Strasbourg Court Sanctioned Romania for Failure to Remedy Police Ill-Treatment of Romani Man: Judgment Strengthens Discrimination Law
20 November 2007
On 27 July 2007, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case of Cobzaru v. Romania concerning the beating of a Romani man by police officers while in custody in Mangalia, Romania, and the ensuing official investigation. The Court held that Romania was responsible for breaches of the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). The applicant was represented by Ms Monica Macovei, a Bucharest-based lawyer, the Romanian Helsinki Committee (APADOR), and the European Roma Rights Centre.
On 4 July 1997 after a domestic incident involving his partner and her relatives, the applicant went to the local police station asking for help. However, instead of offering help, two police officers brutally ill-treated him, and eventually released him after two hours. As a result of the beating, the applicant suffered from craniocerebral trauma and numerous bruises and haematoma all over his body. The official investigation into the assault ended with a decision of non-indictment, and was marked by numerous derogatory remarks on the part of the authorities in relation to the applicant's and the witnesses' Romani ethnicity.
In relation to the applicant's claims under Article 3, the Court noted the numerous shortcomings of the official investigation and concluded that the Government did not satisfactorily establish that the applicant's injuries were caused otherwise than by the treatment inflicted on him while he was under police control, thus warranting a finding of both the substantive and the procedural aspects of Article 3.
The Court also established a violation of Article 13 of the Convention, since no effective investigation into the allegations brought by the applicant was carried out, and moreover, since the negative result of the criminal proceedings prevented the applicant from availing of any other domestic remedy.
The ruling on the applicant's Article 14 claim brings welcome clarification to the Court's case-law on the prohibition of discrimination. Firstly, the Court held that there was no evidence that the beating was motivated by racial hatred, and therefore did not find a substantive violation of Article 14. Secondly however, with regard to the procedural aspect of Article 14, the Court noted that even in the absence of prima facie plausible information to prove that the assault on the applicant was racially-motivated, the authorities were under an obligation to investigate a possible racist motive to the attack given the number and notoriety of such incidents in post communist Romania, and the general policies adopted by the Romanian government to combat discrimination against Roma. Thirdly, the Court held that during the official investigation, a number of derogatory remarks were made in relation to the applicant's Romani origin, which disclosed the general discriminatory attitudes of the authorities, which in itself constituted discrimination contrary to Article 14.
The ERRC and APADOR consider that the judgment in the Cobzaru case is important for two reasons. Firstly, it highlights Romania's failure to provide effective protection to Roma from harm meted out by police officers, as well as the widespread anti-Romani discrimination in the country. Secondly, Cobzaru further crystallizes the Court's case-law in the field of discrimination, principally by attaching significance to the general context of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania, and thus going beyond the particulars of the applicant's situation. The full text of the judgment is available HERE.