(Istanbul) – The Turkish government has yet to open an effective and transparent inquiry into a Turkish air force aerial bombardment a year ago that killed 34 Kurdish men and boys, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliamentary and criminal investigations into the incident on the Turkey-Iraq border near Uludere also appear stalled.
Failure to conduct an effective investigation, on top of the circumstances of the bombing and killings themselves, indicate a failure by Turkey to live up to some of its most fundamental obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to safeguard the right to life, Human Rights Watch said.
“One year on, no one has been held account for ordering the F-16 jets to drop the bombs that killed the 34 villagers” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at Human Rights Watch. “The Turkish government, parliament, and Diyarbakır prosecutor have so far failed the families of the victims in their search for justice.”
The attack, on December 28, 2011 at around 9:30 p.m., hit a group of 37 villagers from Ortasu (Roboski, in Kurdish) and Gülyazı (Bujeh, in Kurdish), two villages on the Turkish side of the border, as they crossed back into Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan. Thirty-four were killed, 17 of them children.
The group was smuggling diesel fuel, tea, and sugar, carried on mules, a centuries-old practice in a region with few employment opportunities. The aerial bombardment took place after unmanned drones provided intelligence in the form of video images of the large group walking with mules in the mountainous region. The government has stated this and the drone footage has been made available to those investigating the incident.
The parliamentary human rights investigative commission set up a sub-commission in January 2012 to examine the Uludere incident. However, the sub-commission has not yet concluded its inquiry or released any findings, despite repeated assurances that it would. Members of the sub-commission from the opposition parties have told the media and Human Rights Watch that the General Chief of Staff’s Office, the Defense Ministry, and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) have refused to co-operate fully with the inquiry and failed to answer questions or to provide certain documentation the sub-commission requested.
The Diyarbakır public prosecutor’s office, which is responsible for the criminal investigation into the incident, has also not concluded its investigation, with no indication when it might do so.
“The lack of progress in an entire year on completing any investigation of the Uludere incident is very troubling because it is consistent with the government’s overall reluctance to account to the public for the government’s wrongdoing,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Holding state authorities who killed civilians accountable is crucial to upholding democracy and the rule of law.”
Article 2 of the ECHR, to which Turkey is a party, safeguards the right to life and in the words of the European Court of Human Rights that determines violations of the convention, the circumstances in which deprivation of life may be justified must be strictly construed. Article 2 covers situation of intentional killing and situations in which it is permitted to use force that may result, as an unintended outcome, in the deprivation of life. However, the court emphasizes that any use of force must be no more than “absolutely necessary” and strictly proportionate to the achievement of permitted aims.
With respect to military operations, which the court has had several occasions to scrutinize, it emphasizes that any operation must be planned and controlled by the authorities so as to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to lethal force and the risk to life.
In the Uludere bombing, no information has been released to the public regarding what safeguards were in place, if any, to assess whether lethal force was absolutely necessary, whether the large group of people spotted by the drones could be lawfully targeted, and how loss of life could have been minimized.
The UN Special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, visited Turkey in November. Afterward, he raised a general concern about the “urgent need to end impunity for past and ongoing violations of the right to life” in Turkey.
Heyns commented on the Uludere incident: “The fact that the public is, one year later, no closer to an understanding of these tragic events reinforces the concerns … about impunity. The absence of a transparent public enquiry further aggravates the situation.” He said that “an independent and prompt public and transparent investigation into the Uludere/Roboski incident should be undertaken as a matter of great priority.”
The Turkish government should insist on immediate and full cooperation by all government agents with both the parliamentary and criminal inquiries, so that the victims of the bombing may see justice, Human Rights Watch said. Failure to do so may result in Turkey being brought before the European Court of Human Rights for violations of the right to life of another 34 of its own citizens.