to the European Court of Human
Rights.  To date, despite numerous requests, the applicant and counsel
have, without explanation, been refused permission to examine portions
of the investigation file in this case. The denial of access to
potentially significant documents concerning the nature and scope of
the investigation has hindered the effective exercise of Mrs
Tsonchev's right to petition to the Secretary General in accordance
with Article 25.
 
*****************
 
The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest
law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at
http://errc.org.
 
European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary
 
Telephone: (36 1) 42 82 351
Fax: (36 1) 42 82 356
 
*****************
 
SUPPORT THE ERRC!
 
The European Roma Rights Center is dependent upon the generosity of
individual donors for its continued existence. If you believe the ERRC
performs a service valuable to the public, please join in enabling its
future with a contribution. Gifts of all sizes are welcome; bank
transfers are preferred. Please send your contribution to:
 
European Roma Rights Center
Budapest Bank Rt.
99P00402686
1054 Budapest=20
Bathory utca 1
Hungary

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