First European Court conviction on Roma case in Eastern Europe


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Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 22:29:02 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: First European Court conviction on Roma case in Eastern Europe

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Original sender: Tatjana Peric <Tatjana.ERRC@mail.matav.hu>

First European Court conviction on Roma case in Eastern
Europe


Information service of the European Roma Rights Center
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PRESS STATEMENT - 29 OCTOBER 1998
 
In First Decision Involving Roma Applicants From Central or Eastern
Europe, Strasbourg Court Finds Bulgaria in Violation of European
Convention of Human Rights
 
On 28 October, 1998, in the first ruling in its history involving
Romani applicants from Central or Eastern Europe, the European Court
of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that the Government of Bulgaria
violated the European Convention of Human Rights in its mistreatment
of a teenage Romani boy. The decision, which constitutes a landmark
for Roma throughout Europe, held unanimously that law enforcement
authorities inflicted inhuman and degrading treatment upon a Romani
youth by failing to conduct an effective investigation of his
allegations of police ill-treatment. The ruling has particular
significance for Roma, whose complaints of police abuse all too often
encounter indifference, neglect and/or hostility on the part of
investigative authorities.
 
Alongside widespread discrimination, police ill-treatment is the
single most serious human rights problem today for Roma throughout
much of Europe. In Bulgaria alone, since 1992, at least 14 Romani men
have died after having last been seen alive in police custody, or as a
result of the unlawful use of firearms by law enforcement. The Court's
judgment serves as a wake-up call to governments to curb official
abuse, and thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct.
 
The case of Assenov v. Bulgaria began with the arrest on 19 September
1992 of 14-year-old Anton Assenov, a Romani boy, for gambling in the
market square in the provincial town of Shoumen. Assenov was taken to
a nearby bus station, then handcuffed and, along with his father,
brought to the police station, where the two were detained for
approximately two hours before being released without charge. Assenov
alleged that during this time, the police struck him with truncheons
and pummeled him in the stomach. A medical certificate issued two days
after his release documented large purple-bluish bruises on the boy's
head, chest, and right arm, which the examining physician viewed as
consistent with the alleged police mistreatment.
 
Over the next two years, Assenov and his parents filed complaints with
every available criminal investigative authority - up to and including
the Chief General Prosecutor. None of the investigative bodies
initiated criminal proceedings against the police. Assenov was
subsequently arrested on other charges and held in pretrial detention
for two years. Assenov filed an application with the European
Commission of Human Rights in September 1993. After ruling on the
matter, the Commission referred the case to the European Court in
September 1997.
 
In its ruling of 28 October, 1998, the Court unanimously found that
the Government had violated the following Convention provisions:
 
* Article 3 (right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman and
degrading treatment or punishment), by failing to undertake an
effective official investigation even though Assenov had raised an
arguable claim to have been mistreated by the police;
 
* Article 5 (right to liberty and security of the person), by failing,
following Assenov's 1995 arrest, 
a) to bring Assenov promptly before a judge or other officer, 
b) to bring him to trial within a reasonable time or to release him
pending trial, and 
c) to enable him to have the lawfulness of his pre-trial detention
determined by a court;
 
* Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), by failing not only to
conduct a thorough and effective investigation, but also to provide
effective access for Assenov to the investigatory procedure and
payment of compensation, notwithstanding his arguable claim of police
ill-treatment; and
 
* Article 25 (obligation of State not to interfere with the right to
petition the Strasbourg organs), by pressuring two of the applicants
into denying having made an application at a time when Assenov was
being held inn detention.
 
The Court ordered payment of damages and the applicants' costs and
expenses in full.
 
The applicants were represented by Zdravka Kalaydjieva, an attorney
affiliated with Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights. The European Roma
Rights Center and Amnesty International acted as amici curiae. The
full text of the decision is available on the website of the European
Court of Human Rights at http://www.dhcour.coe.
 
--------------------------------------------------------------
 
The ERRC is an international public interest law organisation which
monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in
cases of human rights abuse. For more information, visit ERRC on the
web at http://errc.org

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