Justice For the Roboski Massacre Will Not Be Found In a Military Court


In December of 2011, a group of 40 Kurdish men and young boys were crossing the border of Iraq into Turkey with mules carrying smuggled goods. Sugar and fuel made up the large bulk of their contraband. As they approached the border, U.S. drones flew over and alerted Turkish military to the presence of the smugglers. Minutes later, two Turkish F-16 military jets flew over the group and bombarded them with bombs. The strikes killed 34 of the smugglers, some of whom were as young as 12 years old.

The next day, when their bodies were discovered, Şırnak City Council Deputy Chair Erşet Ediş released a statement saying, “The bodies were burnt to a crisp. Vehicles cannot go into the area due to severe snow. People are trying to reach the area by their own means.” The families, he said, were unable to identify the bodies of the dead.

The military contends that it mistook the smugglers for resistance fighters associated with the PKK. This is the question that will be decided in court. But if the Turkish government was concerned about keeping up any pretensions regarding their concern for finding justice in the case of the Roboski Massacre of December 2011, they’re doing a terrible job. A full year and a half after the massacre was perpetrated in Uludere, the Prosecuter’s Office of Diyarbakır declared the case beyond the reach of its dominion, and pass the case along to the military prosecutor of the General Staff.

What’s particularly absurd about this decision is not just the Diyarbakır Prosecutor’s presumption that a military prosecutor — representing the very organization being investigated for the massacre — would be better suited to investigating the case. It’s that the decision is seemingly supported by the law. Further examination into the particular legalities, however, reveal that the choice to hand off the case to the military prosecutor may not be covered by the specific statute invoked to move the case. From Global Dispatches:

According to Law No. 353 on the Establishment of Military Courts and Tribunal Procedure, military courts are responsible for crimes committed by military personnel related to ”military service or duties.” This is the rationale behind the decision of the Diyarbakır Prosecutor’s Office to send the Uludere-file to the military prosecutor of the General Staff. But, as argued in a recent TESEV report, the problem with this law is that ”crimes related to military service or duties might not be military crimes in the literal sense.”

Due to the existing legislation, the fatal attack by two F-16′s on 34 unarmed citizens can be regarded – legally – as a ‘military crime’ and consequently end up in a military court. Considering the fact that the military judges are a part of the chain-of-command, their independence and neutrality is at best questionable. Therefore, the chances of bringing to justice the civilian and military culprits of the Uludere massacre have become slim to none.

Once again, the Turkish government is exploiting the vagueness and ambiguity of its legislature in service of its own interests. On the extremely rare chance the military judge presiding over the case will rule in favor of the victims, it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able exact fair and appropriate retribution for the families.

Justifiably, the families are angered by the decision to move the case to the military courts. Earlier this year, they launched a campaign to bring the case back to the Prosecutor’s Office of Diyarbakır. Allied with the families of the Roboski Massacre victims, representatives of the Peace and Justice Party (BDP) are argued that the prosecutor’s office’s maneuvers are not pragmatic or lawful — just political. The Turkish government has not real interest in uncovering the truth of what happened in Roboski, or in finding justice for those who died there. The AKP’s relationship with the Kurds that live within its borders preclude any admittance of fault on their part — it would give power to the Kurdish community’s claims of persecution & oppression by the Turkish government. The military, of course, would be implicated by association. As a lawyer with the BDP put it:

The charge in the referral by the Diyarbakır prosecutor is ‘causing death due to an error.’ The prosecutor says the deaths caused by the airstrike were not deliberate. The decision indicates that the order [for the airstrike] just occurred during military action. The prosecutor has given the case to the military prosecutor. This is a crime against humanity, and this is not over yet. This is not an error or abuse of authority, it is a crime against society.