TUE, 02 JAN 2001 23:04:13 GMT
Official Ljubljana is no more a babe in the woods when international law se concerned: the Strasbourg-based European Human Rights Court, at its first public session, ruled that Slovenia had violated the International Human Rights Convention and should pay a German citizen who sued it DM32,000 in damages
AIM Ljubljana, December 12, 2000
The European Human Rights Court based in Strasbourg at a session in early December handed down rulings in two cases in a single day. The severity of the charges was not equal, but the very fact that the cases went to trial was equally important for both the states that were sued for human rights violations. The first court session deliberated an appeal lodged by the Kurd leader Ocalan. The Court ruled that the appeal was justified and that his human rights, as defined by 12 points of the Human Rights Convention, had been infringed upon. The same day and quite incidentally, the Court made another ruling which, politically and from standpoint of the news media, was not as attractive, but still quite relevant for the country involved. The Court ruled that in the Rehbock Case, Slovenia had breached the Human Rights Convention and ordered it to pay the plaintiff DM32,000 in damages. Of the sum, DM25,000 was compensation for moral damages, and DM7,000 to cover the costs of the trial. This was the first ruling handed down by the Strasbourg-based court branding Slovenia a human rights offender.
On September 17, 1995, Ernest Rehbock filed a complaint against Slovenia with the Human Rights Commission (which, at the time was the body of primary jurisdiction in charge of complaints which later ended up before the Court) for inhuman and humiliating treatment during his arrest in Dolic, near Slovenj Gradec. The case initially appeared quite clear -- during the search of his car the police found drugs. Rehbock was arrested, but allegedly resisted so fiercely that the police officers had to "use force." Results of a subsequent medical examination revealed what sort of force "had" to be used – Rehbock had his jaw fractured in two places and bruises and cuts all over his face.
In addition to excessive use of force, Rehbock complained that Slovenian state bodies did not allow him to have the legality of his detention reviewed within the shortest possible time, and that his correspondence with the European Human Rights Commission was subject to supervision. He was convinced that because of all that he should receive at least one million German marks in compensation. The Commission forwarded the case to the Strasbourg Court only in September 1999, and the first hearing was held on May 16 this year. The Court ruled that during Rehbock's arrest Article 3 of the European Human Rights Convention, which prohibits torture and inhumane treatment, had been violated. It said that at the same time, Slovenian state bodies had breached Article 5 of the Convention which guarantees the right to freedom and safety. The Court also concluded that by keeping Rehbock in detention for 23 days (this is how long it took a Slovenian court to look into Rehbock's petition for release) was not in line with a provision requiring that all court proceedings be held "within the shortest possible time."
Slovenia defended itself poorly; the state attorney who represented the country throughout the trial failed to submit a formal objection citing the fact that the plaintiff had made no effort to use all legal means that had been available to him in Slovenia. Indeed, Rehbock did not resort to the possibility to appeal to the Slovenian Constitutional Court. This is what the Slovenian government had warned on May 23, in its closing address to the Court. Since that possibility, however, had not been mentioned during the proceedings before the Commission, the Court overruled this motion. Having in view the seriousness of Rehbock's injuries and the fact that the case was not resolved by the Slovenian judiciary, the Court said that "the government would have to prove in a convincing manner that the use of force was not excessive." Since no one submitted such evidence, the Court ruled that "there is no convincing and reliable evidence to explain or justify the use of force during the plaintiff's arrest." According to the Court, the force used during Rehbock's arrest was excessive and unjustified, because it resulted in injuries that caused the plaintiff to suffer great pain and had the character of inhuman treatment. It is interesting to note that a Slovenian judge, Bostjan M. Zupancic, was also in charge of the case and has announced that he will issue a separate statement.
The police, who bear the brunt of the responsibility, throughout the case were passive and showed little willingness to determine what had actually happened. Two internal affairs committees of the Slovenian Interior Ministry which investigated the case came up with the same conclusions: the police officers did not "abuse their authority" because "the suspect attempted to flee, causing the police to use force which resulted in injury." They, however, failed to explain how an alleged fugitive could be legally pacified by being repeatedly hit on the head.
The Slovenian public has grown used to such hollow reasoning by many other cases in which, according to media reports, police resorted to inhumane treatment. In some instances, the police officers involved were immediately suspended, whereas in some others they weren't. The latter was mostly due to "unclear circumstances" or solidarity of other members of the force. This time around, however, what would have "eluded" domestic courts did not stand a chance before the European Human Rights Court. Solidarity with the accused "boys in blue" and attempts to hide dirty linen failed to pay off, be it in the terms of money or national prestige.