Štefan Ivanco: Inspectors do not investigate attacks of the police on Roma, we need zero tolerance

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Since 2009, they have been dealing with instances of police violence on Roma. They have managed to find policemen bullying little boys from Lunik IX (note: Lunik IX is a part of the town of Košice with a high percentage of Roma inhabitants). Despite the fact that the men in uniforms recorded a video of them bullying the children, the court released them for lack of evidence. ŠTEFAN INVANCO, Program Coordinator of the Civic and Human Rights Advisory Centre, talks about police violence in Roma communities and the reasons why the policemen that beat people in Moldava nad Bodvou still have not been brought to justice.

Are instances of police violence on Roma a rarity or are they rather frequent?

“We started to deal with police violence six years ago. In our first case, we represented boys from Lunik IX from the high-profile affair of police bullying. Since then, we have been working in the field and monitoring such cases. We have heard many testimonies confirming that there really are cases of police violence in these communities. Moreover, Slovakia has been repeatedly criticized for the behaviour of the police towards Roma communities. However, I cannot give you exact numbers. We try to monitor and identify specific incidents, obtain as much information as possible and provide the victims with legal advice. Even if there was one single case of police violence which would go unresolved, it would be wrong.”

How many cases have you dealt with since 2009?

“Not all cases registered in the field end up receiving our legal advice. It is not uncommon that people are afraid to submit a complaint against the police or there is insufficient evidence and no medical report. Therefore, we try to help mainly in cases that are relatively well-registered, so that we stand a chance to bring the case to court. In total, we have provided legal help to more than twenty clients, including the boys from Lunix IX and the people from Moldava nad Bodvou. Apart from that, we have initiated several investigations in the name of the Advisory Centre itself. However, most of our complaints were rejected by the investigator, stating that no crime was committed.”

Why is that?

“I don’t know. At best, legal proceedings were started on our initiative after the intervention of the prosecutor, but then, in a certain stage, the investigation against the police was stopped. Usually the decisions are not explained in detail. In most cases, the inspection of the Ministry of Interior does not consider the act to be a crime or simply states that nothing was proven. Our experience shows that during the assessment of depositions of the aggrieved and the policemen, inspectors often take their colleagues’ side. Investigators usually give greater weight to the words of police officers and they stop the investigation. Moreover, the inspection usually does not seek to look for all relevant witnesses and plays down medical reports. From our point of view, their work is simply not thorough enough.”

How many cases of police violence are you dealing with today?

“Apart from the boys from Lunik and Moldava nad Bodvou, we provide legal advice in five other cases at the moment.”

Policajná razia vo Vrbnici.

Policajná razia vo Vrbnici.

Are people from segregated Roma settlements and ghettos aware of the fact that they are victims of police violence during police interventions and that they can protect themselves?

“I think they are. An overwhelming majority is aware when a policeman is acting unlawfully. Violence is usually obvious, for example during raids. But we have also registered cases of forced confessions at the police station, no matter whether the suspect actually committed the crime or not. People know that such behaviour is wrong. I remember a case when minors were arrested, nobody brought them water and they were not allowed to sit for several hours. That can also be characterized as inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment against international human rights conventions.”

Are you talking about the boys from Lunix IX?

“No, this was a different case. But it is one of the examples of humiliation.”

How can the Roma protect themselves against such treatment?

“It is very difficult to seek justice in such cases in Slovakia. Our report confirms that. The scandal of the bullying policemen in Košice is the only case of police violence against Roma which we have managed to bring to court. And it seems that even obvious evidence may not be sufficient. As I mentioned, we think that the inspection of the ministry does not do their best to inspect complaints of Roma men and women. This is the first and main barrier that impedes the punishment of police violence offenders.

What is the reason – legislation or unwillingness?

“I was asked a similar question by the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks. I don’t have a clear answer. I believe it is a combination of failure of various factors. One of them is a mere ignorance of human rights of Roma men and women, but also the effort to make one’s job easier. The investigation of such cases requires a lot of effort. Some of the inspectors may not be used to investigating police violence incidents efficiently, others may not have professional experience or they may fight with prejudice. We have seen such cases.”

Pochod proti policajnému násiliu páchanému na Rómoch v Michalovciach.

Pochod proti policajnému násiliu páchanému na Rómoch v Michalovciach.

Is there a typical victim of police violence?

“We have carried out our monitoring activities mainly in segregated Roma communities. I cannot give an exact answer to your question. There are places where people did not complain, in others they repeatedly talked about police violence. It is probably related to the personnel at individual police stations and general relations between Roma and the police in individual villages and towns. However, I am convinced that Roma nationality is an aggravating factor in such cases. That means that Roma men and women are more likely to be victims of police attacks than people belonging to the majority.”

What could improve the situation?

“There have been discussion on the introduction of police cameras. However, I am worried that it would done even more harm. Policemen would be able to find a way to practice violence anyway and then defend themselves that there is no evidence on the camera. Small cameras on the police vests might be a solution, similarly to the United Kingdom, but I don’t think that these measures are the most important ones. What is essential is to raise awareness and increase the sensitivity of police officers towards human rights. And naturally, a more thorough investigation of previous claims. It is important that people abusing police powers are punished. This is not the case in Slovakia at the moment. It is essential to create a certain internal culture that would totally rule out any violence in the police force. Many police officers still feel that their supervisors would turn a blind eye on such behaviour. There is lack of zero tolerance principle.”

Author: Rudolf Sivý 8.07.2015

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