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European Court of Human Rights rules against Turkey

On the 24/6/2008 the European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), delivered two judgments - in the cases of Isaak v Turkey (application no. 44587/98) and Solomou v Turkey (no. 36832/97) - ordering Turkey to compensate the families of two Greek Cypriots - after found Turkey responsible for their deaths.

The Court held unanimously that, in both cases, there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the killing of Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou and a violation of Article 2 in respect of the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances in which Isaak and Solomou died.

Facts

Isaak and Solomou were killed by Turkish forces and Turkish Cypriot police during separate demonstrations protesting against the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus in Dherynia in August 1996.

The applicants in Isaak alleged that during that demonstration Isaak was kicked and beaten to death by Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot policemen and counter-demonstrators. A group of about 15-20 people surrounded Isaak and threw him to the ground. He was then repeatedly kicked and beaten with metal and wooden batons. When a police officer from the UN Forces in Cyprus tried to intervene and started pushing some of the attackers away, Isaak was already unconscious.

The Turkish Government alleged that Isaak died as a result of skirmishes between Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators. Isaak, allegedly the leader of a group of Greek Cypriots who entered the UN buffer zone and shouted insults and threw stones at Turkish-Cypriot policemen, became entangled and trapped in the spiral barbed-wire barriers put up by the UN forces along the Turkish Cypriot ceasefire line. The barbed-wire prevented his escape from the area and he died from the ensuing skirmish.

A post-mortem report concluded that the cause of Isaak's death was "multiple head trauma".

Three days later, during a demonstration following Isaak's funeral, Solomou was shot five times as entered the buffer zone with other demonstrators near the spot of the killing and, in protest, climbed up a flagpole flying the Turkish flag.

The parties disagreed as to the origin of the five bullets which hit Solomou. The applicants alleged that the bullets were fired by two men in Turkish uniform and by another man in civilian clothes who was on the platform of the Turkish observation post.

On the contrary, the Turkish Government alleged that Solomou had been the victim of the crossfire which had broken out when the Greek-Cypriot demonstration developed into a riot.

Complaints

The applicants in both cases alleged that their relatives were unlawfully killed by agents of the Turkish Government and that the Turkish authorities failed to carry out an investigation into the incidents. They relied on Articles 2 (right to life), 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). In Solomou they also relied on Articles 1 (obligation to respect human rights) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).

Court's Decision

The Court was unable to accept the Turkish Government's versions of facts. It observed that those versions had been contradicted by witness statements and had no reason to doubt their independence and trustworthiness.

The Court also observed that the applicants' versions had been confirmed by photographic evidence and video footage of the killings.

The Court further noted that a medical report had concluded that the cause of Isaak's death had been "multiple head trauma". As for Solomou, he had been hit by five bullets, a fact which was hard to reconcile with the theory that his shooting had not been intentional.

In both cases, the killings could not be considered as measures aimed at quelling violence generated by protests. In Isaak, the Court considered that the savage beating of Isaak in front of the other demonstrators, could have led to even more violent reactions by the Greek-Cypriot side. In Solomou, the Court stressed that it had not been contested that only one demonstrator - Solomou - had crossed the ceasefire line and that he had been unarmed. The first shots had been directed at him and could therefore hardly be described as measures aimed at calming the violent behaviour of the other demonstrators, who had still been in the UN buffer zone.

Accordingly, the Court concluded that Isaak and Solomou had been killed by agents of the Turkish State and that the use of force had not been justified, in violation of Article 2.

Moreover, in both cases the Court noted that the Turkish Government had failed to produce any evidence showing that an investigation had been carried out into the circumstances of Isaak and Solomou's deaths. Nor had they submitted that, more than 11 years after the incidents, those responsible for the killings had been identified and called to account before a domestic court. The Court accordingly held that there had been a violation of Article 2.

The court awarded a total in compensation and legal costs of €227,000 to the family of Isaak and a total of €137,000 to the family of Solomou.

Turkey, under Article 43 of the Convention, must pay within three months from the date of the judgments.
          
Tsitsios & Associates LLC , Wednesday, 25 June 2008

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