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NO END TO THE SILENCE: human rights situation in South-East Turkey

Further details emerged on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right’s concerns at Turkey’s war

Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights reports on the human rights situation in South-East Turkey

 

March 12, 2017: Further details emerged on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right’s concerns at Turkey’s war – (“security operations…involving thousands of troops serving with combat-ready infantry, artillery and armoured army divisions, as well as the Turkish Air Force…”) – against the Kurdish population in the south-east of the region, with the publication of:

 

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Report on the human rights situation

in South-East Turkey

July 2015 to December 20 2016

 

Read the report here:

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/TR/OHCHR_South-East_TurkeyReport_10March2017.pdf

 

The 25 page report adds to the historical record on behalf of this largely silenced community, additional acts of brutality, murder, disrespect for the rule of law, for democratic aspirations and quite often simple respect for life and limb and the well being of human beings by the Turkish State against its Kurdish citizens.

 

The Report focuses on a number of Kurdish areas, and those in particular where support for the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) would be the greatest (and thus the violence and damage inflicted likewise at its greatest); the  most  serious  incidents  that  caused  the  greatest  number  of  deaths  were reported in Cizre (province of Şırnak), but other serious incidents that caused deaths and destruction were also reported in Sur, Silvan and Lice (province of Diyarbakır), Nusaybin, Dargeçit (province of Mardin), Şırnak Centre, Silopi, Idil (province of  Şırnak), and Yüksekova (province of Hakkâri).

 

The Office  of  the  United  Nations  High  Commissioner  for  Human  Rights  (OHCHR):

“…documented numerous cases of excessive use of force; killings; enforced disappearances; torture; destruction of housing and cultural heritage;  incitement  to hatred; prevention of access to emergency medical care, food, water and livelihoods; violence against women;  and severe curtailment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as political  participation.  The  most  serious  human  rights violations  reportedly  occurred  during  periods  of  curfew,  when  entire  residential areas  were  cut  off  and  movement  restricted  around-the-clock  for  several  days  at  a time.”

 

The Report covers 10 areas and in each area finds grounds for serious concern at the behavior of the Turkish State, its president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and its military apparatus, all of whom, despite responsibility for countless acts of human rights abuses, remain a key ally of western powers as well as a member of NATO.

 

The 10 areas covered in detail in the Report include:

The Right to Life:

An estimated 2,000 people  were  killed between July  2015  and December 2016: “in  the  context  of  security  operations…” This includes military personnel as well as the estimated 189 civilians trapped and burned to death in the Basements in Cizre, a so-far uninvestigated massacre that the people of Cizre are still waiting on the world to recognise and to demand that those who perpetrated it at least be brought before a war crimes tribunal.

The Destruction and expropriation of property, including housing:

From the “excessive  use  of  force (such  as  shelling densely populated areas with   heavy artillery and tanks)” what would you expect? This also led to the displacement of up to 500,00 Kurdish people, many of whom, it appears now, the Turkish authorities have no plans for their return with all that implies for the life of the communities affected. For those sensitive to conspiracy theories or false allegations against the Turkish state: the shelling of the Sur neighbourhoods in Diyarbakir show that: “Diyarbakır’s  2,000  year-old  city  walls surrounding  the  Sur  district  are  a UNESCO-protected  site  of  World  Heritage.  Municipal  reports indicate that  during the  period  of  shelling  of  the  Sur  district,  between  September  2015  and  May  2016, the  Government took  measures not  to  damage  the  city  walls  while  systematically demolishing  entire  neighbourhoods  within  the  area  surrounded  by  the  walls.  This illustrates the systematic nature of destruction of private properties“. Likewise from its own strategic interests: “According to human rights organizations from South-East Turkey, the Government has conditioned financial compensation for destroyed housing upon the signature of a declaration by owners that their property was destroyed by “terrorist activities”.

