Letter to Council of Europe on deterioration of human rights in Turkey

People enter Cizre first time after curfew, 5 March 2016 (KomNews/ Duygu Yildiz)

Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch and PEN International have signed a joint letter in which they call on the Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to hold Turkey to account for its failures to respect and protect human rights.

The letter calls on the Assembly at its January 2017 session to “conduct an investigation into the serious allegations of gross violations of human rights in the south-east of Turkey” as well as to reinstate a full monitoring procedure “in light of the severity of the assault on human rights including freedom of expression, association and media freedom, resurgence of cases of torture in detention, excessive use of force in the south east of Turkey”.

The letter points out that human rights and rule of law have been “seriously eroded in Turkey” beginning with the violent suppression of the Gezi Park protests in 2013. “Further serious abuses have occurred after the end of the fragile two year solution process between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the state forces in July 2015 with round the clock indefinite curfews in towns and cities in the south east affecting hundreds of thousands of people. The use of heavy weaponry in urban areas has caused hundreds of deaths and injuries and left a likely half a million people displaced. Most recently, following the violent and contemptible coup attempt on 15 July 2016, the Turkish authorities have pursued an unprecedented crackdown on a range of human rights.”

The letter highlights the restriction of access to lawyers, evidence of torture in police detention in the curfew areas in south-east Turkey as well as in Ankara and Istanbul of the post-coup period. Severe beatings, sexual assault, threats of rape and rape have been reported in official and unofficial police detentions. These detentions cover thousands of people, accused of taking part in the coup attempt or due to alleged association with the PKK or leftist groups.

Detention of at least 118 journalists and media workers, arbitrarily closing down of 149 media outlets and publishing companies, and the dismissal of nearly 90,000 civil servants including teachers, police and military officials, doctors, judges and prosecutors has been carried out on the ground of “links to a terrorist organisation or threat to national security.”

The letter further highlights internet censorship, the assault on “dissenting opinions, especially those related to the Kurdish issue” and the closing down of 375 NGOs, including women’s rights groups, humanitarian organisations, and lawyers associations (including three lawyers’ associations that worked on police violence and torture).

The detention of the two leaders of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and other members of parliament as well as the jailing and replacement of democratically elected mayors in the southeast with government-appointed trustees has, according to reports, deprived “millions of voters of their elected representatives in parliament and in local government and undermining the right to association”. No investigations of allegations of widespread human rights violations in the south-east of Turkey have been carried out and the culture of impunity for abuses committed by the security forces has remained untouched.

The letter also highlights the situation of the estimated 3 million refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey. “Syrian refugee children have no access to education and most adult Syrian refugees have no access to lawful employment. There were mass forced returns of Syrians by the Turkish security forces in the first months of 2016, as well as instances of unlawful push-backs to Syria and, throughout 2016, cases of fatal and non-fatal shootings of people in need of protection by Turkish border guards.”