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Alkhatib and Others v Greece – 3566/16

Country
Status FINAL
Court European Court of Human Rights
Relevant Law Article 2 (material and procedural)
Year 2024
Found for Applicant

The case concerns an incident occurring in 2014 in Greece. In the maritime zone of Pserimos, the Kalymnos coast guard’s patrol boat, spotted and engaged in pursuit of a speedboat, carrying fourteen individuals, including Syrian and Turkish nationals. The vessel of the Greek coast guard collided with the speedboat causing damage and injuries. The coast guard fired warning shots and then targeted shots to immobilize the speedboat. The shots hit one of the Syrian passengers, who later died in the hospital. The application was brought by his wife and children.

The Court found that the investigation by the Greek authorities into the incident lacked in thoroughness for several reasons: testimonies from the speedboat passengers were incomplete, critical investigative steps were not taken (e.g., forensic and ballistics reports, detailed vehicle surveys), and discrepancies arose between the prosecutor’s findings and a prior criminal judgment against the boat driver. The Court considered that the prosecutor failed to provide a reasoned analysis of these discrepancies. The Court concluded that a violation of Article 2 of the Convention in its procedural aspect occurred due to numerous shortcomings in the investigation.

The Court also examined whether the maritime operation in question adhered to governing rules of engagement and identified potential inconsistencies in the applicable regulations. The Court deemed that the Greek legislative was incompatible with the requirement of a clear and effective legal framework to prevent arbitrary use of force by Greek coast guard personnel. It concluded that Greece failed to establish adequate legislation governing lethal force in maritime operations. In addition, the coast guard personnel failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the interception operation was carried out in such a way as to minimise the use of lethal force and the possible risks to the life of the applicants’ relatives, according to the judgment.

Lastly, the Court assessed whether the use of force by the coast guard during the operation was absolutely necessary and proportionate. The Court took into account its prior findings that the coast guard did not take all necessary steps to ensure the interception was carried out in a manner to minimise the use of lethal force. It also stated that thirteen potentially fatal shots fired at the engine, most of which appear to have missed their target, could not be regarded as a measure proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the arrest of the speedboat driver. The files of the case also indicated that the short were fired after the Greek coast guard rammed into the boat, injuring the driver, which had changed course and was speeding towards Turkish waters. The Court held that the risk to the lives of the passengers resulting from the use of a firearm must be considered, in the case, in the light both of the absence of an immediate danger posed by the driver and of the lack of urgency in stopping the speedboat, which was already fleeing towards Türkiye.

In the circumstances, the Court found it doubtful that, at the time the shots were fired, the two coast guards were acting in the honest belief that their lives and physical integrity were in danger and concluded that the use of force in the  case was neither absolutely necessary nor strictly proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued under Article 2 § 2 (a) and (b) of the Convention.

The Court awarded 80,000 euros to the applicants.