One year after the biggest mining disaster in Turkey’s history, on May 13, 2014, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is blocking the path to full justice for the victims and their families. The trial of managers and senior personnel of the Soma Coal Mining Company over the deaths of 301 miners and injury of countless others in the fire at the Eynez mine in Soma began on April 13, and will resume again in mid-June.
But both the energy minister and the minister of labor and social security have turned down prosecutors’ requests to look into the liability of state inspectors and official monitoring institutions for multiple failures in their oversight duties for the privately run mine.
“The prime minister called the accident fate, said it was in the nature of the job, but they won’t make any of us see it that way,” one retired miner whose son died in the disaster told Human Rights Watch. “It was a massacre. It could have been prevented, and the state is protecting itself.”
The government’s stated commitment to enforce laws and regulations on work safety and to compel companies to provide individual accident insurance for workers in the future come as little comfort to the families of the miners who died, and will not bring back their sons and husbands. The government’s positive step in March to ratify the International Labour Organization’s mine safety and health treaty will only be meaningful if the obligations in the treaty are implemented. The government also needs to realize that its hope that giving licenses to private companies to run mines at low cost and in pursuit of higher production of coal lets the state off the hook when quick profit comes at the expense of life, is fundamentally flawed morally and legally.
One of the first tasks of a new government after Turkey’s June 7 general election should be a fully accountable and transparent investigation of all levels of state responsibility for the Soma disaster. That is the only way to demonstrate a genuine commitment to justice for the Soma miners’ families. Beyond passing new laws, government support for full accountability would demonstrate a readiness to learn lessons from the Soma disaster and could be the most effective way to address the underlying causes of Turkey’s high rate of fatalities in mines.