Turkish court finds Interior Ministry responsible for the death of 12 year-old Kurdish girl

A Turkish court has found the Ministry of the Interior culpable for the death of 12-year-old Ceylan Önkol, who was killed in 2009 after an unexploded mortar shell in a field went off in southeastern Diyarbakir province, Turkish media reported.

The Diyarbakir 2nd Administrative Court ordered the ministry to pay TL 283,000 in damages to Önkol’s family. Although the ministry argued it was not liable for the death of the young girl, the court said the explosion had taken place in an area close to residential areas for whose security the ministry was responsible.

Önkol was killed in 2009 while tending sheep in an empty field. The shell had previously been launched there by security force members from a nearby gendarmerie post. The court said the ministry had failed to take the necessary precautions to maintain the security of the area as it was used by locals to graze their animals and by children as a playground.

Önkol’s body was left in the field for six hours because the coroner and prosecutor did not feel it was safe enough to enter. It was finally retrieved by her family and other villagers and taken to the morgue. The prosecutor only arrived in the village three days later, citing security concerns.

Representatives from the Human Rights Association (IHD), the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed (Mazlumder), the Diyarbakir Bar Association and Diyarbakir Medical Chamber issued a report on October 5, 2009 saying that the incident could not be properly investigated due to the negligence of the prosecutor’s office and the security forces.

Önkol’s brother, Rifat Önkol, said they had to collect the evidence from the field themselves and that they sent all of it to the prosecutor’s office. He claimed the authorities tried to cover up the incident instead of effectively investigating it.

“My sister died near her home in the daytime, not in a faraway field,” he said. “My mother had to collect pieces of Ceylan’s body because no one wanted to enter the field. She only wanted those who were responsible to be held accountable so it would not happen to others. But her pleas fell on deaf ears.”

Rifat Önkol said his mother had become chronically ill because of the trauma of losing her daughter in such a terrible way.

Ceylan’s death prompted national outrage, at the time putting the impunity of the state under the spotlight, particularly in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions. The young girl’s mother said they had to endure giving over three hours of testimony with the body of her daughter beside them at a gendarmerie post near the scene of her death.

Following Önkol’s death, her family and the IHD claimed that she had died from a mortar fired from a nearby military base. However, government reports denied any military role in Önkol’s death.

The Turkish military refused to acknowledge any responsibility in the death of Önkol, and a brigadier general from the General Staff at the time pointed the finger at the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is also active in the region, as being responsible for the girl’s death.

The general also described the efforts to link Önkol’s death with the Turkish military as part of “concerted, asymmetric, comprehensive propaganda warfare” against the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

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