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ECtHR rules no violation of right to life in 2011 Turkey earthquake case

European Court of Human Rights

This photo shows an interior view of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on January 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a unanimous verdict in the case of Erdal Muhammet Arslan and Others v. Türkiye on Tuesday, finding no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In 2011 an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and the town of Erciş, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the north, killing at least 523 people.

The decision concerned the collapse of the Bayram Hotel in the 2011 earthquake, which resulted in several casualties, including a family member of the applicants.

The applicants, who had received compensation through administrative courts, sought criminal proceedings against officials they believed were responsible for their loss. The ECtHR observed that while states must take preventive measures for foreseeable natural hazards, the obligation does not necessarily extend to criminal proceedings in such scenarios. The Strasbourg court recognized the administrative remedies and compensation granted to the applicants as sufficient.

The judgment highlighted the state’s responsibility for preventive measures and supervision of building standards to minimize risks in natural disasters. The court also noted that domestic law had provided an adequate remedy, fulfilling Turkey’s obligation under the ECHR to offer effective judicial redress in this case.

An earthquake in 1999 was the country’s worst earthquake disaster; more than 17,000 people were killed when a 7.4 magnitude temblor struck the western city of İzmit, 90 kilometers (55 miles) southeast of İstanbul. About 500,000 people were made homeless. However, recent earthquakes in Kahramanmaraş on Feb. 6 surpassed that in magnitude. Two devastating quakes in February killed more than 50,000 people and left millions homeless in more than a dozen cities in the country’s south and southeast.

Turkey has erected high-rise buildings across fault lines and swaths of earthquake-prone regions that have been bracing for a major jolt for years.

The 2023 quakes leveled thousands of buildings and has sparked outrage from victims and people across Turkey over the poor quality of construction.

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