In a briefing and press release today (January 21) , Amnesty International renewed its call to Turkish authorities to “end the indefinite curfews in Kurdish neighbourhoods across east and south-east Turkey.”
For several months, Amnesty International has been urging the government to end disproportionate restrictions on movement, including round-the-clock curfews, and other arbitrary measures which have left residents without access to emergency health care, food, water and electricity for extended periods. The draconian restrictions imposed during indefinite curfews, some of which have been in place for over a month, increasingly resemble collective punishment, and must end.
“Cuts to water and electricity supplies combined with the dangers of accessing food and medical care while under fire are having a devastating effect on residents, and the situation is likely to get worse, fast, if this isn’t addressed,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
“While the Turkish authorities can take legitimate measures to ensure security and arrest suspects, they must comply with their human rights obligations. The operations currently being conducted under round-the-clock curfews are putting the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk and are beginning to resemble collective punishment,” Dalhuisen said.
Amnesty researchers have found significant evidence of hardship in affected regions:
Research carried out by Amnesty International in areas under curfew before December 2015 and reports from residents in areas that are currently inaccessible to external observers reveal the extreme hardships they face on account of cuts to water and electricity and the dangers of accessing food and medical care while under fire.
In some cases, water and electricity supplies have been provided intermittently, while in other areas under curfew they have been subject to total cuts. The authorities allege that the cuts are the result of damage to the infrastructure inflicted by YDG-H. While this is plausible in some cases, it is notable that the cuts have almost always coincided with the imposition of curfews. Cuts to mobile phone networks and 3G signals have also frequently occurred during curfews, which are far less likely to be due to damage to infrastructure.
In some areas under curfew residents have reported that they have been able to defy the ban on them leaving their homes and access medical care or buy food supplies. But residents in other areas have reported that due to armed clashes and the frequent use of sniper fire by the security forces, accessing food or medical services has been impossible for the duration of curfews. There have also been numerous reports of ambulances being prevented from entering areas under curfew on account of ongoing clashes or the orders of security forces. According to residents interviewed by Amnesty International, statements made by the authorities that food and medical services have been made available throughout curfews do not reflect the reality on the ground.
People living within the areas under curfew have also been prevented from leaving. Many people managed to leave these areas however, ahead of curfews being imposed or by risking their lives to escape during curfews. According to information provided by the Minister of the Interior to parliamentarians from the ruling AK Party, more than 90,000 people have left four areas under curfew, Cizre, Silopi, Sur, and Dargeçit in Mardin province, amounting to more than 20% of the total population in the affected areas.
Amnesty notes that “law enforcement and military operations conducted in areas under curfew have been characterised by the use of heavy weaponry and sniper fire by the police and army, putting the lives of trapped residents at risk.”
In the course of on the ground research following an earlier curfew in Cizre from 4 – 12 September 2015, Amnesty International found evidence that several deaths may have been caused by snipers at locations far from where clashes were taking place. Among those killed were children, women and elderly people, who are very unlikely to have been involved in armed clashes. More recently reported deaths have also followed this same troubling pattern. Investigations into deaths have failed to show any sign of progress…
While it is difficult to paint an accurate picture of the scale of the violations in the areas under curfew, there is little doubt that the Turkish authorities are putting lives at risk by using lethal force excessively and recklessly. The Turkish authorities must rethink both the aims and the methods of their law enforcement operations.
Meanwhile, authorities have aggressively worked to impede independent monitoring and suppress criticism of the on-going operations. “People speaking out against the abuses have been subjected to threats, criminal investigation and other forms of harassment.”
In a telling example of how little tolerance the authorities have for any form of dissent regarding the operations, on 9 January, state prosecutors initiated a criminal investigation for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”, against a chat show host. The investigation was launched after a caller to the “Beyaz Show” said that mothers and children were being killed in the south east, urging people not to stay silent about it. The chat show host, Beyazıt Öztürk, thanked and applauded her for her contribution, saying he supported her call for peace. A media furore, death threats against those involved and investigation against the chat show host, the head of the television programme and the caller, Ayşe Çelik ensued.
In a case that has garnered international attention and condemnation, academics who have voiced criticism of the government’s policies have been targeted.
They were first attacked by President Erdoğan, who accused the academics of “betrayal”. The Higher Education Council (YÖK) then announced that it had started an administrative investigation into the signatories and several academics were relieved of their duties by their university employers.
Many fear that the crises in neighboring Syria and Iraq, as well as Turkey’s key role in the region may overshadow the human rights abuses within Turkey itself. This must not be allowed to happen.
“While the Turkish authorities appear determined to silence internal criticism, they have faced very little from the international community. Strategic considerations relating to the conflict in Syria and determined efforts to enlist Turkey’s help in stemming the flow of refugees to Europe must not overshadow allegations of gross human rights violations. The international community must not look the other way,” said John Dalhuisen.