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European Court of Human Rights

24 June 2008
Chamber judgments in the cases of Isaak v Turkey and Solomou v Turkey
The ECHR found Turkey guilty of human rights violations in the cases concerning the killings of Greek Cypriots Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou in August 1996.


EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
469
24.6.2008
Press release issued by the Registrar

Two Chamber judgments concerning Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing two Chamber judgments1 - available only in English - in the cases of Isaak v. Turkey (application no. 44587/98) and Solomou v. Turkey (no. 36832/97).

The Court held unanimously that, in both cases, there had been:
  • a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the killing of Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou; 
  • a violation of Article 2 in respect of the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances in which Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou died.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded 80,000 euros (EUR) to Anastasios Isaak’s widow for pecuniary damage. In respect of non-pecuniary damage, the Court awarded EUR 35,000 each to Anastasios Isaak’s widow, his parents, and to Solomos Solomou’s father, and also EUR 15,000 to each of Anastasios Isaak’s and Solomos Solomou’s siblings. The applicants in both cases were also awarded EUR 12,000 for costs and expenses.

1. Principal facts

The applicants are 12 Cypriot nationals.

Isaak

The applicants, Maria, Isaak, Anastasia, Kyriaki and Andriani Isaak, were born in 1977, 1944, 1951, 1974 and 1979 respectively and live in Ayia Napa and Paralimni (Cyprus). They are the widow, parents and sisters of Anastasios (Tassos) Isaak, a Greek Cypriot, who died on 11 August 1996.

On 11 August 1996 Anastasios Isaak participated in a Greek-Cypriot demonstration organised by the Cyprus Motorcycle Federation (CMF) to protest against the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus. It took place at several points along the United Nations buffer zone east of Nicosia. Tensions arose when the authorities of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) announced that they would organise “counter-rallies” with the participation of the Turkish extremist “Grey Wolves” group and that they would fire at Greek-Cypriot demonstrators.

The facts are in dispute between the parties.

The applicants, as well as the Government of Cyprus, alleged that during that demonstration Anastasios Isaak was kicked and beaten to death by Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot policemen and counter-demonstrators. A group of about 15-20 people surrounded Mr Isaak and threw him to the ground. He was then repeatedly kicked and beaten with metal and wooden batons. There were allegedly eight “TRNC” police officers in the vicinity. When a police officer from the UN Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) tried to intervene and started pushing some of the attackers away, Mr Isaak was already unconscious.

The Turkish Government, for their part, alleged that Mr Isaak died as a result of skirmishes between Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators. Mr Isaak, allegedly the leader of a group of Greek Cypriots who entered the UN buffer zone and shouted insults and threw stones at Turkish-Cypriot policemen, became entangled and trapped in the spiral barbed-wire barriers put up by the UN forces along the Turkish Cypriot ceasefire line. The barbed-wire prevented his escape from the area and he died from the ensuing skirmish.

A post-mortem report concluded that the cause of Mr Isaak’s death was “multiple head trauma”.

The applicants submitted several witness statements from UNFICYP officers and the Cyprus Police. The members of UNFICYP unanimously declared that Mr Isaak had been attacked and beaten to death by a group of counter-demonstrators and that some members of the “TRNC” police had either watched the scene passively or had participated in the beating.

The applicants also submitted 37 photographs and a video recording by Reuters. Those images showed a group of people, armed with sticks, attacking Mr Isaak, who was lying on the ground. The group beat him for several minutes. At least four uniformed soldiers belonging to the Turkish or Turkish-Cypriot forces were seen in the vicinity of the incident and participating in the mob. The recording also showed a UN officer intervening with the aid of two policemen,
pushing back the crowd who had surrounded Mr Isaak.

Solomou

The applicants, Spyros, Antonis, Panayiotis, Maria, Costas, Niki and Paraskevi Solomou, were born in 1941, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1974 and 1971 respectively and also live in Paralimini (Cyprus). They are the father, brothers and sisters of Solomos Solomou, a Greek Cypriot who died on 14 August 1996.

On 14 August 1996 Solomos Solomou, having attended Anastasios Isaak’s funeral, entered the buffer zone with other demonstrators near the spot of the killing and, in protest, climbed up a flagpole flying the Turkish flag. He was shot and killed.

The parties disagreed as to the origin of the five bullets which hit Mr Solomou.

According to the applicants and the Government of Cyprus, those bullets were fired by two men in Turkish uniform and by another man in civilian clothes who was on the platform of the Turkish observation post.