The Right to Health:

The  curfews,  which  the  authorities  reportedly  imposed  on  over  30  towns  and neighbourhoods, prohibited any movement without permission, for extended periods of time lasting up to several months.  During the curfews, authorities reportedly cut  off water, electricity and food supplies to entire cities for prolonged periods of time.  Local  residents  report  that  even  with  permission,  movement  was  very  difficult,  including to access health facilities for the sick and wounded..” Add to this: attacks on medical facilities and personnel,  punishment  of  medical  personnel  for attending  patients,  as  well  as  the  use  of medical  facilities  for  military  or  security  purposes….

Enforced Disappearances:

A number of enforced disappearance have been reported since August 2016…the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance also has serious concerns (which so far have not been addressed) of: “extrajudicial  executions committed in South-East Turkey as well as testimonies of families unable to access the bodies of people killed during security operations and of  bodies being  disposed  of.

Internally displaced people:

The total  number  of  IDPs  as  a  result  of  the security operations in South-East Turkey was estimated between 355,000 and half  a  million. For example: 95% of the population of the Sur neighbourhoods in Diyarbakir were displaced “contrary  to  Turkey’s  international  human  rights  obligations,  including  those  enshrined  in the  International  Covenant  on  Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” There is also serious concern, mentioned above, that the Turkish plan is that that those displaced, in particular from particularly ‘troublesome’ areas will not be allowed to return…

Physical and Mental Integrity:

Includes torture and ill treatment in police custody and other places of detention. These acts include: “police  beating  and  punching of detainees;  sexual violence,  including  rape  and  threat  of  rape;  deprivation  of  basic  needs,  such  as water, food and sleep; deprivation of medical supplies (due to which some prisoners allegedly contracted hepatitis B); forcing detainees to kneel handcuffed from behind for hours; and verbal abuse, psychological violence and intimidation. Some victims were reportedly photographed nude, leaving them fearful that those images could be used  for  blackmail  or  published to  humiliate  them  further.”

Furthermore: “…at the end of his visit to Turkey, including South-East Turkey, in November 2016, the Special  Rapporteur on Torture and  Other Cruel, Inhuman or  Degrading Treatment or Punishment noted that Turkey’s  institutions  and  legislation  provide  insufficient safeguards  against  torture  and  ill-treatment.”

This section also includes the “failure to address violence against women” in particular noting that centres for the protection of women’s were closed  down  in  Cizre  and Silvan  and  across South-East Turkey, with the attendant loss of protection for those in need.

The Right to Liberty and Security:

In the wake of the July 2016 attempted coup, according to the statement of the Minister of Justice, issued on 22 November 2016, legal proceedings, which entailed detentions, legal  investigations  and  arrest warrants, were  opened against  92,607 people, of whom 39,378 were placed under arrest…”

Access to Justice, Fair Trial and Effective Remedies:

Prisoners, detainees, and victims experience enormous obstacles in seeking redress or justice. This has exacerbated since the July 2016 Coup attempt: as “…by  the  end  of  December 2016, over 3,000 judges and prosecutors had  reportedly  been  dismissed.

Another example given was that of (former) Chief Ombudsman Mr. Nihat Ömeroğlu, who dismissed the case ‘relating to the killing of civilians in  Cizre  during  the  shelling  by  the  Turkish  Army  in  January  and  February  2016. During  the  security operations, notably on 25 January 2016,  the  Cizre local authorities had urged the Ombudsman to intervene with the security forces in order to  save  the  people  trapped  in the basements  of  several  adjoining  buildings.  The decision of the  Ombudsman issued on 14 July 2016, demonstrates that he  failed to alert the  military  authorities  or  attempt  to  negotiate  a  safe  passage  for  civilians trapped in Cizre, focusing instead on a legal analysis of the situation. In his decision, the Ombudsman found that the decisions of the security authorities which led to the killing of up to 189 people were “justified, sufficient, reasonable and convincing,” and that these authorities “acted in line with the good governance principles.”

