Press release

Discriminatory Police Stops Brought before European Court of Human Rights

May 23, 2017
Brooke Havlik

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has filed two separate applications this month before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that challenge racially-discriminatory police stops in France and Spain—presenting the court with an opportunity to address an issue that has blighted relations between police and visible minorities across Europe. 

In the French case, Seydi and others v. France, six young men of African and Arab origin complain that they were subject to racially-discriminatory police stops while carrying out everyday activities, such as walking in the street, exiting a subway station or talking with a friend. 

The Spanish case, Muhammed v. Spain, has been brought by a Pakistani citizen holding a Spanish residency permit, who was subject to a discriminatory police stop in Barcelona in May, 2013. 

The six French applicants were among a group of 13 whose complaints were heard previously by France’s top civil court, the Cour de Cassation. In November, 2016, the court formally recognized that non-discrimination law applies to police practices, an important legal breakthrough that should lead to changes in police procedures in France. But the judges rejected the individual complaints of the six applicants in the ECHR case.

Specifically, it found that the men had failed to meet their evidentiary burden of proving their discriminatory treatment, despite the significant evidence they had presented, including witness statements and rigorous studies demonstrating a pattern of police  discrimination. This overly restrictive standard of evidence leaves them and many other victims of discriminatory stop, frisk and search practices without a recourse.

The Spanish applicant, Zeshan Muhammad, brought a complaint before the ECHR after his case in Spain was dismissed by Spain's Constitutional Court on November 8 last year, in a three-line decision that found the case had "no constitutional relevance". 

In both cases the applicants argue that their treatment amounts to discrimination in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as interference with their rights to private life and to freedom of movement. 

They are also asking the court to oblige the respective governments to take steps to address these practices and ensure that other victims have an effective recourse.

The six applicants in Syedi are represented before the court by Slim Ben Achour and Felix de Belloy of the French bar and by Rupert Skilbeck and James A. Goldston from the Justice Initiative. Zeshan Muhammad is represented before the ECHR by Mercedes Melon and Mr. Goldston of the Justice Initiative. 

The Open Society Justice Initiative’s work on promoting fair and equitable policing in Europe has included litigation in France, Spain and the UK, as well as research, advocacy and the partnerships with police and community groups.



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