London, 12 February 2015
On 27 January 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Ciorcan and others v Romania, found that Romania violated the rights of a large group of Roma people who had been injured by police forces. The Court found violations of the rights to life (Article 2), freedom from inhuman treatment (Article 3) and freedom from discrimination (Article 14) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). These rights were violated by: (a) the “grossly excessive” deployment of special forces agents to carry out an arrest, agents who proceeded, amongst other things, to shoot “at random” into the crowd; and (b) the state’s failure to carry out an effective investigation, including its failure to comply with its obligation under Article 14 to investigate any racial motivation for the violence.
The case was brought by 37 Romanian nationals of Roma origin, who live in the Apalina neighbourhood in the town of Reghin, Romania. On 7 September 2006, Augustin Biga, one of the applicants, and a friend were involved in a quarrel in a bar with a policeman. The policeman immediately filed a criminal complaint against the two men for insulting behaviour. An investigation was launched and, on the same day, six local and regional police officers went to Apalina, the applicants’ neighbourhood, to summon the two men before a prosecutor. They were accompanied by the local special forces – a police force especially trained for interaction with terrorists and extremely dangerous and armed criminals – apparently because the Chief of Regional Police anticipated difficulties and wanted to ensure their protection. According to the applicants, the special forces threw several tear gas grenades and fired shots at a crowd which had gathered. Members of the special forces claimed that they had been violently attacked by the crowd and were defending themselves.
As a result of the events, the applicants were injured, some of them seriously. They claimed that they had been victims of serious bodily harm which had put their lives in danger, and which had been inflicted upon them by state agents in breach of Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the ECHR. They further complained that the authorities had failed to conduct an effective investigation into the incident. Lastly, the applicants argued that their Roma ethnicity was a decisive factor in the attitude and acts of the police officers and the investigating authorities and that the authorities had failed to investigate the racist motives behind the ill-treatment despite their allegations. This, they claimed, was a violation of their rights under Article 14 of the ECHR, taken together with Articles 2 and 3.
The Court found violations of the substantive and procedural limbs of Article 2, the procedural limb of Article 3, and the procedural limb of Article 14 taken together with Articles 2 and 3. It stated that:
- no plausible explanation was put forward to justify the use of special forces and their intervention in the events on 7 September 2006 which was “grossly excessive”;
- there were “striking omissions” in the conduct of the investigation into the events. Among other things, the authorities had failed to identify the agents who fired potentially lethal bullets, to clarify significant contradictions between the statements of the special forces officers, and to consider the appropriateness of the planning and control of the operation;
- the lack of an effective, independent and impartial investigation made it impossible for the Court to assess whether the actions of the special forces amounted to a breach of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 but did signify that the investigation was insufficient to meet the requirements of Article 3; and
- the authorities had failed to conduct an investigation into the alleged racial motives of the police officers’ behaviour. In particular, the Court noted that the many published accounts of the existence in Romania of general prejudice and hostility against Roma and of continuing incidents of police abuse against members of this community should have prompted the authorities to investigate the alleged racist attitudes behind the incident.
Commenting on this judgment, the Equal Rights Trust Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova stated:
“The Court's judgment in this case contains important argumentation about the standard of proof in discrimination claims. The judgment should be analysed carefully against the background of previous jurisprudence in similar cases, starting with Nachova v Bulgaria, and in the light of the developing thinking of the Strasbourg court about the complex relationship between violence and discrimination, and the interaction between criminal and civil law approaches to discriminatory violence.”
To read the judgment of the Court, please click here.