Burlya and others v Ukraine (2018)

06 November 2018

This case was brought by a group of Romani people (“the applicants”) who up until 2002 were living in the village of Petrivka, Ivanivskyy District, in the Odessa Region of Ukraine. The ERRC supported the applicants to make complaints before the national authorities in Ukraine (the “domestic proceedings” described below). The ERRC then represented the applicants before the European Court of Human Rights.

Facts 

On 7 September 2002 a 17 year-old non-Roma man was murdered in the village, allegedly by four Romani men. The next day, a crowd of village residents gathered and demanded that the Romani people living in the village be expelled. On the same day, the village council decided to “support the decision of the meeting of the village residents to expel persons of Gypsy ethnicity from the village”. The night before the violence, a representative of the District State Administration and the head of the local police advised the Romani people living in the village to leave, as a “pogrom” (that was the word they used) was about to start. The applicants fled. On the night of 9-10 September, a crowd of several hundred people looted and set fire to the applicants’ houses, destroying their belongings, documents, and cars. Police officers were present and observed the attack, but did not try to prevent or stop it. The applicants had to move to another town and live with family and friends in overcrowded conditions.

Domestic Proceedings

On 10 September 2002 the District Police initiated criminal proceedings against unknown persons on suspicion of disorderly conduct committed in a group. The investigation was opened and closed a number of times, and with the ERRC’s support the applicants went to the domestic courts in Ukraine to challenge the decision to suspend the investigation. The cases before the domestic courts also went nowhere. After waiting for many years, the applicants came to believe that the authorities would never conduct a proper investigation into what had happened. That is why they turned to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Complaint to the European Court 

The ERRC represented the applicants, working with them to submit an application to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants complained about breaches of their right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights), their right to respect for private life, family life, and home (Article 8), and their right to property (Article 1 of Protocol no.1), all of which they claim were violated in a discriminatory way, on grounds of their Roma ethnicity (Article 14). They also complained that they did not have an effective domestic remedy (Article 13); that means that they did not have any means to complain about the human rights violations they suffered using the legal procedures available in Ukraine.

The application to the European Court was lodged on 11 January 2010.

The European Court’s Judgment

Almost nine years later, on 6 November 2018, the European Court delivered its judgment. The Court divided the applicants into two groups: those applicants who were in the village at the time of the events; and those who were away and only learned about what happened later. The Court found that the first group had been victims of a violation of Article 3 taken with Article 14: they suffered from inhuman and degrading treatment and it was discriminatory. The Court found it very important that the authorities had been involved in what had happened, including through the village council decision and the conduct of the police. According to the Court: “the applicants who had been warned about the attack were put in a situation where they had to conclude that, because of their family relations and their ethnicity, they could not count on the protection of the law in the place where they had lived…”. The Court also wrote that there could be no doubt that the applicants were targeted as Roma.

Both groups of applicants were victims of a violation of Article 8 taken with Article 14: they suffered from a discriminatory violation of their right to respect for their private life, family life, and homes. The Court rejected the Ukrainian Government’s argument that the applicants could have gone back and lived in their damaged homes: “the Court finds that it would have been unreasonable to expect the applicants to permanently live in damaged houses in a locality where the authorities had clearly communicated to them that they would have no protection against mob violence”.

The Court did not find a violation of the applicants’ right to property, as there was insufficient evidence about what property was lost.

The Court did not find it was necessary to consider separately whether there had been a violation of the right to an effective remedy.

The first group of applicants (those who were in the village and had to flee) were each awarded €11,000. The second group (those who learned what happened later) were each awarded €9,000. There were 12 people in the first group and five in the second group, so the Court told Ukraine to pay a total of €177,000.

You can find the Court’s judgment here.

You can find the Court’s statement of facts here.

You can find the statement of violations in the application submitted to the European Court here.

You can find the observations that the ERRC submitted in response to the Government’s observations here.

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