Human rights judges have declared that Slovakian authorities failed to investigate the possible racist motive in a police officer shooting spree at Roma family’s home.
In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Lakatošová and Lakatoš v. Slovakia (application no. 655/16) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), read in conjunction with Article 2 (right to life), of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As Just satisfaction (Article 41), thecourt held that Slovakia was to pay each of the husband and wife applicants, Žaneta Lakatošová and Kristián Lakatoš, 25,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
The applicants are Slovak nationals of Roma origin who were both born in 1986. They live in Hurbanovo (Slovakia), a town where around a thousand Roma people live.
On 16 June 2012, J. a municipal police officer, drove to the applicants’ home town, entered their property and, without saying a word, started shooting at members of the family who happened to be in the yard. He was not on duty and used an illegally purchased gun. Lakatoš’s father, brother and brother-in-law were killed.
J. was arrested and the police immediately conducted a preliminary investigation. They questioned in particular J. and other witnesses as to whether there was a possible racist background to the attack.
J. stated that he had driven to the applicants’ house to “deal with” the Roma, and confirmed that he had been thinking about a “radical solution.” His relatives and colleagues denied that he was biased against Roma.
The victims’ relatives stated that they were not aware of any conflict between J. and their family. He was ultimately given a reduced sentence of nine years’ imprisonment owing to diminished responsibility.
In its decision, the European court found that there had been plausible information in the case to alert the authorities to the need to carry out an investigation into a possible racist motive for the assault.
It observed that racist violence was a particular affront to human dignity, and required special vigilance and a vigorous reaction from the authorities.
Nevertheless, the authorities had failed to thoroughly examine powerful indicators of racism in the case such as the police officer’s frustration at his inability to resolve public order issues concerning Roma, as suggested in his psychological assessment. In addition, the police officer had not been charged with a racially motivated crime and the prosecutor had not at all addressed or discussed the possible aggravating factor of a racist motive in the bill of indictment.
Moreover, the courts had failed to remedy in any way the limited scope of the investigation and prosecution and the simplified judgment in the case had contained no legal reasoning to address that shortcoming.
Indeed, as the applicants had been civil parties to the proceedings, they had only been allowed to raise issues concerning their claims for damages.