European Court of Human Rights Rules in Favour of 17-Year-Old Romani Boy Shot by Greek Police

20 November 2007

On 22 June 2007, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favour of a young Romani man, Ioannis Karagiannopoulos, who had been shot in the head by police during an investigation. The boy, who is now completely disabled, was shot over 9 years ago, and an internal investigation in Greece failed to deliver more than a light fine for "slight negligence" for the officer responsible. One of the officers involved had stated before a criminal court that "the majority of Gypsies are criminals."

The Court awarded 120,000 EUR in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages to the boy, ruling that his right to life, protected under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had been violated by both the shooting itself and the Greek State's failure to fully and adequately investigate the shooting. The shooting occurred in the course of an investigation of the Karagiannopoulos family home, based on suspicions by Greek police that the family was involved in drug trafficking.

The police claimed that the boy, whom they had handcuffed, offered to take the policemen to a place where cannabis had been hidden; upon arrival the officers claimed they unlocked his handcuffs and he attempted to escape and grabbed the officer's gun, which went off accidentally in the ensuing struggle.

However, Mr Karagiannopoulos claimed that the police took him, handcuffed, to a car-park, where they beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not tell them where drugs had been hidden. When he said that he did not know any such places, he was shot in the head.

An internal investigation confirmed that the boy was shot point-blank. However, the investigators failed to look for traces of gunpowder on the officers' hands or carry out a reconstruction of the events, and the only resultant penalty was a small fine for "excessive professional zeal" and "slight negligence" in the officers' detention of the boy. In the Serres Court of First Instance, the officer responsible for firing the gun was acquitted due to doubt "as to his alleged negligence".

Whist the ECtHR found a violation of Mr Karagiannopoulos' right to life under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it did not rule that Greece had violated his right to freedom from discrimination (Article 14 of the Convention), which the plaintiff alleged on the grounds of one of the officer's anti-Romani statements in court. The ECtHR ruled that since the officer in question was not the defendant and had not actually shot the boy, it was not grounds enough for a conviction in regards to Article 14, though the comments were "insulting" and "unacceptable."

(Greek Helsinki Monitor)

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