European Court of Human Rights Rules Against Hungary in Police Brutality Case

The European Court of Human Rights (Court) has ruled that Hungary violated the European Convention of Human Rights (Convention) in a case of excessive police violence against a Romani woman. In the case of Borbála Kiss v. Hungary, the Court found that Hungary violated Article 3 of the Convention, in a case brought by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU).The Court awarded 5000 Euros in damages.

In September 2010 police were called to a family party at a private house in Tiszalúc, Hungary, at about 9:00 PM, where they asked partygoers to turn down their music. Half an hour later, the police came back and forcefully broke up the party, using truncheons and pepper spray. Ms Kiss, a Romani woman, intervened in a heated argument between the police and a man at the party. The police sprayed pepper-spray in her eyes, dragged her towards the police car and banged her against it. During the incident, Ms Kiss’ pullover was torn and her breasts were exposed. 

The victims filed a criminal report against the police intervention, which was dismissed by Hungarian authorities. A separate criminal report was later filed by Ms Kiss (represented by the HCLU), however the investigation of that complaint was closed. In the meantime, a criminal procedure was launched against Ms Kiss and others for alleged obstruction of justice. The procedure involved the same prosecutor who closed the investigation in Ms Kiss’ case.

The ERRC and HCLU jointly filed a submission to the European Court of Human Rights on 20 September 2011, claiming that the excessive use of force and the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the case constituted a violation of Article 3 under the Convention. The organisations also claimed that the inhuman and degrading treatment and the lack of effective investigation were a result of anti-Roma discrimination.

In its judgment delivered today, the Court found that there had been a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The Court concluded that the police used excessive force during the incident, and that such use of force resulted in injuries and suffering of the applicant, amounting to degrading treatment. The Court also noted that no internal investigation or disciplinary procedure appeared to have been carried out within the police force concerning the appropriateness of the police action. The Court also found that no adequate investigation had been carried out into Ms Kiss’ allegations. However it rejected the claim of discrimination (under article 14), finding there was no evidence of discriminatory conduct by the police.

Usually, domestic remedies must be exhausted before bringing a case at the ECHR, but in this case the Court also found that Ms Kiss did not need to carry out a substitute private prosecution on the incident in order for the case to be declared admissible.

The ERRC and HCLU welcome the judgment, which sends out a clear message that law enforcement authorities must deal with any and all cases of violence against Roma, especially when State actors are involved. However it is disappointing that, similarly to a recent judgment against Slovakia, the Court did not find discrimination under Article 14, and did not link the excessive use of force and the failure to adequately investigate with the Romani ethnic origin of the victim.

This press release is also available in Hungarian.

Video testimony from the victims is available on the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union website (Hungarian, with English subtitles).


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