The era of coups d’etat over for Turkey, now time for justice

by editor | 19th September 2010 8:49 am

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The era of coups d’etat over for Turkey, now time for justice

Members of BBP Youth Branches filed charges against the leader of  the 1980 coup, retired Gen. Kenan Evren, and his accomplices in ?stanbul  while wearing masks depicting the generals.

Members of BBP Youth Branches filed charges against the leader of the 1980 coup, retired Gen. Kenan Evren, and his accomplices in ?stanbul while wearing masks depicting the generals. If there is one thing human rights advocacy groups are most pleased with by the constitutional reforms approved last Sunday it would surely be lifting the shield of immunity from the constitution for 1980 military coup plotters, sending the strongest message ever that coups are history in Turkey.
Many individuals, groups and organizations, regardless of how they cast their referendum votes, rushed to the public prosecutors’ offices across the country to file criminal petitions against the military coup perpetrators — within hours of the approval of the constitutional amendments last week.
According to human rights defenders, bringing the coup perpetrators to justice, though with a 30-year delay, is a significant step for the country’s democratization, as it would send the signal that any future attempt to intervene in the democratic system will not be tolerated. Some people even started to question whether other coup plotters — going back to the 1960 military coup — should be held accountable in a court of law for crimes against humanity. The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office has already launched an investigation into the coup perpetrators, including former President Kenan Evren — who was the chief of General Staff during the Sept. 12, 1980 coup.
Despite the public’s strong demand for justice — not only because of the 1980 coup but also for all the other interruptions to democracy — experts differ on the methods and procedures on how to bring closure to coup records. While some jurists defend ideas like setting up independent commissions to establish what happened during the coup era, others argue that a new law should be issued for establishing truth and reconciliation committees to confront the coups and coup attempts. According to them, such a future regulation would also include regulations for compensating the victims of military interventions into political life.
The constitutional reform package abolished the provisional Article 15, which was blocking the trial of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup perpetrators. This article made the five generals who instigated the coup – and also the members of the government, consultative assembly members and all the civil servants who implemented their decisions – as above the law.
According to the abolished article, for the actions of those persons, no allegation of criminal, financial or legal responsibility shall be made, nor shall an application be filed with a court for this purpose in respect of any decisions or measures of those persons for the time period between the Sept. 12, 1980 and until the formation of the bureau of the parliament after the first elections of Nov. 24, 1983.
This regulation was abolished last week by the referendum, but jurists defend four different views, although many people and victims of the Sept. 12 coup, including the families of the people who were executed at that time, filed countless petitions against them. Not only the five generals but many other civil servants of that time, including the torturers, have been complained about. But the jurists are defending four different views about the situation of those people who seemingly committed crimes against humanity.
One group, including Sami Selçuk, former president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, claimed that Article15 was a regulation in the form of “amnesty” and that an amnesty cannot be removed.
Another group, including Sabih Kanado?lu, former chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said that Article 15 was about “non-responsibility.” According to him, this article granted the coup perpetrators immunity by absolving them of responsibility for their actions.
The third group of jurists said that the statute of limitations for the coup perpetrators had expired so it was not possible to judge them.
However another group of jurists suggested that none of these arguments were correct. Ümit Karda?, a retired military judge, pointed to the fact that the constitution was drafted and approved under extraordinary circumstances — which is not democratic at all.
“The perpetrators put in Article 15, in order to avoid trial. To claim that no one is responsible, or amnesty, means the legitimization of military coups — which contradicts the law. The time limitation cannot be applicable because these are crimes against humanity,” Karda? told Sunday’s Zaman.
One of the civil society organizations which filed petitions against the coup perpetrators was the Ankara-based Human Rights Association (?HD). In their file, they mentioned the international obligations of Turkey for bringing the generals and their collaborators to justice.
“There is a body of a case law of the International Court of Justice. There are also Nuremberg principles which are adopted by the United Nations. Both of them show that states have the responsibility of bringing these kinds of crimes to justice,” Öztürk Türkdo?an, the chairman of the ?HD, told Sunday’s Zaman.
Not only the ?HD, but also some other civil society organizations that voted “no” to the constitutional changes, or boycotted them completely, like the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (D?SK) and the Freedom and the Solidarity Party (ÖDP), also ran to the public prosecutors to file their complaints.
While they were filing their application, the spokesperson of the platform, Güven Bo?a, said that at least 1 million people had been arrested and tortured. He added that not only the Sept.12 coup perpetrators but all the others, including perpetrators of other coup attempts, should be seated in the suspect’s chair.
There were many individual applications also like those of Mustafa Gökçe from Antalya and Ramazan Ferhat Vural from Ad?yaman, who claim to have been tortured during the 1980 coup. The family of Ramazan Yukar?göz, executed in the 1980 coup, also filed petitions against the generals of the time.
Ramazan Yukar?göz’s brother, Y?lmaz Karagöz, also said that the previous governments and parliamentarians were not innocent, either, because they did not make the constitutional amendments for bringing the perpetrators of the coup and coup attempts to justice.
Karda? underlined that almost everyone, even those born after the 1980 coup, could file criminal petitions against the coup’s perpetrators — because every attempt harmed individual’s lives in some way.
He added that it would be better to establish truth and reconciliation committees in order to confront the past — and some law could be passed in this respect.
“The files will be investigated by the public prosecutors. If they decide to open cases, then the courts will begin. After the court, the Supreme Court of Appeals will step in. In one of those phases, the relevant authority might say that the amnesty, immunity or time limitation argument is valid. So special regulations regarding the establishment of the truth and reconciliation committees will also serve for refraining from those kinds of discussions,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
He added that such a regulation should include an apology from the state and methods to compensate the people. Another expert, Professor Mithat Sancar from Ankara University, said that the objective of the people is not to punish the coup’s perpetrators but to confront the past — which truth and reconciliation committees can achieve.
“There are many different models around the world, and Turkey can create its own. The civil society organizations can campaign to underline this necessity. Such commissions will also prove that the time for coups is over and that democracy has been strengthened,” Sancar told Sunday’s Zaman. [1]

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