State loses another human rights case in Strasbourg

  • 2004-12-09
  • From wire reports
RIGA - The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that Latvia should pay 6,000 euros to Mikhail Farbtukh, 88, a former Soviet official convicted on charges of genocide.
By a vote of six to one, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that Article 3 - the prohibition of degrading treatment - of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated, and that the state had to pay Farbtukh 5,000 euros in moral damages and 1,000 euros in legal costs.

Farbtukh originally asked for nearly 40,000 lats (58,000 euros) in both moral and pecuniary damages from the state, as well as legal costs, for being kept under inhumane conditions in a Latvian prison.

The court found that, considering the plaintiff's age, poor health and special needs, the prison conditions had been inadequate and therefore degrading.

In 1999 the Riga Regional Court sentenced Farbtukh to seven years in prison for repression against Latvian citizens after the Soviet occupation in the 1940s. Specifically, he was accused of violating the rights of more than 30 families from Daugavpils in 1940 - 1941.

In March 2002 he was released due to his deteriorating health condition. In all, Farbtukh spent approximately two years in prison.

The European court, however, did not examine evidence used as a basis for convicting Farbtukh, nor did it examine laws serving as the grounds for his conviction on crimes against humanity and genocide. The man's claim that Latvia had violated Article 7 of the convention - no punishment without law - was immediately rejected by the court during the first stage of processing his application.

Latvia's representative at the Strasbourg court, Jautrite Briede, expressed a dissenting opinion. She said that since Farbtukh was put in jail after two weeks of medical examination, the judge thought that Latvian authorities had "sufficiently considered the possible consequences of imprisonment."

"The case materials show that the prison administration treated Farbtukh well, and that he was never put into an ordinary cell but always stayed in the prison infirmary," a Foreign Ministry representative said.

In addition, Briede pointed out that no moral or pecuniary damages had ever been paid to the families of Farbtukh's victims, who were either shot or died in concentration camps. She argued it was wrong to compensate the plaintiff for being kept in prison under sufficiently appropriate conditions while receiving regular medical care.

Latvia has three months to appeal against the court judgment.

Farbtukh filed his claim with the court of human rights in 2001. The senior citizen suffers from a class one disability - the highest such disability in Latvia.