"Today's human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow's conflicts."
~ Mary Robinson.
~ Mary Robinson.
Here are a couple of statements from the Diyarbakır IHD office. The first is an update on the human rights situation in the Kurdish region of Turkey:
27 October 2009
(Give the Republic’s biggest project a chance)
Dear press members
Although we’ve seen partial advancements regarding democracy and human rights in Turkey in recent times, we can still say that there are serious problems concerning the exercise of basic rights and liberties. Two forms of power are needed for human rights to find life in a country; the first is the power of Democratic Public Opinion, and the second is the power of the law. If these two forms of power don’t exist in a given country we can’t mention human rights. When we look at practices in Turkey in recent years, it’s clear that there are very serious complications obstructing the exercise of each of these forms of power.
In the European Union progress report released on 13 October 2009, it says that Turkey has made progress in the areas of economic competition and statistical and scientific research, but that there’s a chequered picture in the areas of human rights and democracy.
According to the EU report, with respect to the primacy of human rights and democracy, the protection of minorities, civil and political rights, civil oversight of expenditures on security forces, reform of the constitution, freedom of assembly and protest, freedom of belief, reform of local administration, the independence of the country’s forensic medical foundation, the independence of the judiciary, children being punished with sentences of 25 years in prison, the use of languages other than Turkish, the right to unionize, the rights of disabled people, the Kurdish question, the Cyprus question, the question of cultural rights, the problem of novels and discrimination, in some areas we’re still witnessing serious fluctuations – that is, regression – instead of halts to violations.
Fourteen days after the 29 March 2009 local elections, a major operation was carried out against the Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP). Three operations have been carried out against the party in the last six months. More than 1,000 people have been detained. Due to a judicial decision prohibiting access to files concerning the situation of the detained people, 450 DTP members and activists have remained under arrest for months without knowing what they’re being charged with. The principle and practice of being released pending trial is violated for DTP members and child victims of the Turkish Anti-Terror Law. There country’s prison population now exceeds 120,000. In the last four years, security forces have increased the use of disproportionate force against children and children’s deaths have increased as a result. In the latest EU progress report this matter is raised by mentioning police officers who have been “acquitted” after facing trial for “killing outside legitimate self-defence”.
In recent years the army’s repression and tutelage over politics, the judiciary, media and society have reached extraordinary dimensions. The military very frequently goes before the press and makes statements on all varieties of political issues. In the EU progress report it’s requested that the 1997 EMASYA secret Protocol on Security, Public Order and Assistance Units be terminated.
When we look at our table of confirmed violations in the East and Southeast Anatolia region, we can’t say that a heart-warming picture emerges. When we evaluate violations in the last nine months of the year 2009, we see an erratic picture. The number of lives lost in clashes has decreased compared to last year, but we’ve observed that these losses continue and that there’s been a sharp increase in extrajudicial killings as well as murders carried out by unknown perpetrators.
We’ve also seen that the number of people killed and injured by mines and stand-alone explosive articles has increased. A serious increase of complaints regarding torture and maltreatment has been seen again. An increase in incidences of interference in and beatings at social actions has been confirmed in the last nine months. The disproportionate use of force has been triggered by a failure to open sufficient inquiries against those who use excessive force, the abscence of anger control, and the forcing of security forces to work excessive overtime hours.
It seems that everything changed for the worse following the Prime Minister’s July 2005 action and greatly important speech on the Kurdish question in Diyarbakır, especially in 2008, when violations reached their highest levels. Violations decreased considerably in the first three months of 2009 and have continued to increase since April. At a time when a democratic solution for the Kurdish question is being debated, we’re curious as to why violations are increasing non-stop.
In recent years the government has introduced an extremely hardline approach to policy and matters related to children. Slapping children with sentences of between 10 and 25 years in prison due to their flashing of the ‘V’ for victory sign with their fingers or for throwing stones, the aquittal of those responsible for the death of Uğur Kaymaz, the 28 September killing of Ceylan Önköl with an artillery shell, and the fact that those responsible for the loss of 18 month-old Mehmet Uytun’s life - who died as a result of a gas bomb that was deployed as his mother was breastfeeding him on the balcony of their home in Cizre – still haven’t been found, has damaged the trust of the region’s people in the state and judiciary and increased mistrust between local people and the state. Why has there been a serious increase in children’s deaths? Why haven’t the perpetrators been tried following these deaths? What’s the explanation for the fact that 98% of judicial and administrative inquiries opened about security forces between 2003 and 2008 ended in their favor and that 2% ended with light punishments?
