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Turkey: Refusing parents right to choose children’s burial grounds breached human rights law

Judges ruled today that  Turkey’s authorities breached human rights law by preventing parents from burying their two children, killed by soldiers, in the town of their choice.

In today’s Chamber judgment  in the case of Gülbahar Özer and Yusuf Özer v. Turkey (application no. 64406/09) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Turkey was to pay each applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

The case was brought by applicants Gülbahar Özer and Yusuf Özer, are Turkish nationals who were born in 1963 and 1965 respectively and live in İzmir (Turkey). They are sister and brother.

The applicants’ children, aged 24 and 15, were killed by soldiers in January 2005 in southeast Turkey.

The applicants tried four days later to take their bodies for burial in the city of Siirt, but they were stopped by soldiers and the bodies were confiscated as the local governor had ordered that the bodies be buried in another cemetery owing to disturbances in the Siirt cemetery linked to the banned organisation of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

Yusuf Özer made an official request to the office of the governor for permission to bury the children in the city of Batman, but the request was refused.

The local authorities eventually buried the bodies in the town of Eruh in the early hours of the following morning, without a religious ceremony.

The applicants applied to the domestic courts for permission to move the bodies and bury them in a cemetery of their own choice, but the case was rejected. The final decision, by the Supreme Administrative Court, was communicated to them in March 2009, stating that the incidents at the Siirt Cemetery had begun when the people who had gathered there had insisted that the two children be buried next to the graves of members of the PKK.

Relying in particular on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), the applicants complained about the refusal to allow them to bury the bodies of their children where they wanted.

The European court found in particular that the confiscation of the children’s bodies, coupled with the authorities’ refusal to allow burial where the applicants wanted, had been in breach of Article 8 of the convention.

The measure had not struck a fair balance between the applicants’ right to the protection of their private and family life and the legitimate aims of public safety, the prevention of disorder and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

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