Tuesday 4 November 2008

Battle of Wounded Knee in Istanbul

Agressive youth, policemen too ready to shoot, and a girl at the wrong place at the wrong time. Such are the sad ingredients in the Turkish case of Evrim Öktem, in which the Court issued its judgment today. It all started with a patrol of three police officers in plain-clothes that saw a group of young people hanging a banner of the Revolutionary Organisation of Students on a school in Istanbul thirteen(!) years ago. When the police ordered them to stop, the youths became agressive and threatening. Consequently, the policemen fired warning shots, when pursuing the demonstrators. 14 year-old Evrim Öktem, who claimed to have been at the place of the shooting by coincidence, was hit in the knee by a bullet that had ricocheted against the ground. For two months she was unable to walk. The family of the wounded girl later pressed charges against the policeman who had fired the fatal shot (and had also been the one that had brought her to a hospital). Pronouncement of a verdict in his case was, however, deferred indefinitely.

The Court unanimously found a double violation of the right to life (Article 2 ECHR). One might wonder why the right to life is applicable here, as the applicant did not die in the shooting. The Court here followed a line of case law going back to the Greek case of Makaratzis (2004) in holding that situations could fall within the scope of Article 2 if the force used was potentially lethal, with refernece to the criteria formulated in that Greek case. In the current Turkish case the Court held that irrespective of the policeman's intent, the kind of force used and the severity of the wound placed the case within the scope of the right to life. On the substantive side, the Court concluded that the great freedom of action of the policemen was not limited by any proper training or rules and regulations on the use of force in times of peace. Apart from this material violation, the Court also found a procedural violation of the right to life on account of the deferral of a verdict in the criminal case against the policeman, resulting in de facto impunity. The applicant was awarded 16,000 euros for non-pecuniary damages.

Just like in Makaratzis, this judgment shows the essential importance of clear guidelines on the use of force. To formulate and implement such regulations is part and parcel of a state's obligations under the ECHR's right to life.

The judgment itself is in French, but a press release in English can be found here.