Roma refused protection by police in Hungary
15 August 2001
Police in Hungary have recently refused to accept criminal complaints by Roma. According to an ERRC investigation, as well as material appearing on a documentary programme on the television station RTL-Klub, on May 5, 2001, five young Roma from the southern Hungarian town of Kalocsa - Mr Pál Sztojka, Mr József Lakatos, Mr József Sárközi, Mr Miklós Rostás, and Mr János Kolompár - went to collect scrap metal and waste plastic outside the village of Fiserbócsa near Kiskőrös, Bács Kiskun County. There, according to testimony provided to the ERRC, their car became stuck in sand by the side of the road. A non-Romani man was attempting to help them get the car out of the sand, when a second non-Romani man arrived in a jeep, began shouting racist insults at the Romani men, and called the police. After a police officer arrived, the second non-Romani man reportedly threatened to kill the Roma in the presence of the police officer who, according to the testimony of the Romani men concerned, did not intervene. After having extricated the car from the sandpit, the Romani men were driving on a highway between the towns of Soltvadkert and Jakabszállás later the same day, when the same jeep with the aforementioned non-Romani man and, according to eyewitnesses, the same police officer, blocked their way and the non-Romani man, armed with a firearm, began shooting at them. The Romani men jumped out of the car and sought shelter in a forest along the highway.
Following the incident, still on May 5, the men reportedly made several attempts to file a complaint about the shooting at a series of different police stations in the Kiskőrös area, but at every station were refused by police officers. On May 10, one of the Romani men, Mr Pál Sztojka, again attempted to file a complaint at the Soltvadkert police station, this time wearing a hidden camera and audio recorder. The video recording includes the following dialogue between Mr Sztojka and an officer whose identity is known to the ERRC:
Mr Sztojka: "I would like to make a complaint."
Officer: "What the hell for?"
Mr Sztojka: "There was a shooting."
Officer: "And you have not been shot dead? That is too bad."
Mr Sztojka: "There was a police officer there too."
Officer: "There was a police officer there and he didn't shoot you?"
The officer speaking on the video recording is also heard threatening to beat Mr Sztojka about the head. He ultimately refused to provide the statement to Mr Sztojka for signature or to give Mr Sztojka a copy of the written protocol; under Hungarian law, a complainant must be provided with a written copy of the statement he or she has made. On May 14, during an on-camera interview with journalists from RTL-Klub, Mr Antal Csábi, a police official at Kiskőrösi police department, denied that there had been any attempt to file a complaint in this case. Officer Csábi also stated on camera that the Romani men had not attempted to file a complaint (feljelentés) in connection with the incident, but had only been reporting a shooting incident to the police (bejelentés).
On May 23, 2001, the ERRC sent a letter to High Commissioner of the Hungarian National Police Headquarters Major General Dr Péter Orbán, to express concern about the incident. In the letter, the ERRC noted that persons unable to secure access to the services of the police have fallen outside of the basic protection of the state and are in a position of raw exposure to the violation of fundamental rights. Such persons are significantly hindered in the ability to avail themselves of basic rights protections secured under Hungary's international commitments, including but not limited to Article 16 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guaranteeing the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, and Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides for the right to an effective remedy. Persons unable to claim such rights on grounds of racial discrimination have suffered harms prohibited by Article 26 in conjunction with Article 2 of the ICCPR, Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as under Article 14 of the ECHR. The ERRC urged Dr Orbán to ensure that thorough and impartial investigation take place without delay into allegations that a non-Romani civilian or civilians used firearms against Roma, as well as into all allegations that officers at a number of police stations in the Kiskőrös area refused to accept complaints related to serious criminal activity against Roma. The ERRC further urged that all persons who have violated the law in connection with this case be brought swiftly to justice. The full text of the letter is available at: www.errc.org.
The ERRC subsequently received a letter from Dr Lászlo Ferenczi, Director General of the Criminal Complaints Department of the National Police Headquarters, dated June 24, 2001, stating that the police had opened an investigation against unknown suspects on grounds of a general threat to public traffic. According to Dr Ferenczi, police additionally opened disciplinary proceedings against the officer recorded by the hidden camera. As of the date of the letter, the disciplinary proceedings had not been completed. According to Dr Ferenczi, the reasons for the Roma being refused while attempting to file a complaint on May 5 was due to the failure of the Roma themselves to go to the correct police station. Dr Ferenczi states that the contention that a criminal complaint was refused remains unproven. The ERRC is assisting the victims in securing legal defence.