Turkish authorities drop 1991 massacre of Kurdish civilians due to statute of limitations

Turkish prosecutors have dropped the case of seven Kurdish civilians who were killed by soldiers in southeast Turkey in 1991 due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Tuesday.

The case was reopened in 2020 after a 2018 Constitutional Court judgment found violations of the right to life and the lack of an effective investigation into the incident.

However, no progress was made, which led to the expiration of the statute of limitations, according to the report.

“We don’t accept the applicability of the statute of limitations when it comes to crimes against humanity,” said Nahit Eren, the head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association who has been following the case. “The judiciary’s culture of impunity has been demonstrated here.”

Col. İsmet Yediyıldız was accused of ordering soldiers in his command to shoot the civilians. He was involved in the case as a suspect, along with 36 other officers and noncommissioned officers.

Of the 37 suspects, seven have since died, including Yediyıldız, who was killed in a car accident in 1999.

In February another similar case was dropped due to the 30-year statute of limitations. The case involved the discovery of a mass grave and bones belonging to 11 civilians suspected of being killed in October 1993 in Diyarbakır’s Kulp district.

Since the 1980s, Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been the scene of a violent conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces.

Turkish authorities have been accused of committing crimes against civilians in the region, including summary killings, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention.

Legal struggles for justice have often ended in impunity, sometimes despite the wide availability of eyewitnesses and other evidence, as the authorities systematically failed to interrogate alleged perpetrators.

The prosecutors and courts have also refused to consider crimes against humanity and instead opted for regular criminal offenses for which the suspects have benefited from the 30-year statute of limitations.

Last November a hearing in the case of the Vartinis massacre of 1993 revealed that one of the central suspects, former gendarmerie commander Bülent Karaoğlu, had been collecting his pension despite being sought under an INTERPOL Red Notice.

Concerning the death of nine members of a Kurdish family, the Vartinis case has also ended in the expiration of the statute of limitations as the court cited a “lack of sufficient evidence” that the alleged torching of the family’s house was racially or politically motivated.

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