 

The Cizre ‘Basement Massacre’ during the Turkish military curfew of the Kurdish border town in February 2016 has to stand as one of the greatest outrages against a civilian population since the Armenian genocide of 2015

 

The Rights to Freedoms of Opinion and Expression, to Freedom of Association and to Participate in Public Affairs:

Media outlets and newspapers shut down, journalists arrested, all on the grounds of accusations of supporting terrorism…”According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, by 1 December 2016, the authorities had detained or  imprisoned  more  than  a  third  of  all  journalists imprisoned  worldwide on  that day…”  Likewise the Turkish State is now apparently in the business of charging  independent columnists, writers, novelists, academics (some  6,300 academics were dismissed from service  while  15  universities  have  been  shut  down), intellectuals and human rights  defenders with terrorist type crimes that would be laughable in a normal democracy only for the fact that there is little to laugh about in Turkey these days…

Likewise in relation to the right to form and join in associations the Report tells us that many  NGOs have reported an environment of fear and intimidation now in relation to  their  work.

Incitement to hatred and violence is also reported to have worsened with many instances of attacks by nationalistic vigilante groups. In the South-East “OHCHR   received   allegations   of  instances   of   Turkish   soldiers   writing inflammatory racist and sexist graffiti on the houses they had been occupying during the  curfew  in  Cizre  between  December 2015 and March 2016.  The  graffiti, which were  painted  throughout  the  town,  allegedly  glorified  violence and  insulted  the residents’ values and beliefs.  According to a  local NGO, some soldiers shared photographs of their graffiti on social media, which they interpreted as an indication that soldiers had acted with deliberate intent to insult citizens of Kurdish origin.”

Likewise the assault on the democratic process itself also focused on the many supporters of the abandoned Kurdish peace process:

According to the HDP official statement issued on 2 January 2017, since July 2015,  the  number  of  detained  HDP  executives,  members,  and  supporters  had reached  8,711.  Reportedly, as  of  29  December 2016,  the  number  of  those  arrested  was  2,705.  According  to the HDP,  4,457  (more  than  half)  of  detentions  and  1,275 arrests had taken place after the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Likewise in the regions of Northern Kurdistan: “By  the  end  of December 2016,  reportedly  69 municipal co-chairs of  the  pro-Kurdish  Democratic  Regions  Party (DBP) had  been  arrested, 58 had  been  dismissed and most  had  been replaced with ‘trustees’…

And finally, Labour Rights:

Some 10,000 teachers in South-East   Turkey,   over   90   per   cent   of   whom   were   serving   in   Kurdish-speaking municipalities were sacked.  “They were  reportedly  largely  dismissed as  a  precautionary  measure based on suspicion of having links with the PKK. Peaceful protests organized by the dismissed teachers in Diyarbakır were violently broken up by the local police.”

 

Once again the UN Rights body has lamented the lack of a response from Turkey into these widespread allegations and records of human rights abuses in its military operations in the Kurdish region: “OHCHR  regrets the  absence of direct access to   the affected places, people and to various Government, independent and non-governmental sources in South-East Turkey.  This has prevented  the  establishment  of a dialogue and has made direct corroboration of received allegations against information available to the local authorities impossible.

 

Turkey has supported this decision to deny access and provide information with its own denial of military atrocities and human rights abuses as both fiction, “baseless terror propaganda”  as well as operations that had ” successfully neutralized…PKK militants…”

 

The UN report concludes with its hope of bringing “serious human rights concerns in South-East Turkey to the attention of the competent authorities with a view to promoting means to address them, including by conducting full and independent  investigations.  To fully corroborate and verify the information presented in this  report..

