Özel & Ors v Turkey (ECHR)

Geographical Area
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)
Case Name
Özel & Ors v Turkey
Case Reference
Applications nos. 14350/05, 15245/05 and 16051/05
Name of Court
European Court of Human Rights
Key Facts
In 1999, Turkey was struck by an earthquake. The town of Cinarcik is located in a region which is classified as a “major risk zone” regarding seismic activity. The applicants are relatives of those who died because their apartment collapsed. A company, V.G Arsa Ofisi was accused of causing the collapse of buildings which killed victims mainly due to the fact materials used in their construction had been deficient. Three partners of the company and two directors were prosecuted. Two of the accused were then convicted.

The applicants argued that in the absence of any administrative authorisation, it was not possible to bring criminal proceedings against the civil servants who also shared responsibility for the collapse of the buildings. The applicants relied on Article 2 (right to life) and complained of a violation of their relatives’ right to life. They also argued there had been a breach of Article 6 (right to a fair hearing) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). Relying on Article 1, Protocol No.1 (protection of property), the applicants alleged there had been an interference with their property rights.
Decision and Reasoning
The Court began by making reference to Article 2 and the positive obligations to take the necessary measures for the protection of the lives of individuals within their jurisdiction, even in the event of natural catastrophes (Budayeva & others v. Russia).

The Court referred to the State’s obligation to prevent disasters and protect citizens, and noted that the national authorities had known the risks to which the disaster zone was subject. The authorities had a role of primary importance in the prevention of risks relating to an earthquake. However, this part of the complaint was deemed to be out of time.

The Court also noted that the criminal proceedings had lasted more than 12 years. Five individuals were prosecuted, and two of the defendants were convicted, while the proceedings were time barred in the case of the three others. The Court held that the length of the proceedings did not satisfy the requirement of promptness.
The Court held there had been a violation of Article 2 under its procedural head on account of the respondent State’s failure to meet its positive obligations regarding the criminal proceedings conducted by the national authorities into the deaths of the applicants’ relatives resulting from an earthquake.

The Court awarded the eight applicants the total sum of €124,000 for non-pecuniary damage, and awarded three of the applicants €4,000 for costs and expenses.
This case law summary was developed as part of the Disaster Law Database (DISLAW) project, and is not an official record of the case.