On 7 July 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) gave its judgment on the case Safi and others v. Greece (Application no. 5418/15). The case concerns a sinking that occurred on 20 January 2014 close to the island of Farmakonisi and resulted in the death of eleven people, including relatives of the applicants. Sixteen Syrian, Afghan and Palestinian applicants complained about a violation of Articles 2, 3, and 13 of the Convention regarding the serious omission by the coast guards in the sea rescue operation.

The Court held that there had been a breach both on the procedural requirements and the positive obligations that entail the right to life as contained in Article 2 of the Convention. In regard to the procedural aspect, the ECtHR highlighted the serious problems identified with the interpretation that were not addressed during the national proceedings and the lack of access of the applicants to crucial evidence. Accordingly, the Court found it highly doubtful that the applicants had been able to adequately participate in the legal proceedings. Furthermore, the Court found that the national prosecutor had not pursued evident avenues of investigation, thereby undermining the possibility to clarify the circumstances of the shipwreck. The Court inferred from the absence of a thorough and effective investigation by the national authorities a violation of the procedural protections of Article 2 ECHR.

Concerning the breach of the positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR, the Court considered that serious questions arise as to the manner in which the operation was conducted and organised and further concluded that the Greek authorities did not do everything that could reasonably be expected to ensure the level of protection required by Article 2 of the Convention for the applicants and their relatives. The Court found unreasonable that the coastguards did not request additional assistance or a more suitable boat for the rescue operation when they identified the boat was in a situation of distress and that the authorities, such as the coordination and search centre, were not informed of the incident until a very late stage. These omissions and delays in conducting and organising the operation led the Court to conclude that the Greek government had breached its positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR.

Furthermore, the Court analysed a potential violation of Article 3 ECHR focusing on the body search while under the control of the Greek military and found a violation regarding twelve of the applicants. The violation referred to those that had been subject to a body search at an open-air basketball court, that had been ordered to undress and adopt embarrassing postures and subjected to a body search in front of at least thirteen people. The ECtHR held that the government did not provide any justification nor a legitimate aim behind this body search and acknowledged the applicants were in an extremely vulnerable situation as they had just survived a shipwreck, they were exhausted, shocked by the events and worried about the fate of their relatives. For these reasons, the Court concluded that the conditions of the body search could have led to a feeling of arbitrariness, inferiority and anguish among the applicants that go beyond the inevitable humiliation of any body search and thus found a violation of Article 3 ECHR in regard to these twelve applicants.

The Court held that Greece was to pay a total of 330,000 euros in respect of the non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicants.

Based on an unofficial translation of the EWLU team.