Legal action in Slovak police killing
07 November 2001
On October 5, 2001, the European Roma Rights Center filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the Republic of Slovakia, relating to the August 1999 death in police custody of Mr Lubomir Sarissky, a young Romani man. The application asserts violations of Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 13 (lack of an effective domestic remedy) and Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On the evening of August 12, 1999, Mr Sarissky and a friend were arrested by police for the "suspicious behaviour" of riding mountain bicycles. They were accused of theft. At the police station, an off-duty police officer, Marian Fabian, "volunteered" to take over the questioning of Mr Sarissky, with whom he had apparently had previous encounters. During the interrogation, Mr Sarissky was shot in the abdomen. He later died from his wounds.
During the official investigation, Officer Fabian claimed that he had left Mr Sarissky alone in his office so that he could write down the names of the person who gave him the bicycle. When he returned, according to Officer Fabian, Mr Sarissky hit him from behind, grabbed his gun, and then shot himself in the stomach. Officer Fabian stated he took the gun from Mr Sarissky's hand, picked the spent magazine up from the floor and reassembled the weapon before carrying Mr Sarissky out of the office to seek medical assistance. Despite this, a fingerprint expert was unable to lift any usable fingerprints from the gun. In addition, investigators waited over 16 hours before taking firearm residue tests on Officer Fabian's hands. When finally conducted, these tests showed no trace of residue. Firearm residue tests on Mr Sarissky taken at the hospital were also negtive.
The autopsy report on Mr Sarissky showed, among other things, a torn eardrum, which "can be caused by injuries from a blow with a blunt object against the narrower contact area with a soft surface." Mr Sarissky widow reported that when she visited him in hospital after the shooting, he had bruises all over his body, and his face was very swollen.
In a subsequent reconstruction of the incident, with an "actor" playing the role of Officer Fabian carrying the weapon concealed under his shirt - as Officer Fabian claimed it had been - it was impossible for the "actor" playing the role of Mr Sarissky to remove the weapon. Despite this, Slovak authorities charged Officer Fabian only with a violation of Section 224, paragraph 2 of the Slovak Penal Code for his negligence in the course of duty (by not properly securing his weapon). In a summary procedure before a judge wihout a public hearing in October 2000, Officer Fabian was found guilty of negligence and given a one-year suspended sentence.
Some of the circumstances surrounding Mr Sarissky's death are chillingly similar to those surrounding the recent death of Mr Karol Sendrei in the Slovak town of Revuca in July 2001. Like Mr Sendrei, Mr Sarissky was handcuffed to a radiator in the corridor and was beaten by police both at the time of his arrest and during his subsequent interrogation. Further details of the Sendrei case are available on the ERRC website at: Slovak officials kill another Rom.
"The continued police violence against Roma in Slovakia cannot remain without adequate redress," said ERRC Legal Director Jean Garland. "Unless investigators and prosecutors start to treat these incidents as the serious human rights violations that they are, we will have no option but to seek justice before international tribunals."
Concerns about widespread police violence against Roma in Slovakia have also been raised by other human rights monitoring bodies, including the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United States Department of State.
For further details on ERRC action in the Sarissky case, please contact Mr Andi Dobrushi, staff attorney at the European Roma Rights Center, at: email@example.com.