With the abolishment of the specially authorized courts, prosecutors leading investigations into murder cases that have remained unsolved for many years also lost their positions and their authority to proceed with the investigations.
Prosecutors in Turkey’s southeastern region have begun to send the case files to the offices of chief public prosecutors in a number of provinces to redistribute the cases to the offices of prosecutors in the cities and towns where the murders took place.
Over the past two years, there have been numerous calls from rights groups and bar associations from the region to accelerate the legal proceedings to avoid having the cases dropped due to the statute of limitations.
The Turkish Penal Code (TCK) includes a statute of limitations of 20 years on murder cases. If no suspect is identified or apprehended within that period of time, the case is permanently abandoned 20 years and one day from the date of the murder. No further criminal legal proceedings may be initiated. Once a murder case is dropped due to the statute of limitations, nothing more can be done to pursue it in court even if a suspect is later captured.
Turkey’s history is filled with unsolved murders, and the figures on the exact number of such murders are contradictory. According to a report from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) released last year, the number of unsolved murders rose drastically in the 1990s. A total of 1,901 unsolved murders were committed just between 1990 and 2011 in Turkey, but Kurdish researchers in the Southeast argue that the number of unsolved murders in the country exceeds 20,000.
Tahir Elçi, head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, last year complained that cases were being closed one by one due to the statute of limitations. With the recent abolishment of specially authorized courts, the number of cases dropped is expected to rise as many ongoing investigations have come to a sudden halt and the assignment of new prosecutors for the cases could take at least a year, experts suggest. Since many of these cases are approaching the 20-year deadline, it is likely that even more murder cases will remain unresolved and that there will be no justice for the victims.