RESPECT FOR CORPSES AND MOURNING

8.9.2019

RESPECT FOR CORPSES and MOURNING!
It has been reflected in the press that the cemetery, which is located in an area close to 
Yukarıölen Village in Bitlis Province and known as “Garzan Cemetery” and PKK members 
were buried, had been opened and 279 corpses had been taken from their places. 
Upon families’ applications to the Human Rights Association (İHD) Branch in Bitlis on 24 
December 2017 and following its examination and observations, the Association shared the 
following information with the public opinion and press: these 279 graves had been opened 
and the corpses had been taken on the basis of suspicious death cases.
On 2 January 2018, the Governor’s Office in Bitlis issued an official statement on this issue. 
The statement says that no cemetery can be built and opened in pasture area. Morever, the 
Governor’s Office refers to the Judge of Criminal Peace in Bitlis’ decision dated 4.12.2017 
that was used as the legal ground for opening the graves. The statement says 279 graves had 
been opened and 11 of them were empty. These corpses had been transferred to the 
Forensic Medicine in Istanbul to complete DNA process.
The families, İHD and Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) met with the Public 
Prosecutor’s Office in Bitlis and stated that some of the corpses had been buried with all 
required legal and official documents. 
It is known that there are numerous mass graves in our country. Needless to state that these 
mass graves are a result of the armed conflict. According to the İHD Headquarters’ Office, 
launched in 2011, there are 3248 corpses in 253 mass graves.
The Republic of Turkey has signed numerous international conventions and the adopted 
Article 90 of the Constitution that says these conventions are superior to the domestic law.
İTurkey has adopted the Geneva Conventions, the most fundamental source of humanitarian 
law, in 1953. Article 3 is common in 4 Geneva Conventions and reads as follows: 
“Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid 
down their arms and those placed ' hors de combat ' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other 
cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on 
race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place 
whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and 
torture;
(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment 
pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are 
recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.” 
Similarly, the Geneva Conventions highlights that “They shall further ensure that the dead are 
honourably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged, that 
their graves are respected […].”
The United Nations Economic and Social Council announced the principles of effective 
prevention and investigations of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, and 
launched the Minnesota Protocol that includes methods to implement these principles on 13 
December 1989. 
Turkey has ratified the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: 
1976”, which has been ratified by 170 States, by the Law No 4867 on 4/6/2003 and has 
declarations and reservations. The ECHR referred to the Minnesota Protocol, which has been 
drafted within the scope of this Covenant and updated in 2016, several times in its 
judgements on Turkey and has become a compulsory manual to be implemented. 
The protocol has the following provisions for the mass grave;
a) A burial recovery should be handled with the same exacting care given to a crime-scene search. 
b) Efforts should be coordinated between the principal investigator and the consulting physical 
anthropologist or archaeologist. 
c) Human remains are frequently exhumed by law enforcement officers or cemetery workers 
unskilled in the techniques of forensic anthropology. Valuable information may be lost in this manner 
and false information is sometimes genera- ted. Disinterment by untrained persons should be 
prohibited. 
The cemetery, known as Garzan Cemetery, located in Yukarıöle Village in Bitlis Province Bitlis 
had been opened and the corpses had been taken from the graves in a manner contrary to 
the international law.
Furthermore, it has been told that these corpses had been sent to the Forensic Medicine in 
İstanbul as a result of the Public Prosecutor’s decision. Yet, no accurate information has 
been shared by the Forensic Medicine in İstanbul until now. 
In accordance with Article 10/3-b and c, corpses of which identities are not determined shall 
be kept for 15 days maximum. In this case, following taking samples and preservation of 
these samples, the corpses should be buried again. However, the families cannot access to any information about the developments and have been waiting to fulfill their 
responsibilities for the corpses and religious duties for a several years. 
It should be reminded that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in the case of 
Akpınar and Altun v Turkey judgement in 2007, found that ‘the mutilation by security forces 
after armed conflict causes emotional distress among relatives and falls into the category of 
Article 3 of the Convetion that regulates the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. The 
Court found that there has been a violation of Article 3.’ 
To conclude, the undersigned organisations demand that the corpses, which had been 
removed from the cemetery located in Yukarıölen village in Bitlis (and taken to the Foresnsic 
Medicine in İstanbul as a result of the Public Prosecutor’s decision in Bitlis) and known as 
Garzan Cemetery, must be given back to the families with no further delay.
 

Human Rights Association İstanbul Branch (İHD İstanbul)
Anatolian Association for Solidarity and Assistance with People who Have Lost Their 
Relatives (ANYAKAY-DER)
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV)
Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD)
Foundation for Society and Legal Studies (TOHAV)
78s Foundation (78'liler)
Association for Monitoring Equal Rights (ESHİD)
Rights Initiative Association (HAK insiyatifi)
Human Rights Agenda Association (İHGD)