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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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The imposition of the death penalty on Abdullah Ocalan violated the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court has ruled in one of the most significant cases to be decided for many years.

It held that the imposition of the capital sentence on Mr Ocalan must be considered, in itself, to amount to inhuman treatment and that capital punishment has now come to be regarded as “an unacceptable form of punishment” which can “no longer be seen as having any legitimate place in a democratic society”.

The Court also found that Mr Ocalan’s rights under Article 6 of the Convention had been violated in several respects. It ruled that he was not tried before an independent and impartial tribunal, that he was not allowed access to his lawyers while being questioned in police custody and that neither he nor his lawyers were able to obtain adequate access to the 17,000 page case file. The Court found that the overall effect of his treatment “so restricted the rights of the defence that the principle of a fair trial was contravened”.

Finally, the Court ruled that Mr Ocalan’s rights under Article 5 of the Convention had been violated, holding that the length of his detention before being brought before a judge and the inability to challenge his detention at the domestic level violated both Article 5(3) and Article 5(4) of the Convention.

Abdullah Ocalan was abducted from Kenya in 1999 and sentenced to the death penalty. It was clear from the outset that if condemned by the European Court, Turkey would be forced to make a humiliating climb-down in the treatment of its longstanding opposition in order to accede to the EU. It is widely believed that this concern played a part in prompting Turkey to commute Mr Ocalan’s death sentence to life imprisonment with no chance of parole or amnesty in 2002 but in the event the original imposition of the death penalty was still held to have violated Mr Ocalan’s rights under Article 3 and the Court made its strongest statements yet in condemning recourse to the death penalty.

Kerim Yildiz, Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, comments, “We welcome the Court’s judgment that Turkey has violated the European Convention on Human Rights once again. We now expect the Turkish state to implement fully the Court’s judgment and to grant a retrial.”

Mark Muller, Mr Ocalan’s lawyer and Chairman of the KHRP says, “This is one of the most significant judgments ever to have come out of the European Court. In a landmark judgment the Court has confirmed that the death penalty is no longer acceptable in the 21st Century. It has upheld the universal applicability of basic fundamental freedoms and the right of all detainees to have a fair trial and not be subject to inhuman treatment irrespective of their ethnic or political status.”

He continues, “Abdullah Ocalan was unlawfully abducted, vilified and subjected to a humiliating and unfair trial. His lawyers were continually threatened and harassed throughout these proceedings. The European Court has upheld the violations alleged by Mr Ocalan against Turkey. We now call upon the state of Turkey to recognise and fully implement the terms and effects of this judgment. Furthermore, we call upon the Turkish state to give us full and unconditional access to our client who has been held in solitary confinement for over 3 years. No legal representative has been able to see Mr Ocalan for the last 15-weeks. In our view this is totally unacceptable and constitutes a further breach of his human rights.”

Tim Otty, co-legal representative and a member of the Legal Team, says, “This decision represents a major landmark in the progress towards worldwide abolition of the death penalty. As far as Mr Ocalan’s own position is concerned it safeguards him against any risk of execution and, we believe, should lead to the Turkish authorities granting him a complete retrial before an independent and impartial tribunal with full defence rights.”


1. On 14 December 2000, the European Court of Human Rights declared admissible the complaints under Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 18 and 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

2. An oral hearing of the parties' submissions took place on 21 November 2000.

3. Ocalan's legal team includes, from Britain, Sir Sydney Kentridge QC (formerly Nelson Mandela's lawyer), Mark Muller, Tim Otty, Gareth Peirce, Louis Charalambous, Kerim Yildiz, Philip Leach and from Turkey, Hasip Kaplan, Irfan Dundar and Dogan Erbas.

4. The death penalty still remains in Turkey "in times of war or imminent threat of war".

5. A full copy of the Court's judgment is available at