The increase in human rights abuses in recent times has been caused by intensified operations and clashes in northern Iraq and Turkey’s Eastern and Southeastern regions, the repression of peaceful and nonviolent social movements and political parties, and the growth of hardline nationalism.
We find the work the government’s doing concerning the ‘Democratic opening’ to be meaningful and positive. However, the rapid increase in human rights violations that this process has coincided with perturbs us. We don’t understand the extreme reaction that’s been shown to the return of those who came from Kandil and Mahmur. They returned with the goal of opening the clogged political process and were met with a peaceful gathering, without throwing a single stone, initiating any violent rallies or shouting anti-state slogans. We think that there needs to be an end to the speeches to the effect that after this, every word and every step taken must be taken within an approach that considers all of the emotions in Turkey, that those who are going to contribute to a solution must be ‘more careful’, and that ‘we’ll turn back, we’ll start from the beginning.’
If we turn away from a Democratic solution to the Kurdish Question – the Republic’s biggest project – our country will be brought back a hundred years, and if there’s a solution it’ll be the end of an era and we’ll move into a bright period. It’ll be brought closer to Europe. We’re either going to forget the pain of the past and open a new page or we’re going to dig new graves. Believing in everyone’s dream of peace, from now on we request that prejudices and the past be left aside, that work be done to stop the flow of blood, and that steps be taken mindful of the weight of every word and action.
With our respect,
Muharrem Erbey, Attorney at Law
Vice President of the Human Rights Association
President of the Diyarbakir Branch of the HRA
The second statement, below, is an IHD statement on the murder of Ceylan Önkol:
13 October 2009
(Why aren’t those who killed Ceylan being investigated?)
On 28 September 2009 at 11:30, 12 year-old Ceylan Önkol lost her life as a result of being fired upon while tending sheep. The incident occured in Xambaz hamlet near Şenlik village in the Lice district of Diyarbakır province. A Human Rights Delegation drafted a report after visiting the village where the incident took place and gathering everyone’s statements. Ceylan’s mother, father, older brother and indeed every witness asserted that they had heard a humming and vooming-type sound that came from the direction of Tabantepe police station, followed by an explosion. Even this assertion implies that a mortar had been fired at that time. They didn’t know the exact type of weapon that was used, but the family identified the item as a mortar shell. But the type of artillery doesn’t change the identity of the perpetrators. The perpetrators are the ones who have these very special weapons.
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child was published in Turkey’s official gazete in 1994 and went into effect in the country the same year. The Convention’s sixth article states: ‘1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.’ The state has to protect and safeguard children. The fact that perpetrators aren’t being tried in an active and effective way as the number of children’s deaths increases leaves us human rights defenders concerned.
In the criminal report it says that a mortar had been fired before the incident occured. But that contention can’t be used to absolve the suspects of responsibility for Ceylan’s death. Has even the most minor inquiry about the perpetrators been carried out up until now? What was the sound that was heard before the explosion, and why was it heard by everyone? Is the topic of the mortar that had been fired before being removed from the line of inquiry?
Do sounds like that emerge when mortar shells are tampered with while they’re on the ground? According to the witness statements, was there or was there not a humming and vooming sound after it was fired? How come the criminal report that wasn’t given to Serdar Çelebi and Keziban Yılmaz (the Önkol family’s lawyers and members of the Human Rights Association’s Steering Committee) by the Lice public prosecturor’s office was given to the entire press in a surreptitious way? We’re interested in the answers to these questions.
In this region, we’ve seen other incidents resulting from articles that resemble unexploded ordinance and remants of war being tampered with or hit with a rock in areas where there are children. We showed that such incidents resulted in the child’s hand being severed and her entire body wounded.
In conclusion, we’ve been told that this incident result from Ceylan hitting an unexploded shell with a farming tool that she was holding in her hand. The report prepared by the criminal investigation unit at Diyarbakır Metropolitan Police Headquarters was not objective, and when the case file comes to the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, we’re going to object as the Human Rights Association and as the family’s lawyers.
We’re going to request that research be done to determine whether or not it’s possible to ascertain that a bomb had been deployed or not by looking at the components of the case file.
Muharrem Erbey, Attorney at Law
Vice President of the Human Rights Association, President of the Diyarbakır branch of the HRA