The Truth About Torture in Turkey

4 min read

The 26th of June is marked as the “International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture”. As we do stand in solidarity with all the victims of torture, we want to bring to your attention that even today, in the 21st century, we need to raise awareness that torture is illegal! 

 

Torture is illegal, and if carried out on a systematic basis amounts to a war crime or a crime against humanity. No circumstances, however exceptional, can justify the use of torture against anyone for any reason. Neither a state of emergency nor conflict, neither the fight against terrorism nor the fight against crime excuses the use of torture. These practices dehumanize both victim and perpetrator and leave scars on people, communities and entire societies that can be very difficult to heal. Sadly, despite the blanket ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in international law, terrible examples of its continued practice are documented on a daily basis. The use of torture, symptomatic of desperate despotic governments and dysfunctional criminal justice systems, is all too common. The interpretation of gaps in laws in favour of perpetrators, the failure to implement laws, the lack of the political will to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, cause impunity.

 

In Turkey impunity is not an aberration, but, rather, it is the norm when a rights violation is committed against individuals by state officials. It is a massive field of problems that human rights lawyers and victims have had to deal with for decades.

 

In the 80s and 90s, in Eastern and Southeast Turkey, cases of torture have left deep wounds in the society. Men, women and even children are tortured in detention simply for expressing their political views, to force confessions, or just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Turkey’s impunity policy has three pillars, which are: a) the moral legitimization of the unlawful acts of state officials, b) the protection provided for perpetrators by administrative and judicial authorities, c) the legal regulations either constitute obstacles for investigation and prosecution or provide for an explicit impunity for perpetrators.

 

Bearing this in mind, we do denounce the unfortunate observations (May 24, 2021) of Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Interior, claiming …” I am not aware of any torture case and no torture cases have been brought to me since the last four and half year. If torture cases should be proven, I am ready to resign.”

But we do face a horrendous truth. Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) published that, during January 2015 and May 2021 a total of 4.141 persons filled complaints that they / or their relatives were victims of torture or ill-treatment.

 

Yearly cases of torture and ill-treatment complaints registered by TIHV:

2016:485

2017:616

2018:584

2019:908

2020:605

2021 (as of April 30): 346

 

The practice of torture to extract confessions is well documented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). These practices include battery, rape, sexual assault and threats thereof, electroshocks and waterboarding. The acts of torture take place particularly at the time of arrest and during the preliminary detention.

 

Turkey not only lacks competent and willing judicial bodies to investigate well-grounded allegations of torture, it also suffers from obscuring of evidences of torture. For instance, in a leaked confidential document, the Directorate General of Security (National Police) instructs all 81 provincial police departments to cover up traces of torture in detention centers and not to use official detention centers [for torture] ahead of a fact-finding visit by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe (CoE). Human rights organisations underline pervasive climate of fear and difficulty to document and investigate acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Further to that, the Turkish Governments prevents the COE’s CPT to publish its 2016 and 2018 factfinding-reports.

 

Furthermore, there are 30 cases of enforced disappearances in Turkey. All of them follow a similar pattern, which proves the fact that it is a systematic effort. The victims spend months with their conditions or whereabouts unknown, are subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Enforced disappearances are not confined within the borders of Turkey, the government abducts people abroad as well. Turkish Foreign Minister brazenly boasted about the kidnapping of 100 individuals by the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) from 18 countries. These victims have also reported being subjected to severe torture.

 

We urge the Turkish Government to amend Article 17 of the Constitution to bring the formulation of the right to life into line with international legal standards, to amend the laws regulating the use of force by law enforcement officers to comply with international legal standards, to amend Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Law no. 3713 to comply with the caselaw of the ECtHR, initiate effective, prompt, impartial and transparent criminal investigations about enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and torture incidents, most importantly, about those that took place after 2015,  set up a National Preventive Mechanism in line with Turkey’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

 

We urge the CPT to undertake more frequent ad hoc visits to Turkey, trigger the mechanism laid down in Article 10 Par.2 of the Convention to publish the reports on Turkey for which publication has not been authorized by the Turkish Government, we urge the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) to carry out an inquiry on Turkey under Article 20 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

 

Last but not least, we urge the European Union to consider sanctioning those who are responsible for gross human rights violations in Turkey under its human rights sanction regime.

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