ECtHR convicts Turkey over suspicious death in army

Suspicious deaths often reported as “suicide” are common in the Turkish military, particularly within the gendarmerie.

November 11, 2010, Thursday/ 16:53:00

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) convicted Turkey in two separate cases this week, one over the military’s killing of a herdsman and a second over the suspicious death of a conscript, which is recorded as a ‘suicide,’ a common phenomenon in the army.

In a reply to a parliamentary inquiry about suicide in the gendarme, the Ministry of the Interior stated that 401 conscripts have committed suicide in the past ten years. However, the conscripts, who may be completing military service in other forces, are not exclusively from the gendarme. Although Ministry of Defense refused to answer the same parliamentary inquiry under the pretext of ‘secrecy’ last year, the Human Rights Association (IHD) suggests that, according to media reports, each year around 50 conscripts die under suspicious conditions, some of which are recorded as suicide or death during military training.

The case in which ECtHR convicted Turkey took place in 2003 in the Ovacık district of Tunceli, where conscript Mevlüt Baysan’s death is recorded as a ‘suicide.’

According to ECtHR, Baysan was found dead from a rifle shot in the head at point-blank range and the initial inner investigation pointed out that the weapon used in Baysan’s death was that of another soldier, who initially claimed that Mevlüt had ripped the weapon out of his hands He subsequently explained that he had actually handed it over, so that Mevlüt could continue duty in his place after he informed the soldier that the commander wished to see him. The internal report drawn up by the administrative investigation committee found that Baysan became depressed following an ambush involving their unit, when one of his close friends was killed. The military procurator concluded that Baysan had committed suicide, finding that no negligence could be attributed to the military authorities.

However the ECtHR unanimously concluded that the investigation into Baysan’s death was not effective and ordered Turkey to pay 39,000 Euros to his relatives.

IHD chairperson Öztürk Türkdoğan underlined that some conscripts are unable to adapt to the high discipline of the army and commit suicide, while others -- according to claims by friends and relatives -- are subject to discrimination on the basis of ethnic or religious background and political ideas. He also said that cases explained as “death during military training” are highly suspicious also.

“The military is a closed box. Suspicious deaths are investigated by the military prosecutors, but as long as the firm hierarchy of the military applies to the military courts and judges, it is impossible to conduct an effective investigation,” he told Today’s Zaman.

He added that, while the constitutional amendments approved by the public on September 12 restrict the scope of the military judiciary, another amendment is needed to reduce the authority of the military courts to the level of the disciplinary courts, as it should be in a democratic country. “Otherwise it will not be possible to find out what really happened in the cases of these suspicious deaths,” Türkdoğan said.

Violation of the right to live

In a separate case, the killing of Hacı Ölmez by soldiers, the ECtHR ruled that Turkey pay his family 103,000 euros for violating his right to live. According to ECtHR, Ölmez was shot dead by Turkish soldiers in 2003 in the village of Andaç, Şırnak, while taking his cattle to graze near the border with Iraq.

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