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Greece convicted by European Court of Human Rights for injury of pregnant Romni

Greece, 13.12.2007 10:17, (GHM/ROMEA)

Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) expresses great satisfaction on the 6 December 2007 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimous conviction of Greece in the Case of Fani-Yannula Petropoulou-Tsakiris. The application No. 44803/04 was submitted to the ECtHR by GHM and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC).

According to the ECtHR, Greece violated Articles 3 (prohibition of torture) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the lack of an effective investigation into the allegations of police brutality, and of an investigation of possible racial motives behind the pregnant Romni’s ill-treatment, combined with the generally partial attitude throughout the investigation.

Greece must award the victim 21,000 euros for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage. The events of 28 January 2002 that led to the conviction and the ECtHR ruling are briefly described in the Court’s release attached.

Press release issued by the Registrar

CHAMBER JUDGMENT PETROPOULOU-TSAKIRIS v. GREECE

The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment 1 in the case of Petropoulou-Tsakiris v. Greece (application no. 44803/04)

The Court held, by six votes to one:

• that there had been no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the applicant’s allegation that she had been the victim of police brutality;

and further held, unanimously,

• that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention concerning the lack of an effective investigation into the applicant’s allegation; and,

• that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 3.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded the applicant 20,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,000 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)

1. Principal facts

The applicant, Fani-Yannula Petropoulou-Tsakiris, is a Greek national of Roma ethnic origin who lives in Nea Zoe, a Roma settlement in Aspropyrgos (Greece).

The case concerned, in particular, the applicant’s allegations that she suffered from a miscarriage as a result of police brutality and that the authorities failed to carry out an adequate investigation into the incident.

On 28 January 2002, a police operation involving 32 police officers was carried out in Nea Zoe following a tip-off about drug trafficking.

The applicant, two-and-a-half months pregnant at the time, claimed that, during that operation, she was waiting to be searched along with other Roma women when she noticed that a disabled relative of hers was being taunted by police officers. On trying to intervene, she was forcefully pushed back by one police officer and kicked in the back by another. She felt intense pain in the abdomen and started bleeding. She was not taken to hospital by the police and, not having any identification documents, feared going of her own accord.

The Government denied the applicant’s version of events and indeed any other allegations that civilians had been assaulted or subjected to racial abuse on 28 January 2002.

On 29 January 2002, members of the Greek Helsinki Monitor rushed the applicant to Elena Venizelou Maternity Clinic. On 1 February 2002 she had a miscarriage. The medical report drawn up at the end of the applicant’s hospitalisation stated that she “was admitted to hospital on 29 January 2002, 10 weeks pregnant, with haemorrhaging from her uterus” and that “on 2 February 2002 there was a complete expulsion of the foetus”.

On 1 February 2002 the applicant lodged a criminal complaint and joined the proceedings as a civil party seeking damages. She also asked to have an independent medical examination, named three witnesses who could testify to her miscarriage and included the address and telephone numbers of her lawyers. She subsequently also requested that Aspropyrgos police officers be excluded from the preliminary investigation since they had participated in the operation and it was most likely one of them who had ill-treated her.

However, Aspropyrgos police carried out the inquiry and, on 28 November 2002, forwarded the file to the Athens Public Prosecutor, indicating that the two police officers who had been interviewed had no knowledge of any ill-treatment. On 10 September 2003, the Prosecutor requested the applicant to be summoned. However, on 16 January 2004 a court bailiff failed to carry out that order because he was unable to find the applicant in Nea Zoe. On 3 July 2004 the Prosecutor closed the file with the conclusion: “Perpetrator unknown”.

In the meantime, due to the publicity generated, the Chief of Greek Police launched an informal investigation into the incident on 5 March 2002. The Deputy Director of Greek Police, A.V., who had been involved in the operation, interviewed five senior police officers who stated that they had not witnessed any ill-treatment of Romas on 28 January 2002. In his report drawn up on 7 March 2002, A.V. concluded that “the complaints are exaggerated… It is in fact a common tactic by the athinganoi (Greek for Roma) to resort to slandering police officers with the obvious purpose of weakening any form of police control”.

2. Procedure and composition of the Court

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 2 December 2004.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Loukis Loucaides (Cypriot), President,
Christos Rozakis (Greek),
Nina Vaji (Croatian),
Anatoli Kovler (Russian),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijani),
Giorgio Malinverni (Swiss), judges,

3. Summary of the judgment 2

Complaints

Relying on Article 3 and Article 13, the applicant alleged that she had been the victim of police brutality, resulting in a miscarriage, and that the Greek authorities had failed to carry out an adequate investigation into her allegation. She further alleged that her Roma ethnic origin had influenced the attitude and behaviour of the police and judicial authorities, in violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 3.

Decision of the Court

Article 3

Concerning the alleged ill-treatment

The Court noted that the circumstances in which the applicant’s bleeding had occurred on 28 January 2002 were not entirely clear. The medical report only stated that she had bled and suffered from a miscarriage. No reference was made to bruises, injuries or any other cause of the bleeding. Furthermore, the applicant had not produced evidence in support of her allegations of ill-treatment, such as eye-witness statements.

Since the evidence before it did not enable the Court to find beyond all reasonable doubt that the applicant’s miscarriage had been the result of ill-treatment by the police, the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 3.

Concerning the investigation

The Court found that there had been shortcomings in the criminal proceedings. As a whole, they had been very slow, two years and five months, with long periods of inactivity. The preliminary inquiry had been conducted by those police officers who had participated in the police operation of 28 January 2002, despite the applicant having requested that they be excluded. The authorities had refused to consider the applicant’s medical report and, despite her request, had not ordered an independent medical examination. The Court could not agree with the Government that the investigation’s failure had been entirely the applicant’s responsibility because she could not be located. Indeed, the authorities had been given the contact details of the applicant’s lawyers but had closed the case without further inquiries.

As far as the administrative proceedings were concerned, the Court observed that the authorities had not considered it necessary to carry out a Sworn Administrative Inquiry ( ) usually required under Greek domestic law in the face of serious allegations concerning police brutality. On the contrary, an informal investigation had been completed in less than one day by the Deputy Director of the Greek Police who had been actively involved in the operation of 28 January 2002. His report had only been based on testimonies given by five police officers, also involved in the incident; neither the applicant nor any of the other alleged victims of police brutality had been examined.

The Court concluded that both the judicial and administrative investigations had been inadequate and had therefore not been effective, in violation of Article 3.

Article 13

Given that finding, the Court further held that there was no need to examine separately the complaint under Article 13.

Article 14

The Court was struck by the sweeping statements concerning Roma made by the Deputy Director of Greek Police and found that such comments revealed a general discriminatory attitude by the authorities which had reinforced the applicant’s belief that the lack of an effective investigation into the incident had been due to her Roma ethnic origin.

The Court found that the failure of the Greek authorities to investigate possible racial motives behind the applicant’s ill-treatment, combined with the generally partial attitude throughout the investigation, constituted discrimination, in violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 3.

Judge Loucaides expressed a partly dissenting opinion, which is annexed to the judgment.

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