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Court: Turkey must regulate use of tear-gas

Human rights judges want the Turkish authorities to “regulate” the use of tear gas grenades during demonstrations.

Their declaration came today in a chamber judgment in the case of Ataykaya v. Turkey (application no. 50275/08).

In the ruling, which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Turkey was to pay Mehmet Nesip Ataykaya 65,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 5,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

The case concerned the death of Ataykaya’s son Tarık Ataykaya, caused by a tear-gas grenade fired by the police during an illegal demonstration.

Between 28 and 31 March 2006 many illegal demonstrations were held in Diyarbakır, turkey, following the death of fourteen members of the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, an illegal armed organisation) during an armed clash which had occurred on 24 March 2006. During those demonstrations, nine people were killed.

On 29 March 2006, as Tarık Ataykaya was leaving the workshop where he worked, he unexpectedly found himself in the middle of a demonstration and was hit in the head by one of the tear-gas grenades fired by the police in order to disperse the demonstrators. Tarık died of his injuries a few minutes later.

The autopsy performed on the following day, and an expert examination conducted a few days later, formally established that death had been caused by a type no.12 tear-gas grenade, as used by the police, which had struck the deceased’s head. As the cartridge extracted from the Tarık Ataykaya’s head had no distinguishing marks, it was impossible to identify the weapon from which it had been fired.

The European Court of Human Rights considered that no meaningful investigation had been carried out at domestic level to enable identification of the person who had fired the fatal shot, and that there was nothing to indicate that the use of fatal force against Ataykaya’s son had been absolutely necessary and proportionate.

As to the execution of its judgment (Article 46), the court reiterated its findings in the Abdullah Yaşa and Others v. Turkey2 and Izci v. Turkey3 judgments, and emphasised the need to reinforce, without further delay, the safeguards surrounding the proper use of tear-gas grenades, so as to minimise the risks of death and injury stemming from their use.

It emphasised that, so long as the Turkish system did not comply with the requirements of the European Convention, the inappropriate use of potentially fatal weapons during demonstrations was likely to give rise to violations similar to that in the present case.

The court also held that, in order to ensure effective implementation of its judgment, fresh investigative measures were to be taken under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers to identify and – if appropriate – punish those responsible for the death of Ataykaya’s son.

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