European Court of Human Rights Condemns Bulgaria for Discrimination against Roma

28 May 2004

On February 26, 2004, the European Court of Human Rights announced its judgement in the case of Nachova vs. Bulgaria, in which it unanimously found the Bulgarian state responsible for the deaths of two Romani men as well as its subsequent failure to conduct an effective official investigation, in violation of Article 2 (right to life). For the first time in its history, the Court also found a violation of the guarantee against racial discrimination contained in Article 14 taken together with Article 2, and in doing so stressed that the Bulgarian authorities have "failed in their duty […] to take all possible steps to establish whether or not discriminatory attitudes may have played a role" in the events at issue.

The ERRC provided written comments regarding the application of Article 14 of the Convention, which were incorporated in the Court's decision.

The Court explained its historic ruling under Article 14 taken together with Article 2, stating:

"The Court considers that when investigating violent incidents and, in particular, deaths at the hands of State agents, State authorities have the additional duty to take all reasonable steps to unmask any racist motive and to establish whether or not ethnic hatred or prejudice may have played a role in the events. Failing to do so and treating racially induced violence and brutality on an equal footing with cases that have no racist overtones would be to turn a blind eye to the specific nature of acts that are particularly destructive of fundamental rights. […] In order to maintain public confidence in their law enforcement machinery, contracting States must ensure that in the investigation of incidents involving the use of force a distinction is made both in their legal systems and in practice between cases of excessive use of force and of racist killing […] the Court considers that in cases where the authorities have not pursued lines of inquiry that were clearly warranted in their investigation into acts of violence by State agents and have disregarded evidence of possible discrimination, it may, when examining complaints under Article 14 of the Convention, draw negative inferences or shift the burden of proof to the respondent Government […]."

The full text of the Court's decision is available on the Internet at:


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