Lakatošová and Lakatoš v Slovakia (2018)
02 May 2017
On 16 June 2012, an off-duty police officer took an illegally purchased gun and drove to the town of Hurbanovo, Slovakia, where many Roma live. He stopped in front of one house and, without saying a word, shot at a Romani family who were in the yard. Three of them died and two others – the applicants in the case – were seriously injured. The murderer later admitted to police that when he was preparing his gun, he was thinking about how to deal with Roma from Hurbanovo.
The murderer was found guilty of murder and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, including three years of protective supervision including psychological treatment. He was not accused of having committed the murder with racist motives.
The applicants were unable to appeal against the sentence. With the ERRC’s support, they complained to Slovakia’s Constitutional Court about various human rights violations resulting from flaws in the trial and in the sentence, in particular the failure to charge the murderer with a hate crime. But the Constitutional Court rejected the complaint.
So the ERRC represented the applicants in a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. The main arguments were that the investigation, prosecution, and trial did not adequately expose and deal with the racist motivation for the murders, and that procedural flaws in the trial preventing the applicants from effectively participating in the proceedings.
The Court’s Judgment
In a judgment delivered on 11 December 2018, the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of the applicants. In particular, the Court found that Slovakia had violated Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibiting discrimination in the protection of human rights) taken with Article 2 (the right to life). What this means is that the Slovak authorities failed to investigate the possible racist motives behind the shooting and to prosecute the murderer accordingly. The Court wrote that “the prosecuting authorities failed to examine a possible racist motive in the face of powerful racist indicators and in particular failed to give any reasons whatsoever whether the attack of 16 June 2012 had or had not been motivated by racial hatred. In the absence of any reaction by the courts to the limited scope of the investigation and prosecution, the adequacy of the action taken by the authorities dealing with the investigation and prosecution in this case was impaired to an extent that is irreconcilable with the State’s obligation in this field to conduct vigorous investigations, having regard to the need to continuously reassert society’s condemnation of racism in order to maintain the confidence of minorities in the ability of the authorities to protect them from the threat of racist violence”.
The Court took note of a range of flaws in the way the case was handled: investigators failed to investigate whether there was a racist motive for the attack; prosecutors did not instruct the police to investigate a possible racist motivation; prosecutors did not address the racist overtones behind the attack by including a racist motive as an aggravating circumstance in the criminal charges; the trial court judgment against the murderer was brief and did not address the question of the murderer’s motivations; and the prosecutor waived his right to appeal, making it impossible for an appeal court to review whether the punishment was too light. The failures by the prosecution were especially important because of the very important role the prosecutor plays in the Slovak legal system and the limited opportunities for victims to take procedural steps on their own.
The Court awarded the full amount of compensation that the applicants’ requested: €50,000.
The Court’s judgment can be found here.
The relevant parts of the application that the ERRC submitted on behalf of the applicants can be found here.
The observations the ERRC submitted, on behalf of the applicants, in response to the Government’s observations, can be found here.