2011 VAN EARTHQUAKES: Authorities Not Responsible for Collapsed Hotel, Constitutional Court Says

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  • February 28, 2019
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The Constitutional Court has given its verdict on the case of Bayram Hotel, which collapsed in the second earthquake in Van province in 2011.

The court today (February 28) announced that the procedural aspect of the Article 17 of the Constitution, which is about the right to life, is not violated.

The following people who lost their relatives in the collapsed hotel individually applied to the Constitutional Court: Burhan Arslan, Erdal Muhammet Arslan, Hanife Özmen, İrfan Arslan, Mahmut Arslan, Mustafa Serdar Arslan, Orhan Arslan, Turan Arslan, Zuhal Arslan.

After the first earthquake in 2011, the Ministry of Interior did not permit an investigation against the public officials, who were accused of not conducting the damage assessment works properly. Pointing out to this, the applicants claimed that their relatives’ right to life was violated.

Constitutional Court says ‘authorities are responsible’

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred in Van on October 23, 2011, claiming the lives of 604 people. While the aftershocks were continuing, a second earthquake of a 5.6 magnitude occurred.

In the city center, the Bayram Hotel collapsed after the second quake and 24 people lost their lives, including journalists Cem Emir and Selahattin Yılmaz.

In the case related to this incident, the Van 2nd Heavy Penal Court sentenced the hotel’s owner Tevfik Bayram to 15 years, 6 months, 20 days in prison.

But the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals decided not to process the application of misconduct against the Governor of Van, the District Governor of Erciş, the Provincial Manager and other executives of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).

After their application against this decision was rejected by the Council of State, the people who lost their relatives individually appealed to the Constitutional Court.

The top court ruled on September 17, 2013 that the obligation of an effective investigation, which constitutes the procedural aspect of the Article 17, was violated. The court stated that the Governor of Van and AFAD officials were responsible for taking the necessary measures.

Ministry of Interior defies the Constitutional Court

After the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Ministry of Interior launched a preliminary examination against the District Governor of Erciş and Provincial Manager of the AFAD.

The Ministry, defying the top court, did not allow an investigation against the authorities, saying, “There is not an act that necessitates penal responsibility.”

The Council of State also rejected the application on the same ground, saying, “the alleged acts does not necessitate investigation.”

Thereupon, the people applied to the Constitutional Court.

Court refuting own verdict

The court’s verdict has been published in the Official Gazette.

On its previous verdict that said the authorities were responsible for the collapse, the court stated, “Application of these decisions does not necessitate an investigation permit or a direct investigation against the related people.”

On the claims of negligence against the public officials, the verdict said, “The Governor and the AFAD Provincial Manager did not remain inactive and they took action immediately and took the measures that can be taken.”

Stating that the 16 days between the two earthquakes “a very short time for damage assessment”, the verdict said, “The second earthquake happened before the damage assessment works were completed. Upon these findings, it was decided that an investigation should not be allowed.”

The Constitutional Court concluded that the officials did not violate the obligation for an effective investigation although “it is clear that the public institutions should act more carefully regarding the completion of the notification and making a decision on the appeal.”

For these reasons, the court ruled that the right to life of the applicants’ relatives was not violated. (AS/VK)