The European Court of Human Rights ruled on April 26 partially in favor of complaints lodged by the Girgvliani family against the Georgian government, saying that the investigation into the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani “manifestly lacked the requisite independence, impartiality, objectivity and thoroughness” and ordered the government to pay to the family EUR 50,000 non-pecuniary damage.
The Strasbourg-based court, however, ruled that contrary to the applicants’ claims, there was no violation of the substantive limb of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Enukidze and Girgvliani v. Georgia case involved a murder case of 28-year-old Sandro Girgvliani in 2006.
The case has turned into the key political issue in 2006 and it reemerges time after time in Georgia’s politics, because of persisting allegations that the investigation covered up possible links of Interior Ministry officials, as well as of wife of Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, to this murder case.
Four officers from Interior Ministry’s Department for Constitutional Security were convicted for this murder case; they were all pardoned and granted a pre-term release in September, 2009.
Applicants – Irina Enukidze (mother of Sandro Girgvliani, who died in August, 2007 after lodging the application) and Guram Girgvliani (the father) – claimed that the rights under article 2 (right to life); article 3 (prohibition of torture); article 6 (right to a fair trial) and article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were violated. The Girgvliani family also complained under Article 38 (examination of the case) of the Convention that the Georgian government has not submitted to the European Court all the evidence necessary for the examination of the case.
Under the article 2 of the Convention the applicants complained that their son had been killed by senior Interior Ministry officers and that the authorities had failed to conduct an effective investigation; thus the ECHR’s judgment examines both the procedural and substantive parts of the complaint.
In respect of substantive part, the Court shared the government’s arguments that although Sandro Girgvliani met his death at the hands of the Interior Ministry employees, the perpetrators were not acting in their official capacity at the time of committing the crime. The applicants claim that the perpetrators acted on orders given by their superiors from the Interior Ministry who were present in a café in downtown Tbilisi, where the victim shortly before being abducted, insulted one of the officials present in the café. But the Court said there is “an insufficient evidentiary basis” to make “such a far-reaching conclusion of fact.”
The Court, however, slammed the investigation process carried out at all levels – by the Interior Ministry and then by the prosecutor’s office – saying that it “manifestly lacked” impartiality.
The Court said it “is struck by the fact that neither the prosecution nor the domestic courts attempted to clarify” some of the key circumstances of the case.
“The Court deplores that… the authorities turned a blind eye to the applicants’ credible allegation of complicity between some of the persons from the Interior Minister’s wife’s group in the café and the direct perpetrators of the crime. Such a selective approach by the domestic authorities is unacceptable for the Court because, in order for an investigation to be effective, its conclusions must always be based on thorough, objective and impartial analysis of all relevant elements. Failing to follow an obvious line of inquiry undermines the investigation’s ability to establish the circumstances of the case and the person responsible,” the ECHR said in its judgment.
The Court also said that the authorities “were lacking in candour in the conduct of the investigation.”
“The Court is struck by how the different branches of State power… acted in concert in preventing justice from being done in this gruesome homicide case,” the Court said.
Those concerted efforts, the court said, included shortcomings in investigations by the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor’s office; the prison department’s unlawful decision to place all of the convicts in the same cell; as well as deficient trial and President Saakashvili’s “unreasonable leniency towards the convicts”, when he pardoned and reduced convicts' sentences by half and later all of them were granted a pre-term release.
In respect of the trial, the Court said that “a major deficiency” in the judicial proceedings was the Georgian court’s “persistent refusal to provide the applicants with sufficient time and facilities to study the case materials.”
“It is striking that, in such a particularly complex case, the proceedings at first instance lasted only nine days, during which period it was hardly feasible either for the civil parties or even for the judges to study the voluminous case materials,” the European Court of Human Rights said.
The Court also said that despite its “repeated requests” the Georgian government did not present in its entirety one-hour portion of footage recorded by the surveillance camera to detect the movement of cars on the section of the road leading to Okrokana in Tbilisi outskirts where the crime was committed.
The Court said that submission of that evidence in its entirety was relevant as it could have corroborated or, on the contrary, refuted the applicants’ allegation that other Interior Ministry officials were also involved in the crime.
“The Government failed to justify that omission in their written observations and remained silent even after the applicants had explicitly reproached them on that account during the public hearing [at ECHR] on 27 April 2010,” the Court said.
The Court said that other complaints of the applicants have been absorbed by the examination of the complaints under Article 2 and they were not examined separately.
The judgment said that because of the Georgian authorities failure to conduct “a meaningful investigation capable of uncovering the whole truth about the death of their son and leading to the adequate punishment of all those responsible” the Court awarded applicant to EUR 50,000 for non-pecuniary damage; the applicants claimed EUR 300,000. The applicant was also awarded to EUR 388 for costs and expenses.
Within three months from the date of announcement of this judgment, parties into the case can request that the case be referred to the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties into the case declare that they do not intend to refer it to the Grand Chamber.