TURKEY: Joint statement on the killing of Tahir Elçi and lack of effective investigation into his death

The Bar Human Rights Commitee of England and Wales (BHRC) has today joined over 40 bar associations and human rights organisations in a joint statement raising concerns of the lack of effective investigation into the death of human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi in Turkey in 2015.

Tahir Elçi was a prominent figure within the international and domestic lawyers’ community. He had practiced law for around 25 years. At the time of his death, he was the President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association.

Mr Elçi was well known for having acted for victims in a number of leading cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the forced evictions of Kurdish villages, enforced disappearances, summary executions, and torture and ill-treatment by the security and/or state-affiliated forces.

As a part of these activities, as the president of Diyarbakir Bar Association, he helped to organise a press conference to draw attention to the damage inflicted on the cultural and historic heritage in the region during the armed clashes. The press conference took place in front of a historic minaret damaged by security operations on the morning of 28 November 2015. During this conference, an armed clash took place between two armed PKK militia members and the police, during which Tahir Elçi was shot dead.

Despite assurances given by the Prime Minister, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, that four investigators had been assigned to the case, no independent effective investigation was carried out.

In February 2019, London based group, Forensic Architecture, published a detailed forensic investigation of the video footage of the scene at the time Mr. Elçi was killed The report found that three police officers were engaged in active shooting at the time of the killing.

Following the release of this report, the three police officers were indicted. The first hearing took place on 21 October 2020 at 10 am, before the Diyarbakir 10th Heavy Penal Court. The trial has been adjourned until 3 March 2021.

The joint statement raises concerns that:

  • The indictment has many serious flaws, including in its determination of the events, legal classification of the acts, and sentencing request against the police officers.
  • Due process may not be followed forthcoming hearings of the trial of the officers and that the rights of Mr. Elçi and his family may not be respected during the proceedings.

The coalition of organisations urges Turkish authorities to ensure that:

  1. The case is heard by an independent, impartial, and competent court that is capable of establishing the facts and truth around the killing of Mr. Elçi;
  2. All future hearings comply with international standards regarding the right to a fair trial, in which the victims’ rights are also recognised;
  3. The hostile attitude from the court towards the Elçi family and their lawyers and the court’s persistent refusal to follow the rules of procedure and principles of both domestic and international law are not repeated in future hearings;
  4. The lawyers for the Elçi family are given reasonable opportunities to be heard and to make their applications in relation to the procedure and the evidence;
  5. Where submissions are refused, reasons for refusal are given in accordance with the case law of the ECtHR;
  6. Following a fair judicial procedure, those who are responsible for Mr. Elçi’s killing are held accountable and serve sentences appropriate to the gravity of the crime committed; and
  7. Mr. Elçi’s family is provided with appropriate redress for the violations they and their loved one have suffered in accordance with the international obligations of Turkey and the Minnesota Protocol.