European Court of Human Rights Condemns Croatian Government for Failure to Investigate Racially-Motivated Attack

Judgment Expands Strasbourg Court Jurisprudence in the Field of Discrimination

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday delivered a landmark judgment in the case of Šečić v. Croatia, concerning the lack of a proper investigation carried out by the Croatian authorities into a racially-motivated attack on a Romani man.

The Court held that the Croatian authorities failed to conduct a sufficiently thorough and expeditious investigation as well as examine the possible racial motives behind the assault.

The judgment, the first in which the Court has elaborated on the obligations of states in cases of racially-motivated attacks perpetrated by private individuals, is a call for the swift prosecution of hate crime at a time when such attacks occur with heightened frequency throughout Europe.

The applicant in this case, a Romani man, was brutally beaten by a group of unidentified skinheads on 29 April 1999 while collecting scrap iron in a neighborhood of Zagreb. The attack was one of a spate of similar incidents in and around Zagreb. As a result of the attack, the applicant was hospitalised with multiple rib fractures and had to undertake long-term psychological treatment. The official investigation into the incidents, formally opened by the police in the wake of the attacks, was a largely superficial exercise, which failed to identify the perpetrators and is still pending more than eight years later.

In analysing the applicant's claim under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court noted the substantial shortcomings of the official investigation carried out by the Croatian authorities – its excessive length, the failure to question key suspects, or follow significant leads.

In view of these considerations, the Court concluded that the investigation carried out in this case failed to meet the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention.

With regard to the applicant's Article 14 discrimination claim, the Court explained that the principle first expounded in the Nachova v. Bulgaria judgment, namely that States "have the additional duty to take all reasonable steps to unmask any racial motive and to establish whether or not ethnic hatred and prejudice may have played a role in the events" was equally applicable to attacks perpetrated by private individuals. The Court reasoned that "treating racially induced violence and brutality on an equal footing with cases that have no racist overtones would be turning a blind eye to the specific nature of acts that are particularly destructive of fundamental rights." The Court noted that the perpetrators were known to belong to a skinhead group, which "is by its nature governed by extremist and racist ideology". The Court criticised the Croatian authorities for the fact that despite "being aware that the event at issue was most probably induced by ethnic hatred, the police allowed the investigation to last for more than seven years without undertaking any serious steps with a view to identifying or prosecuting the perpetrators".

Consequently, a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 3 was found.

This judgment delivers only partial justice to the applicant, since his attackers are still free, more than eight years after their brutal assault. This judgment mandates the Croatian authorities to finally bring the perpetrators to justice and provide full relief to the victim. ERRC notes with satisfaction that this judgment provides fresh impetus to the Croatian government, as well as other governments in the region, to prosecute hate crime with renewed energy.

Mr. Šečić was awarded 8,000 euro non-pecuniary damages; the court awarded 6000 euros in respect of costs and expenses. Mr. Šečić was represented in court by Ms. Lovorka Kušan, a Croatian lawyer, and the European Roma Rights Centre.

Read the full text of the judgments here.

Further information on the case is available from:
Constantin Cojocariu, ERRC Staff Attorney, Email: constantin@errc.org,
Tel.: +36-1-413-2200

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