Saturday, July 07, 2007


"This so-called ill treatment and torture in detention centers, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners who were freed . were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands on the detainees."
~ Rudolf Hess, commandant of Auschwitz.

In the same week that saw HRW's release of a report on human rights abuses in South Kurdistan, Amnesty International released its report on the culture of torture and impunity in the TC.

It's ironic that AI dates the culture of impunity in Turkey from the September 12, 1980 coup but, while mentioning the failure of "harmonization" packages meant to redesign Turkish law so that it's compatible with the Copenhagen Criteria, fails to make the connection between the consitution and the culture of impunity. The Turkish constitution is a document drafted under the watchful eyes of the Paşas and written specifically to protect the state from the citizens. A document which places the state above the individual will ipso facto endorse violations of the human rights of individuals. Hence, an entrenched culture of impunity. "Harmonization" packages or other legal "reforms" can therefore be likened to applying lipstick to a pig.

The AI report contrasts AKP's alleged "zero tolerance for torture" policy with the continued state-sponsored toleration of impunity by Turkish law enforcement and security forces. One of the more outstanding examples of this contrast is the passage and application of the June 2006 new anti-terror law. Another is the "lack of progress in investigating fatal shootings by members of the security forces in circumstances which do not involve an armed clash, or where the evidence of an armed clash having taken place is in doubt."

In order to illustrate the "lack of progress" in such cases of extrajudicial murder, AI includes a detailed recap of the case of the state's murder of Ahmet and Uğur Kaymaz. For that case alone, the AI report is worth reading as it focuses on problems with the indictment of the murderers, the discrepancies in the evidence collected, the intimidation by the state of human rights defenders and journalists involved with the case, the conduct of the trial and the undue hardships a change of venue inflicted on the family of the victims, counter-charges and counter-investigations that were instigated by the state merely to smear the reputations of family members and their lawyers.

Another case highlighted by AI is the conduct of the state in the wake of the Amed Serhildan. Among the problems discussed in connection with the state's conduct in this case are the excessive use of force by Turkish security forces, leading to the murders of children and other onlookers of the demonstrations, the mass arrests of Kurds throughout The Region following the demonstrations, and the torture of those detained or arrested, including the torture of children. AI notes that no action has been taken against the criminal security forces:

Over one year later not a single prosecution had been initiated against any member of the security forces, either in relation to the allegations of torture or the fatal shootings that occurred during the demonstrations. Nor had there been any outcome from the administrative investigation.

Two other cases are highlighted as well, including the case of Birtan Altınbaş, a Turkish leftist who was tortured to death in 1991 while in detention. His murderers were not sentenced until 2006--15 years after the crime. The other example case is that of the torture of prisoners in Izmir's Kırklar F-type prisons Nos. 1 and 2.

AI lists eleven factors that contribute to the continuation of the culture of impunity in Turkey:

1. Intimidation and harassment of victims and witnesses, and "counter-charges."

2. Failure to document medical evidence of torture or other ill-treatment.

3. The inadmissibility of independent medical evidence and the monopoly of the Forensic Medical Institute.

4. Lack of independent evidence collection.

5. Ineffective and delayed investigation by prosecutors.

6. Public statements on cases by senior officials.

7. Charges against human rights groups for reporting preliminary concerns about cases.

8. Failure to suspend pending investigation and leniency towards police and gendarmerie defendants.

9. Unresponsiveness of judges to lawyers for victims and their families.

10. Delayed and protracted proceedings.

11. The statute of limitations for the crime of torture.

Remember, the eleven factors outlined above derive their strength from a constitution written by generals, in the wake of a military coup, the purpose of which is to protect the state from the people.

Of course, this AI report may be the real reason for the TC's freeze of AI's accounts.

Just as the AI report tells us nothing that we don't already know, so the HRW report on South Kurdistan told us nothing that we didn't already know. Even though certain elements in the KRG have denied the veracity of the HRW report, Kurdish activists in South Kurdistan can verify its truth, as in this article from IWPR:

Human rights advocates in northern Iraq say the findings of a new report accusing Kurdish security forces of systematic mistreatment of detainees come as no surprise, and express scepticism that international pressure will end such practices.

[ . . . ]

"We know that arrests have been made without warrants; torture has been carried out; and detention facilities operate with minimal human rights criteria," said Sarwar Ali, a lawyer and a human rights activist at Democracy and Human Rights Development in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

[ . . . ]

"The party security establishments function outside the law, and many people are detained for several years without charges," said Ali.

[ . . . ]

"The Kurdish authorities talk a lot about the principles of freedom and human rights, but this report and the US State Department's [human rights] report prove that democracy and human rights are no more than words in this region," said a lawyer, who asked not to be named because he works for the government.

[ . . . ]

Rebeen Ahmed Hardi, a prominent writer and critic in Sulaimaniyah, said the international community may be surprised by the report because the KDP and PUK have "painted a beautiful picture of Iraqi Kurdistan".

"It's too optimistic to think that the Kurdish parties will change their dictatorship-like behaviour immediately. It has become a part of their mindset," he said.

Hardi said international pressure would probably not change human rights policies in the region.

"Pressure needs to be mounted on the parties within Kurdistan," he said. "Newspapers, intellectuals and the public should talk about those violations and other issues constantly until the parties respond."

"The beautiful picture of Iraqi Kurdistan" whose "painting" has been assisted by the likes of Russo Marsh & Rogers should be considered in light of the US policy of globalization, as described by Noam Chomsky:

There is indeed a close relationship between human rights and American foreign policy. There is substantial evidence that American aid and diplomatic support increase as human rights violations increase, at least in the Third World. Extensive violations of human rights (torture, forced reduction of living standards for much of the population, police-sponsored death squads, destruction of representative institutions or of independent unions, etc.) are directly correlated with US government support. The linkage is not accidental; rather it is systematic. The reason is obvious enough. Client fascism often improves the business climate for American corporations, quite generally the guiding factor in foreign policy. It would be naïve indeed to think that this will change materially, given the realities of American social structure and the grip of the state ideological system.

And that's just another reason to be careful what you wish for, because the price of Western investment in South Kurdistan, the price of a "successful" corporate climate may be much more than what the Kurdish people themselves ought to bear, especially in light of the last hundred years of Kurdish history.

Perhaps Rebeen Ahmed Hardi is correct; international pressure alone will not change human rights policies in South Kurdistan, but continuing to speak out about violations, biting the ankles of those in power at every opportunity, both inside Kurdistan and in Diaspora, may shame the powerful enough to make them change their unjust attitudes and practices.

I intend to continue to be one of the ankle-biters.

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