Nachova and Others v. Bulgaria

(Arrest & Detention – Lethal use of force)
European Court of Human Rights
6 July 2005


Whilst trying to arrest, the police shot dead two fugitives who were unarmed and posed no threat to the arresting officers. The fugitives were conscripts of the army who were imprisoned for non-violent offences. 


The applicants, relatives of the fugitives, complained that they had been killed in violation of Article 2 of the Convention. They reasoned that State agents had been authorised in the instant case to use lethal force in circumstances where this was not absolutely necessary. 

Court's ruling

General principles: The use of lethal force by police officers may be justified in certain circumstances. However, any use of force must be ‘no more than absolutely necessary’, it must be strictly proportionate in the circumstances. The State has to have relevant legal or regulatory framework in place regulating the use of lethal force in the light of relevant international (human rights) standards. Planning and control of the operations permitting lethal force has to be conducted.

In the present case the Court found violation of Article 2 on several aspects:

  • Firstly, the Court noted as a matter of grave concern that the regulations on the use of firearms by the military police effectively had permitted lethal force to be used when arresting a member of the armed forces for even the most minor offence. Moreover, it did not contain any safeguards against arbitrary deprivation of life. 
  • Secondly, the operation was not properly planned. The authorities failed to comply with their obligation to minimise the risk of the loss of life since the arresting officers were instructed to use all available means to arrest the fugitives, in disregard of the fact that the fugitives were unarmed and posed no danger to life or limb. 
  • Thirdly, the arresting officers had used excessive force. The Court stated that recourse to potentially deadly force cannot be considered as ‘absolutely necessary’ where it is known that the person to be arrested poses no threat to life or limb and is not suspected of having committed a violent offence.

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Last updated 24/03/2024