Force-feedings emetics: inhumane, cruel, and racist, but unpunished

The forcible use of emetics, classified by Amnesty International and recent the European Court of Human Rights as "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" which, in 90% of all cases, is applied to black people, has led to the death of two African citizens in Germany so far.

On 9 December 2001, 19-year-old Cameroonian Achidi John died in Hamburg (Statewatch Vol. 11 no 6). On 27 December 2004, Sierra Leonean citizen Laya Alama Condé died in Bremen (Statewatch Vol. 15 no 1). The police doctor Igor V. had forcefully administered Laya Condé Ipecacuanha syrup through a tube as well as large quantities of water and continued the measure even when Condé's condition had deteriorated to such an extent that en emergency doctor had to be called. His lngs filled with water, but the defence argued he died because he had a weak heart. On 4 December this year, the Bremen court cleared Ivor V. of all charges.

After the death of Achidi John in 2001, Berlin banned the practice, but authorities in Bremen - which in 1991 was the first regional state to introduce the practice - continued with it until Laya Alama Condé's death. Hamburg is one of the most fervent states and continues to forcefully administer the substance until today. Far from being used merely to find drugs, emetics have been used as a means of torture by police officers, as research by the Anti-Rassismus Büro Bremen has shown. In 1992, victims reported arbitrary arrest, physical and verbal abuse, electric shocks and beatings by the regional drugs squad. Between 1992 and 1997, the monitoring group - which has now folded - observed that Ipecacuanha was used around 600 times, almost exclusively on Africans. Of 400 cases between 1992 and 1994, only half led to the detection of drugs in the stomach. Moreover, swallowed drugs can be recovered by letting them pass naturally, as is the practice in most other states, showing there is no pressing reason to forcefully administer this inhumane method. A Council of Europe survey shows that emetics are forcibly administered to suspected drug dealers only in four countries (Luxembourg, Norway, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Germany). In thirty-three CoE member states, emetics are not used against a suspect's will.

In 2006, the ECHR ruled on a case brought by Abu Bakah Jalloh against Germany. Jalloh, a namesake of Oury Jalloh - not coincidentally given the institutionally racist context of black deaths in police custody - brought a lawsuit against the German state on ground of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights) after having suffered force-feeding of emetics by the Hamburg police. In A Jalloh's case, the court found that

The authorities subjected the applicant to a grave interference with his physical and mental integrity against his will and that the procedure entailed risks to the applicant's health, not least because of the failure to obtain a proper anamnesis beforehand. Although this was not the intention, the measure was implemented in a way which caused the applicant both physical pain and mental suffering. He therefore has been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3.

Despite this judgement, in Condé's case the Bremen court followed the defence's argument that his death was due to heart failure, rather than the forceful police measure. Supporting evidence in this case was again given by Klaus Püschel, the pathologist of the university hospital in Hamburg/Eppendorf. The forensic department of the University Clinic Eppendorf regularly carries out the procedure on behalf the police. Püschel already served in Achidi's trial as a witness to the defence, claiming that Achidi's death was down to his "weak heart".

Condé's mother was paid 10.000 EUR for her son's death, the damages Condé was entitled to had he survived. Rather than motivated by a sense of responsibility, the authorities were forced to compensate because of the 2006 ECHR judgement, which awarded Abu Bakah Jalloh 10,000 EUR in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 5,868.88 for costs and expenses, under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention.

Pro Asyl press release, 9.12.2008:
English background article on Laya Condé
ECHR ruling Jalloh v. Germany (11 July 2006)

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