At midnight tonight, Amnesty International issued its Annual Report, The State of the World’s Human Rights. There is grim reading throughout. This was a tough year for human rights worldwide.
Below I’ll try to outline the main issues that Amnesty has raised regarding the declining human rights conditions Turkey, where, according to Amnesty, “authorities have become more authoritarian in dealing with critics,” undermining the independence of the judiciary, introducing new restrictions on internet freedoms, and “[handing] unprecedented powers to the country’s intelligence agency.”
1. Freedom of Expression: Vaguely written and broadly defined anti-terror statutes, “along with laws on defamation and provoking religious hatred” continue to be employed to limit free speech. Business links with government still serve to undermine the independence of mainstream media, with some journalists forced from their jobs by fearful editors. Gagging orders were used to suppress the reporting of several major news stories and draconian new internet laws were passed. Social media was blocked for lengthy periods by government order.
2. Freedom of Assembly Peaceful demonstrations were routinely hindered by the government. Authorities issued bans on protests and demonstrations were often “dispersed with the use of excessive, unnecessary and often punitive force by police officers.” Demonstrators were often subject to “trumped up charges of violent conduct.” “The restrictive Law on Meetings and Demonstrations continued to be a barrier to freedom of peaceful assembly, despite superficial amendments in March.”
3. Torture and other ill-treatment: A relative bright spot in the report, Amnesty notes that “reported cases of torture in official places of detention remained far fewer than in previous years. Nonetheless, “[more] than two years after the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, the required
domestic implementing mechanism had not been established.”
4. Excessive use of force: In contrast to Turkey’s improving record on torture, excessive use of force remains common:
Excessive and abusive force by police officers during demonstrations, including the firing of tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators from close range, and the use of watercannon and beatings of peaceful protesters, remained common. Ministry of Interior guidelines, introduced in June and July 2013 to combat excessive and unnecessary force,were mostly ignored. In a number of cases, police used live ammunition during demonstrations, resulting in deaths and injury.
5. Impunity: Police and security officials continue to act with almost complete impunity in Turkey. According to Amnesty’s report: “police units were effectively responsible for investigating their own alleged abuses under the instruction of underresourced prosecutors. Police departments routinely failed to provide the most basic
items of evidence to investigations.” The report drew particular attention to the appalling case of Hakan Yaman and the more than forty people killed during protests in the predominantly Kurdish area of southeastern Turkey, where “there were numerous reports of the failure to conduct prompt crime scene investigations or to question alleged perpetrators of attacks on rival groups”
In Siirt, Davut Naz died at the scene of a Kobani-related protest on 8 October. The provincial governor said in a statement that he had been killed by demonstrators and died of a neck injury while eyewitnesses reported that he was shot by police officers with live ammunition. His family reported that there were three gunshot wounds but no neck injury to the body. No crime scene investigation was conducted and the criminal investigation into the incident had not progressed by the end of the year.
6. Unfair Trials: While noting some positive reforms, Amnesty highlighted the fact that “those accused of terrorism-related offenses still risked conviction without substantive and convincing evidence in ordinary courts.” Perhaps even more disturbingly, the government has taken a series of steps which have undermined the independence of the judiciary. In the context of high profile corruption trials, hundreds of judges and prosecutors were transferred to other posts.
7. Housing Rights: In municipalities throughout the country, urban renovation projects failed to uphold the rights of residents.
Residents in Sarıgöl, a poor district of Istanbul with a significant Roma population, were forcibly evicted from their homes in a project to replace shanty houses with higher quality residential blocks. The cost of the new houses was vastly higher than the majority of residents could afford and the compensation for those who lost their houses was inadequate. Many of the families threatened with homelessness by the project did not have title deeds for the land despite living in the neighbourhood for generations.
8. Violence against Women: Despite the tough talk about protecting women from violence in recent days, the Turkish government has failed in some basic obligations:
The implementation of the 2012 Law on Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence against Women remained inadequate, under-resourced and ineffective in dealing with domestic violence. A number of women under judicial protection were reported to have been killed. The number of shelters for victims of domestic violence remained far below that required by law.
9. Refugees and Asylum Seekers Amnesty notes that Turkey provides sanctuary for more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees and has borne the lion’s share of the financial burden for their support. According to Amnesty, “while 220,000 were accommodated in well-resourced, government-run refugee camps, but many of the more than 1.3 million refugees living outside camps were destitute and received little or no assistance.”
Despite Turkey’s professed “open border policy”, there were persistent reports of unlawful or abusive force by Turkish border guards at unofficial crossing points, including the useof live ammunition, beatings and pushing refugees back into war-torn Syria. An estimated 30,000 Yezidi Kurdish refugees arrived from Iraq in August, but unlike the Syrians, they were not afforded a “temporary protection status”, nor the rights and entitlements it brings. The Yezidi refugees joined an estimated 100,000 asylum-seekers from other countries residing in Turkey, almost all of whom faced severe delays in the processing of their asylum claims.
10. Conscientious objection: Despite rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey still does not recognize the right of conscientious objection and continues to prosecute objectors under a variety of statutes.
11. LGBTI Rights: Discrimination from authorities is still commonplace in Turkey for Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. A number of murders of transgender women were reported this year.
The trial for the murder of Ahmet Yıldız, a gay man killed in a suspected honour killing in July 2008, failed to make any progress during 2014, with his father, the single suspect in the case, remaining at large. The authorities had failed to investigate death threats against Ahmet Yıldız ahead of the murder and to launch a prompt, effective investigation following the killing.
In short, it was a very tough year for human rights in Turkey and all indications are that 2015 will be worse. In a number of conversations this past few months, I have been asked if there is any hope. I always pause before I respond. The realities are, in fact, extremely grim. But, in the end, my answer is “yes.” Turkey remains an extraordinary country, with a vibrancy and humor and joyful stubbornness that is truly breath-taking. Yesterday, Amnesty – Turkey started a new campaign, to fight a disturbing, Orwellian “domestic security bill.” In a little over 24 hours, there were already 10,000 signatures (you can add yours here). Human Rights may be under threat in Turkey. But there are still those willing to fight for their freedom.
St. Lawrence University