The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the case of a Geneva man who experienced police abuse during a 2005 identity check was not handled correctly by Swiss authorities and amounted to “inhumane treatment”.
Switzerland was ordered to pay the man damages amounting to nearly €25,700 ($31,600) – €15,700 for “material prejudice”, €4,000 for “moral prejudice” and €6,000 for fees and expenses.
The man, originally from Burkina Faso, was stopped by two Geneva police officers in May 2005 for a routine identity check during which he says the officers beat him with batons and yelled racist remarks and death threats. He bit the men to force them to let him go and suffered a broken clavicle as a result of the abuse.
He issued a complaint to Swiss justice authorities, but it was dismissed.
“The amount of force used to control the plaintiff was disproportionate,” the judges in Strasbourg declared, remarking that the man “was not armed with dangerous objects” and that the police officers’ use of batons “was therefore unjustified”.
The European Court of Human Rights also ruled that the Swiss justice system introduced unwarranted delays in handling the case and did not avail itself of an independent account of what happened, other than the police report.
However, the court did not rule on the alleged racist behaviour of the police officers, as “there was no evidence on the record to support the plaintiff’s allegations”.
The Swiss judge on the court, Helen Keller, disagreed with the majority opinion, stating in a diverging opinion that “the two police officers reacted in an appropriate manner: they forced the plaintiff to the ground to immobilise him and see whether he was armed. In my opinion, the force used was absolutely necessary and proportionate”.
Switzerland has three months to appeal the decision, although the court is not required to accept an appeal.