 

The Report also concludes with 16 recommendations for the Turkish State:

1          That  every  loss  of  life…is  duly  investigated  and that perpetrators  of unlawful killings are brought to justice…

2          Discontinue  the  imposition of unannounced open-ended,  24 hour curfews…

3          Take the measures necessary to guarantee that security and law enforcement  officials do not  resort to excessive use of force during security operations…

4          Ensure  effective reparations for  victims  and  family  members whose human rights have been affected by security operations…

5          Ensure  guarantees  for  the  right  to  the  truth in  relation  to  alleged enforced disappearances in particular by, as a first step, establishing a publicly accessible and complete register of persons killed and detained in the context of security operations…

6          Allow access for independent, victim-centred and gender-sensitive assessment   of  the  humanitarian   and   protection  needs  of  the displaced population…

7          Ensure that reconstruction programmes are planned and implemented through   meaningful consultation with and participation of the affected of the population, including by protecting the cultural heritage of the region and by addressing the root causes of grievances in South-East Turkey…

8          OHCHR encourages Turkey to continue cooperating with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, under his mandate…

9          In  relation  to  deprivation  of  liberty, fully respect  the  provisions  of the article of  the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  To  the extent  that Turkey derogates  from  this  provision,  following  its  notification of July  2016,  any  measures taken in  that  respect should  not  exceed  those  strictly required  by  the  exigencies  of  the  situation in  accordance  with  article  4  of  the Covenant.

  1. Carry out  an independent  review of the  effects  and  extent  of  the  counter-terrorism  legislation  and  measures imposed  on  unclear  grounds  and without  due process, which  result  in  severe  limitations upon the  work  of journalists  and  academics;  the  closure  of  Kurdish  language  media;  citizens’ associations and universities…

11        “While taking note of  the  preliminary  observations  of  the  United Nations  Special  Rapporteur  on  the  promotion  and  protection  of  the  right  to freedom  of  opinion  and  expression  following  his  visit  to  Turkey,  including  his call for immediate release of all those held in prison for exercising their rights  to freedom of opinion and expression“:  OHCHR encourages Turkey to continue cooperating with the Special Rapporteur under his mandate…

12        “While taking note of the information provided by the Government of Turkey, including the reasons for the deprivation of liberty of  some members of  parliament”, reconsider  the  collective  arrests  and/or  removal  from  office  of democratically   elected   parliamentarians   and   municipal   representatives   in South-East  Turkey and ensure  that the judicial  proceedings are effectively conducted in line with the principles of the rule of law and in compliance with the State’s human rights international obligations…

13        Revoke  the  provision of  Decree KHK/674,  which provides  for the  appointment of “trustees” at the  municipal level in South-East Turkey and reinstate  the  democratically  elected  co-mayors.  Ensure  in  this  regard  due consideration to the right to vote, women’s rights and the right to be free from discrimination…

14        Take  the  necessary  measures  to  guarantee  that  officials  refrain  from pronouncing messages  of  intolerance that  may incite  violence,  hostility  or discrimination, and condemn publically such statements…

15        Create  legal,  structural  and  other  conditions to  establish a  national human  rights institution fully compliant with  international standards, as well as a National  Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as appropriate…

16        Following  the declaration of the national state of emergency  and the related derogation from certain civil and political rights, revisit emergency measures so that  they  are limited to  the  extent  strictly  required  by  the exigencies of the situation, meaning that they must be proportional and limited to  what  is  necessary  in  terms  of  duration,  geographic  coverage  and  material scope…

 

We live in hope…

As do the people in this brutalised part of the globe that the rest of the world largely ignores. But the lesson of human history shows: there can be no alternative to a peaceful democratic solution that respects the rights and needs of all parties to live as part of a vibrant and democratic community.

 

séamas carraher

 

Sources & References (thanks to)

http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21342&LangID=E

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/TR/OHCHR_South-East_TurkeyReport_10March2017.pdf

 

More information on the Report: please contact: Ravina Shamdasani (rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or  Rupert Colville (rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell ethrossell@ohchr.org)

 

Cizre:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December_2015%E2%80%93February_2016_Cizre_curfew

TURKEY: HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH says

The Cizre Report

 

Video:

Syrian News Free Press:150 Kurdish people burned alive by Erdogan’s regime in Cizre, southeast Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

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