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Impunity, in its simplest form, refers to the lack of investigation, identification, prosecution, and punishment of perpetrators, as well as the lack of compensation for those who have suffered from a human rights violation. The emphasis here is on the responsibility of the state. International studies on impunity emerged after the end of the bipolar world in 1989. 

The concept is commonly used in relation to severe and systematic human rights violations that have occurred either directly by actors created or tolerated by the state, or due to the lack of oversight of state institutions. Human rights organizations, as well as organizations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, have increasingly focused on research and monitoring activities in this area, leading to the broadening of the definition and scope of the concept.


Essential Principles

The definition and objectives of combating impunity are listed as follows in the two prominent reference documents [link 1, link 2]: 

  • Right to Justice: Establishing justice implies "acknowledging and remembering the suffering of the victims," referring to the paradigm of punitive and restorative justice. 
  • Right to Truth: The duty of the state is to document violations, archive evidence and documents related to these violations, and thus prevent the revisionist and denialist tendencies of collective memory. 
  • Right to Compensation: Acceptance instead of denial is healing/rehabilitating for the victims, thus contributing to public peace or "reconciliation and stability." 
  • Guarantee of Non-Repetition: Impunity, as it leads to the recurrence of crimes, emphasizes the future dimension of the fight against impunity, namely the positive preventive function of impunity. 

Although impunity is now used in a wide range of contexts, including topics such as violence against women, occupational accidents, hate crimes, and corruption, the concept has emerged in the international literature in the context of "serious violations" gathered under the nine headings by the Council of Europe [1]. Therefore, one of the important concepts related to impunity is "serious and grave human rights violations." 

These grave violations become the material elements of an international crime when they are committed in a widespread or systematic manner or in the context of a conflict, which leads us to the other reference concept of impunity, "international crimes." The concept of international crimes emerged from the idea that the heavy and large-scale violations of obligations necessary for the protection of human existence should entail criminal sanctions under international law, especially in the aftermath of World War II and the destruction brought by the Holocaust. The binding principles regarding international crimes were established in the Rome Statute adopted in 1998 and determined by the International Criminal Court established on that basis. Additionally, the jurisprudence and precedents of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda continue to contribute to the development of the content and definition of these crimes. 

The four fundamental categories of crimes defined in the Rome Statute are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression.


Crimes against Humanity in the Rome Statute 

Crimes against humanity are defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was ultimately adopted in 1998 with the Rome Statute and entered into force on July 1, 2002. It is stated that the elements of the definition of crimes against humanity are fulfilled when the following acts are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack: 

  • Murder 
  • Mass killing 
  • Enslavement 
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of population
  • Torture 
  • Imprisonment or deprivation of liberty in violation of international law 
  • Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or other similar grave sexual offenses 
  • Other acts that constitute crimes against humanity due to their political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, or gender-related nature or other prohibited reasons under international law, or acts that fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court Enforced disappearance of individuals 
  • Apartheid (racial segregation) 
  • Other inhumane acts causing severe suffering or serious injury to physical or mental health.


Crimes Against Humanity in Turkish Penal Code

5237 sayılı yeni Türk Ceza Kanunu’nda insanlığa karşı suç ilk kez tanımlandı. Bu tanım insanlığa karşı suçun Roma Statüsü ve örfi hukuktaki çerçevesinden farklı olarak zorla kaybetme fiilini içermiyor:

“Aşağıdaki fiillerin, siyasal, felsefi, ırki veya dini saiklerle toplumun bir kesimine karşı bir plan doğrultusunda sistemli olarak işlenmesi, insanlığa karşı suç oluşturur:

  • Kasten öldürme,
  • Kasten yaralama,
  • İşkence, eziyet veya köleleştirme,
  • Kişi hürriyetinden yoksun kılma,
  • Bilimsel deneylere tabi kılma,
  • Cinsel saldırıda bulunma, çocukların cinsel istismarı,
  • Zorla hamile bırakma,
  • Zorla fuhşa sevk etme.”[1]


Impunity in Turkey

The fundamental dynamic behind the impunity of human rights violations in Turkey is the perception of law enforcement authorities to see themselves as the protector of the state and its public officials. This situation is closely related to the spirit of the constitution, known as the 1982 Constitution, introduced after the 1980 military coup. The current constitution defines the state and the nation as an inseparable whole and places basic human rights under the supremacy of the state's interests. Hence, the reflex of the judiciary to protect the state becomes a more pronounced problem when the culprits of the crime are directly state officials (bureaucrats, superiors, soldiers, police) or different groups implying the state's involvement, especially in cases where violations are widespread and systematic. 

The policy of impunity in Turkey manifests itself in a wide range of cases, including state-linked assassinations targeting minorities and dissidents such as Hrant Dink, Father Santoro, and the Zirve Publishing House murders, as well as murders committed against civilians during meetings and demonstrations, excessive use of force by law enforcement, corruption, crimes against women and hate crimes, crimes against children, military casualties, work-related accidents, and massacres like Roboski and Suruç. 

Undoubtedly, one of the key barometers of Turkey's democratization process within this range is the punishment of severe human rights violations that were widespread and systematic in the 1990s. 


[1] The severe violations in the rules of the Council of Europe are listed as follows: 1) Extrajudicial killings, 2) Negligence posing a serious risk to life or health, 3) Torture or inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcement officers, prison officers, or other public officials, 4) Enforced disappearances, 5) Abduction, 6) Slavery, forced labor, or human trafficking, 7) Rape (sexual assault) or sexual harassment, 8) Serious physical assaults occurring in the context of domestic violence, 9) Deliberate arson of residences and property.