ERRC/GHM Legal Action in Greek Police Killing of Romani Man

Today, 14 October 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) filed a joint communication with the United Nations Human Rights Committee against Greece relating to the death of Angelos Celal, a Romani man who was shot by a Greek police officer during an ambush. The communication asserts that Greece, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has violated Article 6, enshrining the right to life, and Article 2, providing for the right of the victims family to an effective domestic remedy.

During the night of 1 April 1998, Mr Angelos Celal and two Greek Romani male friends went for a drive in his pick-up truck. Before returning home, Mr Celal pulled over and asked them to clean the vehicle. While they were doing this, they heard shots fired in their direction. They could not ascertain who was firing or why the shots were being fired. The two friends of Mr Celal hurried back to the truck, and Mr Celal began to drive away, at which point he was shot in the back of the head. One of the friends then drove the vehicle and occupants back to the village of Halkidona. Mr Celal was subsequently pronounced dead at the local hospital and the autopsy found that his death had been caused by gunshot wounds to the head and spine, with bullets fired from a police revolver.

The official police version of the same incident differs radically. The police, acting on information received many hours before the incident, had prepared an ambush in order to apprehend car thieves. They heard a car come to a halt outside the barn in which they were hiding. According to the police officers, while trying to arrest the Romani men, one of them fired a gun in their direction. The police returned fire, and as the vehicle departed a police officer shot at the vehicle, fatally wounding Mr Celal.

Two subsequent police inquiries both recommended that the police officers not be disciplined, on grounds that they had acted in self-defence. Although the police authorities were required by law to inform the prosecuting authorities without delay of the fatal shooting of Angelos Celal, it appears that they failed to do so until 16 April 1998, over two weeks after his death. The father of Angelos Celal filed a criminal complaint. A judicial investigation was not completed until 31 January 2000. The Prosecutor proposed that the charges against the three police officers be dismissed, on the grounds that they had acted in self-defence. A judicial council, on 29 February 2000, accepted this proposal. As in the case of the police inquiries, this ruling was essentially based on the testimony of the four police officers. After this unsuccessful pursuit of criminal remedies, the victim's father filed a lawsuit for civil damages which is currently still pending.

The ruling that the police officers had acted in legitimate self-defense, in circumstances in which there was a present and immediate danger to their lives, depended on the claim that there had been a repeated exchange of gunfire between the Roma and police officers. Ballistic evidence, however, did not support this claim. On 2 April 1998 an apparently meticulous examination of the site by police took place; of 17 bullets and cartridges found on the site, 16 were shown, on examination, to belong to the service and private revolvers of the police officers. Only one imprint in the metal door of the barn and a cartridge corresponding to this imprint was found which did not come from the officer's weapons. There was no evidence that Angelos Celal had carried or used a weapon. Forensic medical evidence and an expert examination of the truck concluded that he had been shot through the back window of the cabin of the truck while driving away from the scene. The experienced officer, who fired the shot that killed Angelos Celal, by his own admission was not crouching or lying down at the time, or otherwise attempting to shield himself from gunfire, but was standing up and firing (in the dark) after the departing truck at a time when, according to the testimony of one of his colleagues, "the danger had passed".

ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "The tragic death of Mr Celal was a direct consequence of the unjustified and excessive use of force by the Greek police, as well as the clearly inadequate planning and control of the entire police operation. In addition, Greek prosecuting and judicial authorities have failed to conduct an effective investigation into the shooting and killing of Mr Celal and failed to provide Mr Celals family with any effective remedy for what he suffered."

GHM Spokesperson Mr Panayote Dimitris said, "The objective of submitting this communication to the UN Human Rights Committee is to find Greece in violation of the right to life and the right to an effective remedy for a human rights violation, to re-open the domestic investigation into the killing of Mr Celal, and, ultimately, to obtain both criminal redress and compensation for his family".

For further details on this case, please contact Theodoros Alexandridis (theo@greekhelsinki.gr) or Ivan Ivanov (ivan@errc.org). Additional information on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece is available on the ERRC internet website at: http://errc.org.

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