Justice for Victims of ’94 Turkish Bombing?

Earlier this week, the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) released its judgment in the case of Benzer and Others. v. Turkey.  This case centered around the 1994 bombing of town Turkish villages, Kuşkonar and Koçağili, which resulted in the deaths of 30 villagers, mostly children, women and elderly.  The Turkish government claimed that the bombings were the work of the illegal Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group that the Turkish government had been fighting, however villagers claimed that it was an aerial attack carried out by the state.  In the aftermath of the attacks, the Turkish government did little to help the villagers – they provided severely inadequate aid to assist in recovery and performed almost no investigation into the matter.

In May 2006, more than 12 years after the attack, an application was lodged with the ECHR.  The Court found violations of Article 2 (right to life and inadequate investigation), Article 3 (prohibition of inhumane or degrading treatment), and a failure to comply with Article 38 (obligation to provide all necessary facilities for the examination of the case).

In my opinion, the most interesting among these decisions was their Article 2 decision.  The Court found all of  Turkey’s sources highly incredible, and, moreover, was extremely put off by Turkey’s failure to turn over the flight logs from the attacks.  In the end, the Court found that Turkey had performed a vastly inadequate investigation into the attack, and the investigation that was performed was severely tainted by the appearance of impropriety.

The remedy for this matter is perhaps even more interesting.  The Court considered this an “exceptional circumstance” in which the ECHR could actually direct Turkey in how to handle its (still open) national investigation into the matter.  Further, the Court ordered damages of a total of 2,305,000 euros for the 38 applicants.  That breaks down to about 80,000 USD per person.

Was this remedy sufficient to compensate the victims, many of them men who lost their children and wives?  If this case were heard in a United States District Court (assuming, arguendo, there was jurisdiction) what do you think the damage remedy would be?  Which approach to damages – the US or the European model – is more appropriate?

Source:  The European Court of Human Rights

Photo Source: Bianet

2 comments

  1. I would have to say that I am satisfied with the court’s decision to reopen the case and finally conduct investigations on the matter. Hopefully with pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey will finally conduct a fruitful and complete investigation and properly provide adequate information on the attacks. Now that almost 20 years have passed since the event, the same people in charge back then, and who may have been instrumental in the cover up, are no longer a bearing presence. It is definitely suspect that the Turkish sources failed to turn over flight logs from the day in question. Hopefully following the result of this case these records will finally be examined.
    The bombing of Kuşkonar and Koçağili is similar to the 2011 bombings of 34 civilians on the Iraqi Kurdistian border. It will be interesting to see the effect this case has, if any, on the more recent attacks. Hopefully the ECHR’s ruling will show the country of Turkey that they should monitor human rights violations on their own accord, and ensure their citizens that they will not tolerate such behavior.

  2. I think that the ECHR’s decision on this case is sufficient and effective to force Turkey to conduct a detailed and extensive investigation of the incident. However, since many years have passed, I believe that it will be so hard to find “beneficial” evidence in the area where the incident occurred. Further, damages awarded for the victims are reasonable, but I do not think it is enough to cover up the pain and suffering caused to the families of the victims as a result of this incident. If this case were tried in the United States District Court (assuming there was jurisdiction), I think the court would have awarded punitive damages for pain and suffering. In incidents like this one, I think that it is crucial to award damages for pain and suffering so the United States model is more appropriate and satisfying. Even though lost lives cannot be taken back by awarding both compensatory and punitive damages, the United States’ approach to such cases is certainly a better one because it has a deterrence aspect so as to make occurrences of such incidents less likely and also make the victims feel that justice is well-done.

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