Press Release No: Individual Application 15/20

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding a Violation of the Right to Life for Granting No Permission for an Investigation as to the Soma Mine Explosion against the Responsible Public Officers

On 29 January 2020, the First Section of the Constitutional Court found a violation of the procedural aspect of the right to life safeguarded by Article 17 of the Constitution in the individual application lodged by Abdulkadir Yılmaz and Others (no. 2016/13649). 

The Facts 

Many miners including the applicants’ relatives lost their lives or were injured as a result of the explosion which took place in 2014 in a mine operated by a private company in Soma. As indicated by the expert report issued with respect to the incident, the explosion took place on account of several omissions and faults. 

The incumbent chief public prosecutor’s office requested the Ministry of Labour to grant permission for an investigation against those inspecting the mine and the relevant officers of the Ministry on suspicion of having committed neglect of duty.  

The Ministry of Labour refused to grant permission for an investigation against the officers who had been subject to a preliminary inquiry by the Ministry. The Council of State ordered revocation of the Ministry’s decision refusing permission for an investigation on account of the deficiency in the inquiries conducted. In the preliminary inquiry report issued by the inspectors taking office at the Inspection Board of the Prime Ministry, it was indicated that it would be appropriate to appoint a new commission of experts to conduct inquiries into the mine explosion.  

Relying on the preliminary inquiry report issued by the Board of Inspectors, the Minister of Labour refused to grant permission for launching an investigation against the relevant officers. The challenge against this decision was dismissed by the Council of State as no direct causal link could be established between the acts of those who were subject to preliminary inquiry and the mine explosion taking place. 

The Applicants’ Allegations 

The applicants maintained that the right to life had been violated as no permission was granted for initiating an investigation against certain public officers, the suspects of the mine explosion resulting in death and injury of several persons.  

The Court’s Assessment 

In the present case, an expert report was obtained within the scope of the investigation conducted into the mine explosion, which indicated the deficiencies with regard to the occupational health and safety in the mine where the explosion took place as well as the technical relation between the explosion and these deficiencies. It was also noted in the same report that the occupational inspectors holding office at the Ministry of Labour, who inspected the mine where the explosion took place from 2010 to the explosion date but failed to indicate the deficiencies and faults, were also responsible for the impugned incident.  

Upon the request by the chief public prosecutor’s office for permission to initiate an investigation against the responsible officers of the Ministry of Labour, it was indicated in the preliminary inquiry report issued by the Board of Inspection that a new commission of experts should be assigned to conduct an inquiry into the mine explosion. Accordingly, the Minister of Labour refused to grant permission.  

The expert report obtained by the chief public prosecutor’s office was issued by those specialized in the relevant field. On the other hand, the duty incumbent on those who conducted the preliminary inquiry was only to determine whether a criminal investigation was to be initiated, with a view to protecting the public officers against unjustifiable charges and avoiding any delay in public service. Therefore, it could not be understood why those conducting the preliminary inquiry needed an expert examination and how they concluded -in spite of having no capacity to make technical assessments- that the findings in the expert report were unfounded in general and legal terms. 

The challenges by the chief public prosecutor’s office and the applicants against the decision granting no permission for an investigation were dismissed. Thereby, the judicial process against the public officers against whom permission for investigation had been sought was discontinued. However, the expert report obtained by the chief public prosecutor’s office pointed to the deficiencies in the mine with regard to occupational health and safety since 2010 and accordingly revealed that the non-disclosure of these deficiencies during the inspections also had an impact on the occurrence of the impugned explosion. Besides, although the Council of State made an assessment as to the causal link, it is the investigation authorities which will determine, within the meaning of the criminal law, whether there is casual link between an act and any impugned consequence.  

Therefore, the discontinuation of the judicial process without allowing the investigation authorities to assess whether the omissions on the part of the public officers, which were found established through the expert reports, constituted a liability in the criminal law and whether there was a causal link, within the meaning of the criminal law, between these omissions and the incident taking place was incompatible with the principles of an effective investigation. The failure to charge the persons who have put individuals’ lives at risk or to subject them to a trial may give rise to a violation of the right to life.  

In the present case, the finding that an effective criminal investigation should have been conducted does not necessarily require the institution of criminal proceedings, or conclusion of the criminal proceedings by a certain decision, against the persons who were found faulty in the expert report; but rather points to the necessity that the appropriate means, which are capable of identifying those who have been responsible and holding them to account for, be applied effectively. 

Besides, it should be borne in mind that as the expert report obtained within the scope of the impugned investigation involved assessments as to the occupational inspectors, but not as to the other officers of the Ministry of Labour, the judgment rendered by the Court has no bearing, either favourable or unfavourable, on the other officers.  

Consequently, the Court has found a violation of the procedural aspect of the right to life safeguarded by Article 17 of the Constitution. 

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.