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Germany

Child murderer has mistreatment claim upheld but cannot seek retrial

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the claim that torture threats made by police against a German child murderer had been in breach of his human rights. The court however ruled that he can not seek a retrial.

Magnus Gaefgen

The court dismissed the claim Gaefgen received an unfair trial

The convicted German child murderer Magnus Gaefgen only managed a small victory at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The Court upheld his claim that threats of physical violence by the German police had been in breach of his human rights.

Gaefgen is serving a life sentence for the murder of Jakob von Metzler, the son of a Frankfurt banker, in 2002. When arrested with the kidnapped child still missing, a police officer had threatened violence against Gaefgen unless he revealed where he was holding his victim. The police at the time did not know that the child was already dead.

Picture of Jakob von Metzler

The murder of Jakob von Metzler caused outrage in Germany

"The ruling is important especially in the light of some of the discussions we had in Germany in the wake of this case about whether torture might be less of a crime if it is applied to save someone's life," Professor Robert Esser of Passau University told Deutsche Welle.

"The court has stressed emphatically that regardless of the motives a state or one of its organs has - even when it's about saving lives - it must never violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights," Esser said.

The judges ruled that "the threats against the perpetrator were severe enough to qualify as inhuman treatment according to article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

The article states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

No retrial

Lady Justice

None of the information obtained under the threat of torture was used in the trial

Gaefgen's attempt to seek retrial however, was dismissed. The court ruled that he did not receive an unfair trial as none of the evidence obtained under the threat of torture was used in the trial.

While the court in Strasbourg left no doubt that it categorically rules out the use of torture, it's ruling did not differ much from that of German courts who previously dealt with the case since Gafgen sued the German state in 2005.

The two police officers who had threatened to torture Gaefgen have already been fined and dismissed from their posts. German authorities have left no doubt that they consider the threat of torture unacceptable.

Ban on torture unconditional

The head of the German Association of Judges, Christoph Frank, told Deutsche Welle that "the most important message of the ruling is that the European Court for Human Rights has confirmed the previous rulings by German courts."

Germany's Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also confirmed Berlin's full agreement with the ruling in Strasbourg.

"The ban on torture is unconditional. Human dignity is the most valuable commodity when it comes to human rights and the foundation of our entire legal system. This line must never be crossed," she said after the ruling.

Gaefgen's lawyer Michael Heuchemer was also content with the ruling. "This is a signal that such methods must not be used by the police," he said.

After the verdict by the European Court of Human Rights, Gaefgen has no possibility for further appeal.

Author: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Rob Turner

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