Macedonia Found in Violation of the European Convention on Human Rights

19 February 2007

Strasbourg Court Finds Violation of Article 3 in the First Macedonian Roma Torture Case

Budapest, Strasbourg, Skopje. In a judgment announced last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Macedonia violated Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in connection with the ill-treatment by the police of Mr Pejrusan Jasar, a Macedonian national of Romani ethnic origin.

The facts of the case are as follows:

On 16 April 1998, Mr Jasar, a Romani man from Stip, Macedonia, was in a local bar where gambling took place. One of the losing gamblers complained that the dice was fixed, drew a firearm and fired several gunshots. Several police officers were called to the bar. Mr Jasar maintains that police officers grabbed him by his hair and forcibly placed him in a police van. During his detention in police custody, he was kicked in the head, punched and beaten with a truncheon by a police officer. The medical report issued immediately after Mr Jasar was released the next morning stated that he had sustained numerous injuries to his head, hand and back. In May 1998, Mr Jasar, represented by local attorney Mr Jordan Madzunarov, in cooperation with the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor against an unidentified police officer. More than eight years later, no steps were taken to investigate the complaint. At the same time, Mr Jasar also began civil proceedings for damages against the State, which were dismissed in October 1999.

Having exhausted available domestic remedies, the ERRC and Mr Jordan Madzunarov filed a claim on behalf of Mr Jasar against Macedonia on 1 February 2001 with the European Court of Human Rights. The applicant complained under Article 3 of the Convention that he had been subjected to acts of police brutality amounting to torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment. Mr Jasar also argued that the prosecuting authority's failure to carry out any official investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of the police officers responsible for the ill-treatment constituted a procedural violation of Article 3. Finally, Mr Jasar argued that he did not have access to an effective remedy with respect to the prosecuting authority's failure to investigate his allegations of ill-treatment, in violation of Article 13 of the Convention, read in conjunction with Article 3.

In its ruling, announced this week, the Court recalled that where an individual makes a credible assertion that he has suffered treatment infringing Article 3 at the hands of the police or other agents of the State, that provision, read in conjunction with the State's general duty under Article 1 of the Convention to "secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in … [the] Convention", requires that there be an effective official investigation. Such an investigation should be capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible.

In the present judgment, the European Court emphasised that, "it is particularly striking that the public prosecutor did not undertake any investigative measures after receiving the criminal complaint." The Court also noted that "the national authorities took no steps to identify who was present when the applicant was apprehended or when his injuries were received, nor is there any indication that any witnesses, police officers concerned or the doctor, who had examined the applicant, were questioned about the applicant's injuries. Furthermore, the public prosecutor took no steps to find any evidence confirming or contradicting the account given by the applicant as to the alleged ill-treatment… In addition, the inactivity of the prosecutor prevented the applicant from taking over the investigation as a subsidiary complainant and denied him access to the subsequent proceedings before the court."

Having regard to the lack of any investigation into the allegations made by Mr Jasar that he had been ill-treated by the police while in custody, the Court held that Macedonia violated Article 3 of the Convention and awarded non-pecuniary damages to the victim. Recent reports made by international bodies, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), and local human rights organisations confirm that physical ill-treatment of persons in police custody is a serious problem in Macedonia and express doubt that judges or prosecutors conduct effective investigations when such ill-treatment is brought to their attention. According to a report by the CTP from 2002, this indicates "a deep-rooted and widespread practice of police abuse in police custody and impunity with regard to officers who perpetrated such acts." ERRC documentation in Macedonia indicates that Roma are especially vulnerable to such abuse in Macedonia. This ruling is the first against Macedonia confirming this fact. There are two additional complaints pending at the European Court against Macedonia filed by the ERRC.

The full text of the decision is available HERE.

The Skopje-based Civil Society Research Center and the Brussels-based law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP provided additional legal analysis in support of Mr Jasar's claim. The ERRC's work in Macedonia is currently supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

For further information on the case, please contact
Anita Danka, Staff Attorney (anita.danka@errc.org; +36-1-413-2221).

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