European Court Affirms Failure to Investigate Racial Motivation Amounts to Discrimination

01 February 2006

On July 7, 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) affirmed in substantial part its first ever finding in the case of Nachova vs Bulgaria of racial discrimination in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The decision was in relation to the 1996 fatal shooting by military police of two Romani conscripts. In February 2004, the judges of the ECHR unanimously found that both the shootings and a subsequent investigation, which upheld their lawfulness, were tainted by racial animus. The judgment was the first in the Court's history to find a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

At the request of the Bulgarian government, the Court's Grand Chamber agreed to review the initial decision. The Grand Chamber unanimously upheld the February 2004 panel ruling that Bulgaria had breached the victims' right to life under Article 2 of the Convention in two ways: by failing to adequately regulate the use of firearms by military police, and by failing to properly investigate the young men's deaths. In addition, the judgment also affirmed in part the earlier finding of racial discrimination in breach of Article 14. In doing so, it broke new ground in European human rights law.

The Grand Chamber unanimously held that the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14 has a procedural component, which required the state to investigate whether discrimination may have played a role in the killings. The failure to do so in this case, despite indications of racial motivation, amounted to discrimination. The judgment affirmed several important principles that should guide domestic authorities in future cases involving violence arguably motivated by racial hatred.

The Bulgarian government has been ordered by the ECHR to pay compensation in varying amounts to the applicants within the next three months. For more information on this case and the Grand Chamber decision, please click HERE.


Challenge discrimination, promote equality


Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal


The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Find out how you can join or support our activities