On the contrary, the Turkish Government alleged that Mr Solomou had been the victim of the crossfire which had broken out when the Greek-Cypriot demonstration developed into a riot.

The applicants submitted a number of witness statements from UNFICYP officers. Several officers clearly stated that two soldiers in Turkish uniform and a man in civilian clothes standing on the Turkish observation post platform had aimed their weapons at Mr Solomou and fired in his direction while he was climbing the flagpole. The applicants also submitted photographs and a video film of the shooting.

2. Procedure and composition of the Court 

The application in Isaak was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 31 January 1997 and declared admissible on 28 September 2006. The application in Solomou was lodged on 13 February 1997 and declared admissible on 18 May 1999.

In both cases the President granted leave to the Government of Cyprus to intervene in the proceedings as a third party.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Nicolas Bratza (British), President,
Lech Garlicki (Polish),
Ljiljana Mijovic (citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina),
David Thór Björgvinsson (Icelandic),
Ján Šikuta (Slovak),
Päivi Hirvelä (Finnish),
Isil Karakas (Turkish), judges,
and also Fatos Araci, Deputy Section Registrar.

3. Summary of the judgment2

Complaints

Relying on Articles 2 (right to life), 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination), all the applicants alleged that their relatives were unlawfully killed by agents of the Turkish Government and that the Turkish authorities failed to carry out an investigation into the incidents. In the case of Solomou the applicants also relied on Articles 1 (obligation to respect human rights) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).

Decision of the Court

Article 2

Concerning the alleged killings of Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou

The Court noted that it had not been contested that Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou had voluntarily entered the UN buffer zone. However, the parties had disagreed as to what had actually caused their deaths. The Court was unable to accept the Turkish Government’s versions of facts. It observed that those versions had been contradicted by witness statements and had no reason to doubt their independence and trustworthiness.

The Court also observed that the applicants’ versions had been confirmed by photographic evidence and video footage of the killings. Nothing in those images, whose authenticity had not been contested by the Turkish Government, had suggested that Mr Isaak had been carrying weapons or that he had been entangled in barbed wire, or that, in the case of Solomou, there had been crossfire.

The Court further noted that a medical report had concluded that the cause of Mr Isaak’s death had been “multiple head trauma”. As for Mr Solomou, he had been hit by five bullets, a fact which was hard to reconcile with the theory that his shooting had not been intentional.

The Court also considered that the killings of Mr Isaak and Mr Solomou had not been necessary to defend “any person from unlawful violence”. It seemed that both of them had been unarmed and had not been attacking anyone, and it had been obvious that they could hardly have escaped from the control of the security forces.

Moreover, in both cases, the killings could not be considered as measures aimed at quelling violence generated by protests. In the case of Isaak, the Court considered that the savage beating of Mr Isaak in front of the other demonstrators, without any attempt to apprehend him, could have led to even more violent reactions by the Greek-Cypriot side. Furthermore, the Turkish or Turkish-Cypriot forces had apparently not co-ordinated their actions with the UNFICYP ; indeed, the latter had tried to stop the soldiers’ participation in the mob. In the case of Solomou, the Court stressed that it had not been contested that only one demonstrator – Mr Solomou – had crossed the ceasefire line and that he had been unarmed. The first shots had been directed at him and could therefore hardly be described as measures aimed at calming the violent behaviour of the other demonstrators, who had still been in the UN buffer zone.

Accordingly, the Court concluded that Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou had been killed by agents of the Turkish State and that the use of force had not been justified, in violation of Article 2.

Concerning the alleged inadequacy of the investigations 

In both cases the Court noted that the Turkish Government had failed to produce any evidence showing that an investigation had been carried out into the circumstances of Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou’s deaths. Nor had they submitted that, more than 11 years after the incidents, those responsible for the killings had been identified and called to account before a domestic court. The Court accordingly held that there had been a violation of Article 2.

Other Articles of the Convention

The Court considered that, in the light of the conclusions reached under Article 2, it was not necessary to examine whether there had also been a violation of Articles 8 and 14 in the case of Isaak, and Articles 1, 3, 8 and 14 in the case of Solomou.

***
 
The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).

Press contacts

Tracey Turner-Tretz (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 30)
Paramy Chanthalangsy (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 54 91)
Sania Ivedi (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 59 45)

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

1 Under Article 43 of the Convention, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.
 
2 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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