27th Feb 2024

ECHR condemns Greece in Syrian refugee boat shooting

  • The Greek coast guard shot a Syrian refugee, who later died (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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Greece has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, in a case involving the deadly 2014 shooting of a Syrian refugee by the Greek coast guard.

The judgment on Tuesday (16 January) by the Strasbourg-based court followed an almost decade-old incident where the Greek coast guard fired 13 bullets into a motor of a refugee boat in an effort to stop it.

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Two of the 14 passengers on the boat were shot, one in the head. The victim went into a coma and then eventually died from serious brain injury, after being granted asylum in Sweden where his wife and children were living.

Greece had by then launched a criminal investigation into the coast guard but which was later stymied by the loss of evidence.

The case was argued in court by the Greek-based Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and Pro-Asyl, a Germany-based NGO.

Minos Mouzourakis, a legal officer at RSA, said the case demonstrates "systemic deficiencies" in the way the Greek coast guard carries out its duties, as well as how the Greek justice system handles them.

"It shows yet again that the investigations are not effective in order to deliver justice to the victims of those violations," he said.

The Strasbourg court said Greece had violated the right to life because it did not take appropriate steps to prevent a threat to life.

And it faulted Greece over procedural obligations that require it to deliver effective and credible investigations in order to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

"The prosecutor made a number of errors in publishing the evidence and assessing the case," said Mouzourakis.

The domestic case was overseen by the Greek naval court prosecutor, who is tasked into probing any misconduct by the Greek coast guard, an armed law enforcement body under military organisational structure.

Greece has now been ordered to pay €80,000 to the defendants. It will also have to take measures to address the internal shortfalls.

However, the judgement is not yet final. The Greek side has three months to appeal, should they so choose.

History repeats itself

But this case is not a first for Greece, and follows numerous allegations of a justice system unable or unwilling to conduct proper probes.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in December said Greece had yet to make any credible probe into the Pylos shipwreck where over 600 people died in June of last year.

Similar grievances were also highlighted two years ago by the European Court of Human Rights in the Safi v. Greece judgment case.

The Safi case condemned Athens for a deadly shipwreck that took place off the Greek island of Farmakonisi in 2014.

According to the victims, a Greek coastguard vessel capsized their boat while attempting to push them back into Turkish waters. Elven people died.

Greece also lost that case and was condemned for violating the right to life, including a failure to carry out an effective investigation into the sinking.

At the time, Greece maintained it was an isolated incident. But the latest judgement on Tuesday, which spans similar violations, suggests otherwise.

Beyond Safi, Greece had also been condemned by the Strasbourg court in two other cases, Torosian v. Greece and B.Y. v. Greece, for procedural violations when it comes to ineffective investigations into ill-treatment by law enforcement bodies.

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