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Turkey: Judges make €158,000 awards to earthquake victims’ families after human rights breach

Relatives of family members, buried alive during Turkey’s 1999 earthquake, will receive awards totalling €158,000, after judges backed their human rights complaint.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Özel and Others v. Turkey (applications nos. 14350/05, 15245/05 and 16051/05) 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 under its procedural head.

The case, brought by Mehmet Özel, Ali Kılıç, İsmail Erdoğan, Salim Çakır, Betül Akan, Menekşe Kılıç, Güher Erdoğan and Şehriban Yüce (Ergüden), concerned the deaths of the applicants’ family members, who were buried alive under buildings that collapsed in the town of Çınarcık, in an earthquake on 17 August 1999, one of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded in Turkey.

Çınarcık is located in a region classified as “major risk zone” on the map of seismic activity. The company V.G. Arsa Ofisi was accused of being responsible for the collapse of the buildings which killed the victims, mainly because the materials used in their construction had been deficient.

Three partners in the company and its two scientific directors were prosecuted. The victims’ relatives joined the proceedings as third parties. At the end of the criminal proceedings, two of the accused were convicted and the proceedings against the others were discontinued as timebarred.

The court found in particular that the national authorities had not acted promptly in determining the responsibilities and circumstances of the collapse of the buildings which had caused the deaths.

It held that Turkey was to pay, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, 30,000 euros (EUR)jointly to Akan and Özel, EUR 30,000 jointly to the Kılıçs, EUR 30,000 jointly to the Erdoǧans, EUR 30,000 each to Çakır and Yüce (Ergüden), and for costs and expenses EUR 4,000 each to Çakır and Yüce (Ergüden).

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