International Law in Brief
ECtHR Rules in Favor of Victims’ Relatives in Lethal Force Case
By: Emma Schoenberger | April 6, 2020 - 4:14pm
In Kukhalashvili and Others v. Georgia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the applicants, stating that “[a] police operation to put down a riot in a prison used a disproportionate level of force.” The applicants were relatives of two men (A.B. and Z.K.) who had been inmates at Tbilisi Prison no. 5 in Georgia and were killed during a riot there in 2006. In their complaint, the applicants referred to ECHR Article 2 (right to life) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), arguing that “the State was responsible for the death of their relatives and that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation” into their relatives’ deaths. The Court reviewed the procedural aspect of Article 2, specifically whether the state had upheld its “duty to carry out an effective investigation into unlawful or suspicious deaths.” Citing the investigation’s “belated launch, its lack of independence and impartiality, the lack of involvement of the next of kin, and the prohibitive delays,” the Court concluded that the investigation “appeared to have been ineffective.” Regarding Article 13, “the Court found that no separate issue arose under Article 13” that was not addressed in its review of the procedural aspect of Article 2. The Court then evaluated the applicants’ claims regarding the substantive aspect of Article 2. The onus was on Georgia’s government “to explain in a satisfactory and convincing manner the sequence of events and to produce solid evidence to refute the applicants’ allegations of the disproportionate use of lethal power by State agents.” The Court found that the nature of the prison riot potentially justified the use of lethal force; however, it did not make it “‘absolutely necessary’” (as stated in Article 2). Based on various factors (including the lack of clear instructions to officers about the use of force during the operation), the Court concluded that lethal force could have been avoided and therefore, “that the anti-riot operation had … [violated] Article 2 in its substantive aspect.” The Court held that Georgia should pay each applicant for non-pecuniary damages, and costs and expenses.