MINELRES: ERRC: European Court issues two judgments against Bulgaria in Roma cases

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Tue Feb 28 20:30:37 2006

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

Bulgaria found liable for police abuse of Roma on two separate occasions

24 February, Sofia, Bulgaria, Budapest, Hungary

On 26 February 2006, the European Court of Human Rights announced its 
judgment in two cases, Tzekov vs. Bulgaria and Ognyanova and Choban vs. 
Bulgaria. The applicants in both cases, Mr Tzeko Tzekov and Ms Zoya 
Ognyanova and Giulfere Choban, all Bulgarian Roma, were represented by 
lawyers for the European Roma Rights Centre, in cooperation with the
Human Rights Project.

In the first case, Tzekov v. Bulgaria, Mr. Tzekov who was 29 at the time 
was travelling in a horse-drawn cart full of maize and was ordered to
stop. When he did not stop, the police chased the cart and then fired
four shots, one of which hit the applicant in the back. The applicant
was arrested and taken to the hospital to undergo surgery. No criminal
charges were ever brought against the applicant. Neither were charges
brought against the officers. The applicant brought a civil action which
was dismissed on the basis that the shooting was in conformance with
law. The application before the European Court of Human Rights was
lodged in 1998.

The Court found a violation of the positive obligation of the Government
to adopt adequate legislation under Article 3 of the Convention. The
Court was concerned that regulations of the use of firearms under
domestic law allowed use of a firearm to arrest a suspect even for minor
non-violent the offences. Therefore, at the time, the legal framework of
Bulgaria was insufficient. Further, in the specific case there was no
evidence that the police believed the persons had done any violent crime
or were dangerous; therefore, the use of firearms was not justified. The
court also held that the investigation into the incident by the
government was not thorough and effective because the authorities only
looked at whether the police complied with the legislation not whether
the legislation complied with human rights. Thus Article 3 was violated
both in substance and procedure. The Court rejected the applicant's
claim of a violation of Article 2 (right to life) as the force used
against him was not of a type to threaten his life. The applicant was
hit by a special plastic bullet, which was designed to immobilise the
target and fired from a specific distance could not threaten life.

In the second case, Ognyanova and Choban v. Bulgaria, the Applicants
were the wife and mother of Mr. Stefanov who was arrested for allegedly
participating in thefts and burglaries. Mr. Stefanov died on the
following day, allegedly from a fall from the third floor of the police
station. In the investigation and autopsy, numerous injuries were found
on his body. The application was lodged with the European Court of Human
Rights on 17 November 1998.

The court found a violation of Article 2 (right to life) as the
Government failed to provide a plausible explanation of the incident
that caused Stefanov's death. There were inconsistencies and unanswered
questions in the medical reports, witness testimony was not reliable and
there was no reason to believe that Stafanov had committed suicide or
been drunk. The investigation was also inadequate because of possible
pressure on witnesses and omissions in the work which indicated a lack
of objectivity and thoroughness.

The court likewise found a violation of Article 3 (freedom from torture
and inhuman and degrading treatment) because it was unlikely that the
injuries were caused only from the fall nor were they accounted for in
the medical reports. Since the government could not explain the injuries
obtained after taking Mr. Stefanov into custody, there was a violation
of Article 3.

The court found a violation of Article 5.1 because there were no facts
or documents about why Mr. Stefanov had been taken into custody in the
first place. Since there was no effective criminal investigation, there
was no effective remedy and Article 13 was also violated. Unfortunately
the court did not find a violation of Article 14 (discrimination)
finding that no concrete indication of racist attitudes had been shown.

For further information on the case, please contact Dianne Post ERRC
Legal Director at +36-1-413-2221 (dianne.post@errc.org).


The European Roma Rights Centre 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 Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93

Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax: +36 1 4132201


The European Roma Rights Centre is dependent upon the generosity of 
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