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17.02.2012

European Court awards compensation for police torture in Ukraine

   

The European Court of Human Rights on 16 February found that the treatment which Vyacheslav Savin was subjected to by police officers from the Dzherzhynsky District Police Station in Kharkiv constituted torture.  The Court in its Chamber judgment which is not yet final found unanimously that there had been

Two violations of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment;

obligation to conduct an effective investigation) of the European Convention on

Human Rights

A violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security)

The case was supported by the Strategic Litigations Centre, with Andrej Kristenko representing Mr Savin.  It involved his ill-treatment by the police during unlawful police custody.

The following is abridged from the press release on the HUDOC website, there are also some excerpts at the end from the full judgment.

The applicant, Vyacheslav Savin, is a Russian national who was born in 1972 and lives in Kharkiv (Ukraine).  In the evening of 18 October 1999, Mr Savin was summoned as a witness in a fraud case. At the police station, an officer tied his hands behind his back and punched him all over his body, in particular in the head, in order to make him confess to the crime. Mr Savin was kept at the police station until the following morning.

Having been in good health before the investigation, Mr Savin’s head injuries were so severe that he is now disabled, suffering from sensory and motor impairment and a convulsive disorder. Two days after his release, he was examined by a doctor who documented a number of injuries to his head and concluded that they could have dated from the time Mr Savin was held at the police station. He was immediately admitted to a neurological hospital, where he underwent treatment for several weeks.

From the day of his release Mr Savin lodged numerous complaints with prosecution authorities concerning unlawful detention and torture by the police. Between 1999 and

2008, the prosecutors refused on six occasions to institute criminal proceedings against

the police. All those decisions were subsequently quashed by higher-level prosecution authorities as premature, unlawful and based on a perfunctory investigation not aimed at establishing the truth.

In December 1999, the prosecutor opened a criminal investigation in respect of infliction of grievous bodily injuries on Mr Savin by unknown persons, which was stayed several

times for failure to identify the offenders.

In July 2008, the prosecutor instituted criminal proceedings on suspicion of abuse of power, associated with violence and degrading treatment, against the police officer accused by Mr Savin to have ill-treated him. The officer was found guilty as charged in March 2010. However, the court released him from criminal liability and punishment as the charges were time-barred. The court also decided to leave a civil claim by Mr Savin against the officer without examination. During the criminal proceedings, the officer was temporarily suspended from his duties but later restored to his post.

Decision of the Court

Article 3 (ill-treatment)

It was not in dispute between the parties that Mr Savin had been ill-treated by the police officer in October 1999. In assessing the treatment to which he had been subjected during his two-day police custody, the Court referred to the findings of the domestic investigation culminating in the court decisions finding the officer guilty. It had been established that he had tied Mr Savin’s hands behind his back and had subjected him to

extensive beating to the head and that the aim of the ill-treatment had been to coerce

him into confessing to a criminal offence. The Court further attached weight to the medical experts’ findings according to which Mr Savin’s disability was a direct result of

the ill-treatment. Those findings were sufficient for the Court to conclude that he had been tortured, in violation of Article 3.

Article 3 (investigation)

The Court observed that the investigation into Mr Savin’s allegation of torture had lasted

for more than ten years, during which investigators had repeatedly refused to institute criminal proceedings against the police six times, all those decisions later being quashed by higher-level prosecution authorities. Having regard to the investigators’ apparent disregard for the instructions of the higher-level prosecutors, the Court considered that such remittals disclosed serious deficiencies in the investigation, which were a structural problem in Ukraine, as the Court had previously found.

3  The police officer, having been found guilty, had faced no criminal liability or sanctions and had been suspended from duty only temporarily. That situation showed the lack of any meaningful effort to prevent future similar violations. The Court concluded that the State had fallen short of its obligation to conduct an effective investigation into Mr Savin’s allegation of torture. Accordingly there had been a violation of Article 3 in that respect as well.

Article 5 § 1

The Court noted that, as established by the domestic investigation, Mr Savin’s detention

on 18 and 19 October 1999 had been based partly on a knowingly false administrative offence report, and had partly been unrecorded, which amounted to a complete negation of the guarantees contained in Article 5. There had accordingly been a violation of that Article.

Article 41

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Ukraine was to pay Mr Savin 40, 000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, EUR 1, 800 in

respect of pecuniary damage and EUR 2, 550 in respect of costs and expenses.

2.  Effectiveness of the investigation

64.  As to the domestic investigation into the matter, the applicant maintained that it had been slow and ineffective. Moreover, he considered that it had been intentionally protracted beyond the statutory limitation period with a view to relieving those responsible from criminal liability. He further observed that, at certain stages, the investigation had been carried out by the police and could not therefore be regarded as independent. Overall, the applicant considered that the investigation in his case, being marred by numerous remittals, unnecessary forensic medical examinations and unjustified delays, and having, in the end, failed to lead to the punishment of those responsible, fostered a “sense of impunity” in police officers and in fact demonstrated the State’s tolerance to ill-treatment.

65.  The Government contended that the investigation had been thorough and effective. They cited, in particular, the numerous forensic medical examinations which had been carried out. The Government also noted that the investigation had eventually reached a conclusion favourable to the applicant, having found his allegation of ill-treatment substantiated and having brought police officer K. to trial.

66.  The Court notes that where an individual raises an arguable claim that he or she has been seriously ill-treated by the police in breach of Article 3, that provision requires by implication that there should be an effective official investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible. Otherwise, the general legal prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment would, despite its fundamental importance, be ineffective in practice and it would be possible in some cases for agents of the State to abuse the rights of those within their control with virtual impunity (see Assenov and Others v. Bulgaria, 28 October 1998, § 102,  Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-VIII, and Labita v. Italy [GC], no. 26772/95, § 131, ECHR 2000-IV). The minimum standards of effectiveness defined by the Court’s case-law include the requirements that the investigation must be independent, impartial and subject to public scrutiny, and that the competent authorities must act with exemplary diligence and promptness (see, for example,  Menesheva v. Russia, no. 59261/00, § 67, ECHR 2006-III).

67.  Furthermore, the Court has held in its case-law that when an agent of the State is accused of crimes involving torture or ill-treatment, the criminal proceedings and sentencing must not be time-barred and the granting of an amnesty or pardon should not be permitted (see Abdülsamet Yaman v. Turkey, no. 32446/96, § 55, 2 November 2004).

68.  The Court also reiterates that where a State agent has been charged with crimes involving torture or ill-treatment, it is of the utmost importance that he or she be suspended from duty during the investigation and trial, and should be dismissed if convicted (see Nikolova and Velichkova v. Bulgaria, no. 7888/03, § 63, 20 December 2007, and Serdar Güzel v. Turkey, no. 39414/06, § 42, 15 March 2011, both with further references).

 

The judgment can be found in full here   Picture from the Committee of Voters of Ukraine website

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