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:
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….
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.
- 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.
Sources & References (thanks to)
More information on the Report: please contact: Ravina Shamdasani (email@example.com) or Rupert Colville (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Liz Throssell email@example.com)
Syrian News Free Press:150 Kurdish people burned alive by Erdogan’s regime in Cizre, southeast Turkey