SLOVAK REPUBLIC: Justice still pending for Romani boys abused at police station in 2009

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18 Mar 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group

Amnesty International deplores the failure of Slovakia’s criminal justice system to ensure justice for the six Romani boys subjected to a horrific attack at a police station in 2009.

On 27 February 2015, after five years of court proceedings, the Košice II District Court acquitted all 10 current and former police officers who faced prosecution for ill-treatment of six Romani boys at a police station in Košice, in March 2009. The case became public in April 2009 when graphic video footage of the event was leaked to the media.

Amnesty International welcomes the appeal filed by the Prosecutor against the ruling of the District Court. The government of Slovakia should ensure that the police cooperate fully and that the Prosecutor is enabled to fully prosecute the appeal.

According to research carried out by Amnesty International and other national and international human rights organizations, Roma are often subjected to institutional discrimination in Slovakia, and are often ill-treated, subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, including by the police.

The case concerns the ill-treatment of six Romani boys – aged between 11 and 15 years old at that time – by police officers on 21 March 2009. After being arrested by police on suspicion of robbing and causing injuries to an elderly woman in a shopping centre, the boys were detained at the Košice – South police station. According to the video footage leaked to the media which Amnesty International reviewed, and to the NGO representing the victims – The Center for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa pre občiannske a l’udské práva), under threat of corporal punishment, the Romani boys were physically abused, ordered to hit and kiss each other, and finally ordered to strip naked while being watched by more police officers who were taking pictures of them. The officers also threatened the boys with a loaded weapon and goaded police dogs to attack the boys. Some of the actions were recorded with a mobile phone. In dialogue audible on the clip the boys are shouted at, and racially abused.

According to media, in the acquittal, Košice II District Court concluded that “[the evidence] is not sufficient to find the defendants guilty, nor to express a conclusion beyond the shadow of a doubt that the crime took place as the prosecutor alleges". The Košice II District court reasoned that the prosecutor failed to prove that the actions took place as alleged, pointing to apparent contradictions in testimonies of the Roma victims and their legal guardians. The court refused to accept the graphic video footage as evidence for the prosecution noting that the origin of the footage was not ascertained and the person who recorded it was not identified. The court also stated that the video images were not sufficiently clear and that the video did not constitute a single coherent recording.

In the summer of 2009, a criminal investigation was commenced by the Department of Control and Inspection Services of the Slovak Ministry of Interior. In the spring of 2010, based on the result of the investigation, the General Prosecutor brought criminal charges against ten police officers, including for race-based abuse of power by a public officer, and some were additionally charged with extortion. During the investigation the police officers denied culpability and refused to testify in court.

The court proceedings lasted nearly five years. The delays in the proceedings were argued by the court as caused by long-term sick leave of one of the accused, and a switch of one of the judges on the panel during the proceedings.

Amnesty International remains concerned that almost six years after the ill-treatment of the Romani boys, the victims have not yet been provided with remedy for the abuse suffered. Amnesty International considers that the alleged ill-treatment of the Romani boys by police in March 2009 violated Slovakia’s obligations under international human rights treaties which prohibit any cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of the like appearing on the video, including the European Convention on Human Rights, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Slovak Criminal Code also criminalizes torture and other inhuman or cruel treatment and abuse of power and imposes additional penalties for a crime motivated by national, ethnic and racial hatred.

Amnesty International calls on the Slovak criminal justice system to ensure that the 6 Romani boys find justice and redress.

9 March 2015

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