MINELRES: ERRC/NEKI: European Court Condemns Hungarian Police Brutality

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Wed Aug 4 18:11:25 2004

Original sender: ERRC <errc@errc.org> 

Strasbourg court finds Hungary in breach of human rights standards in a
Roma police brutality case

Budapest, Hungary; Strasbourg, France; 22 July 2004. On 21 July 2004,
the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that the
Hungarian Government had violated the European Convention on Human
Rights in the case of Sandor Balogh v. Hungary. The case concerns abuse
in police custody and was filed on 8 April 1999 as part of a joint
strategic litigation project undertaken by the Legal Defence Bureau for
National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) and the European Roma Rights
Center (ERRC). In its ruling, the Court held that there had been a
violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment)
and no violations of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Article
6 (access to court), or Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
Under Article 41 of the Convention, concerning just satisfaction, the
Court awarded Mr. Balogh 4 000eurosfor pecuniary damages, 10 000 euros
for non-pecuniary damages and 3 000 euros for costs and expenses.

Sandor Balogh is a Hungarian citizen of Romani origin born in 1958. On 9
August 1995 he was taken to the Oroshaza police station, where he was
interrogated for several hours concerning a number of fuel vouchers
which he and others had allegedly stolen. Mr. Balogh claimed that during
the questioning one of the police officers repeatedly slapped him across
the face and his left ear, while others punched him on the shoulder.
Following this ordeal and on his way out of the station, Mr. Balogh was
met on the ground floor of the police station by four of his friends,
all of whom later testified that he had a red and swollen face and that
he must have been physically abused.

Having returned to his home in Miskolc, on 11 August 1995, Mr. Balog
consulted a local doctor, who advised him to report to a hospital. On 14
August 1995 an operation was carried out to reconstruct Mr. Balogh's
left ear drum which had been seriously damaged as a result of the police

Criminal proceedings were initiated against the police officers involved
and, on 16 November 1995, a medical expert concluded that it could not
be determined whether the injury in question had been caused before,
during or after Mr. Balogh's interrogation by the police. On 30 November
1995, the criminal proceedings were discontinued. On 24 January 1996 the
investigation resumed. Ultimately, however, the investigating
authorities found that it could not be excluded beyond all doubt when
the injuries in question had actually been sustained.

As of 1 August 1996, the Mr. Balogh's working capacity was confirmed to
have diminished by 50% due to bronchial asthma and impaired hearing. He
was therefore unable to have his lorry driver's licence renewed or to
obtain employment as a driver. Mr. Balogh applied for compensation with
the Ministry of Interior but was unsuccessful.

A subsequent medical opinion found that a traumatic perforation of the
ear drum is usually caused by a slap on the ear and that Mr. Balogh's
account of how his injury occurred was entirely plausible. In response
to this new evidence, Mr. Balogh's counsel requested that criminal
proceedings be re-opened. However, the Public Prosecutor's Office
declined to do so and explained that it was impossible to substantiate
Mr. Balogh's allegations.

In its judgment of 21 July 2004, the Court noted that official medical
reports found that Mr. Balogh had suffered a traumatic perforation of
the left ear drum and that the most common cause of such injuries is a
slap on the face. Mr. Balogh's four friends confirmed that he left the
police station with a red and swollen face, and concluded that he must
have been beaten. The Court noted that Mr. Balogh sought medical help
several days following the incident, on 11 August 1995, but was
reluctant to attribute any decisive significance to this delay. It also
took into account that the Hungarian authorities had carried out a
reasonably thorough investigation into Mr. Balogh's allegations and that
the prosecutor's task was made difficult in view of the absence of
independent eyewitnesses. However, the Court then pointed out that the
Hungarian Government was unable to provide any plausible explanation for
the cause of the applicant's injuries, and that it was believable that
they were inflicted in police custody. Consequently, the Court found a
violation of Article 3 of the Convention, but on the same facts held
that there was no violation of Articles 13, 6 
and 14.

The Court's ruling in the case of Sandor Balogh v. Hungary has
particular significance in that the Court has made it clear that Roma
unfortunately still frequently suffer from police abuse in  Europe. In
addition, it has stressed that with respect to persons deprived of
liberty, any recourse to physical force which is not made strictly
necessary by the conduct of the detainee will amount to a violation of
human rights standards. Finally, the Court's judgment has underscored
that the requirements of a criminal investigation and the undeniable
difficulties inherent in the fight against crime can never justify
placing limits on the protection of an individual's physical integrity
or personal dignity.

For additional details regarding the above judgment, please contact
Branimir Plese, ERRC Legal Director (e-mail: branko@errc.org, phone:+361
413 2200) and/or Bea Bodrogi, NEKI Staff Attorney (e-mail: 
bbodrogi@yahoo.com; phone: +361303 8973)


The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.

The Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities provides
legal assistance to members of national and ethnic minorities who live
in Hungary, as defined in the act on the rights of national and ethnic
minorities, and have suffered discrimination due to their national or
ethnic origin. For more information about the Legal Defense Bureau for
National and Ethnic Minorities, visit the NEKI website at

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone:+36 1 4132200
Fax:+36 1 4132201

Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities
1537 Budapest 114
P.O. Box 453/269
Phone/Fax: +36 1 3038973 and +36 1 3144998


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 
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