MINELRES: ERRC: Strasbourg Court Sanctions Bulgaria for Failure to Bring Perpetrators of Racist Killing to Justice

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Aug 9 08:09:56 2007

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

States should use existing legal arsenal in fight against racism and
deal effectively with racially motivated offences, says Court  

On July 27, 2007 the European Court of Human Rights delivered its
judgment in the case of Angelova and Iliev v. Bulgaria concerning the
racial killing of a Romani man by a group of teenagers on April 18, 1996
in Shumen, Bulgaria and the official investigation which followed. The
Court held that Bulgaria was responsible for breaches of the procedural
aspect of the right to life (Article 2), in conjunction with the
prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). The applicants (the mother
and wife of the victim respectively) were represented by lawyers acting
for the European Roma Rights Centre in cooperation with the Human Rights
Project in Sofia. 

On April 18, 1996, the victim, twenty year old Mr Angel Dimitrov Iliev,
was attacked, beaten severely and stabbed by a group of seven teenagers
(all but one of whom were juveniles). The Romani man died from his
wounds the following day. The police immediately tracked down the group
of teenagers, who were detained and questioned in relation to the
incident. Six of the teenagers were released whereas the seventh
(suspected of having stabbed the victim to death) was remanded in
custody to face a murder charge. 

In their statements, the teenagers expressed their hatred of Roma as
well as other minority groups and immigrants and testified that on that
day they were looking for a Rom to attack. The initial official
investigation was conducted speedily and concluded that only six of the
seven teenagers had taken part in the attack against the victim.
Following the completion of the investigation, five of the teenagers
were indicted for “hooliganism of exceptional cynicism and impudence”.
On June 14, 1996, the local Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charge of
murder against the teenager who was remanded in custody on suspicion of
murder and ordered his release. He too was subsequently indicted for
“hooliganism of exceptional cynicism and impudence”.

For the next nine years the investigating authorities failed to do
anything to bring the perpetrators to justice. As a result, on March 18,
2005, the Shumen Regional Prosecutor's Office dismissed the charges
against the five juveniles because the statute of limitations in
relation to them had expired. It sent the case back for further
investigation in relation to one of them, with instructions that he
should be indicted for “murder stemming from an act of hooliganism”. The
only other person who has been indicted was the one member of the group
who was an adult at the time of the offence and was not covered by the
statute of limitations. 

The Bulgarian government contended that the application should be
dismissed since proceedings were pending against two of the perpetrators
of the crime. The European Court noted that the investigation into the
incident had been unduly protracted and considering that 11 years had
passed found it “questionable’ whether either of the two remaining
defendants would “ever be brought to trial or successfully convicted.” 

The European Court noted that although under Bulgarian law there were no
criminal law provisions explicitly dealing with racially motivated
crimes, this did not mean that the investigation authorities could not
and should not make use of readily available provisions in order to
attach a particular weight to racially motivated crimes.  In this case,
the European Court noted that the domestic authorities did recognise the
particularly heinous nature of the crime yet ultimately failed to
conduct a prompt and effective investigation into the incident.
Consequently, the European Court held that Bulgaria was in breach of the
procedural aspect of the right to life (Article 2). 

Secondly, the European Court considered it “completely unacceptable”
that, notwithstanding the fact that the domestic authorities were from
the initial stages of the investigation aware of the racist motives of
the perpetrators, they failed to bring the perpetrators to justice
promptly. As a result, the charges against four of them were dropped
while the remaining two defendants had not been brought before a court,
a full eleven years after the killing. In the eyes of the Court, this
inefficiency on the part of the domestic authorities, together with the
authorities’ failure to charge the perpetrators of the crime with any
racially motivated offence and the widespread prejudice and violence
against Roma, could severely undermine the Roma minority’s trust in the
authorities’ willingness to investigate and punish racially motivated
crimes. As a result, the European Court held that failing to making a
distinction between the particular nature of the offence in question and
other non-racially motivated offences constitutes unjustified treatment,
in breach of Article 14 in conjunction with the procedural aspect of
Article 2 of the Convention. The Court awarded 15,000 Euros jointly to
the applicants and 3,500 Euros in respect of costs and expenses.

The ERRC believes that, together with the Court’s judgment in the
Cobzaru v Romania case that was delivered on the same day (see
http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2853), the judgment in Angelova and
Iliev v. Bulgaria clarifies states’ obligations when investigating
racially motivated offences. The European Court has made it abundantly
clear in its judgments that the fight against racism requires further
action and that authorities should place particular emphasis in
investigating such offences. Finally, as in the Cobzaru case and earlier
judgments on Roma victims of violence, the European Court relied on
reports by NGOs and IGOs on the situation of Roma when assessing whether
the authorities have adequately addressed systemic problems encountered
by Roma. 

Read the full text of the judgments here:

Further information on the case is available from: Yonko Grosev, Human
Rights Project, tel./fax  +35929873838, email at ygrozev@gmail.com

Theodoros Alexandridis, ERRC Staff Attorney, tel.: +36-1-413-2250,
email: theodoros.alexandridis@errc.org.   


The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the human rights situation 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 http://www.errc.org 

To support the ERRC, please visit this link:

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel: +36.1.413.2200

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