Anguelova v Bulgaria

13 June 2002

Facts: A Bulgarian national and Roma woman, brought a claim against the Bulgarian government on behalf of her son, Anguel Zabchekov, who died at age 17 while in police custody. The applicant's son, allegedly attempting to break into cars, was arrested and taken to the police station around 1:00 a.m.. By 5:00 a.m., he was pronounced dead. The autopsy indicated that Anguel's cause of death was a skull fracture sustained four to six hours before his death. A later report stated that Anguel was injured at least ten hours before his death. Investigators, based on the latter report, concluded that the police were not responsible for Anguel's death and the investigation was dropped.

Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (right to be free from inhuman treatment): violation

The State failed to meet its burden to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation refuting the applicant's charges. The fact that officers were not asked to explain why they had forged the detention register, failed to promptly call for an ambulance, and lied concerning the facts of the situation contributed to the Court's conclusion.

The Court also found a violation of Article 2 as regards the ineffective investigation of Anguel's death, reiterating that per McCann and Kaya, the investigation must be "thorough and careful." After listing the defects of the investigation, the Court found that it lacked objectivity and thoroughness, which undermined its ability to establish the cause of Mr. Zabchekov's death and those responsible.

The government failed to provide a plausible explanation for the injuries indicative of inhuman treatment beyond the threshold of severity permitted under Article 3.

Article 14 (right to be free from discrimination): no violation

The applicant alleged that the police officers' and investigating authorities' perception of her son as a Roma was a decisive factor in their actions (or lack thereof). The court denied the claim as the allegations were not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Judge Bonello issued a strong dissent arguing for a lowered burden of proof for Article 14 allegations, stating: 

"[n]o more effective tool could be devised to ensure that the protection against racial discrimination becomes illusory and inoperative than requiring from a victim a standard of proof that, in other civil law disputes, is required of no one else." He also argued that the Court should apply the same system of burden shifting that it applied in Assenov, stating "when a member of a disadvantaged minority group suffers harm in an environment where racial tensions are high and impunity of State offenders epidemic, the burden to prove that the event was not ethnically induced should shift to the Government."

The full text of the decision is available HERE.


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