Why can’t Turkey eradicate cases of torture?

July 18, 2010, Sunday/ 11:57:00/ FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK
A widespread culture of impunity on the side of the security forces who at times engage in torture and ill treatment and the lack of independent torture-monitoring mechanisms and laws as well as frequently rising nationalist sentiments in the country are the main reasons leading to an increase in the number of cases of torture and ill treatment in Turkey, human rights activists have said.Turkey’s attempts to harmonize with European Union norms had produced a zero-tolerance policy on torture and abuse as part of sweeping changes made to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). After seeing relatively few such cases thanks to the implementation of this policy, the number of torture cases in the country has again begun to rise at an alarming level.

According to an interim report released by the Human Rights Foundation (İHV) for the January-June 2010 period, security forces killed 15 people by opening fire on them after they ignored police calls to stop and 25 people lost their lives in prisons and detention centers in suspicious circumstances such as fights, suicides and lack of medical treatment. Human Rights Association (İHD) President Öztürk Türkdoğan explained that there are several reasons behind the perpetuation of cases of torture and ill treatment in the country, adding that such cases will continue to happen unless the causes leading to them are addressed.

“The security forces who engage in torture most of the time go unpunished. Even if they are referred to court, they get little or no punishment, which leads to the formation of a culture of impunity. Citizens’ complaints about security forces members who perform torture are, most of the time, not taken seriously,” said Türkdoğan, stressing that there was an urgent need to eliminate this perception of impunity among the members of the security forces.

Another reason that gives rise to torture cases in Turkey is the lack of an independent human rights monitoring institution, according to Türkdoğan. He suggested that the human rights committee in Turkey’s Parliament is not effective and speedy enough to respond and tackle torture cases and that a human rights mechanism should be established that uses the United Nations Paris Principles as a guide.

The Paris Principles, adopted in 1991, named minimum recommendations relating to national institutions and their protection and support of human rights. They require a national human rights institution to have a clearly defined and broad-based mandate, based on universal human rights standards, independence guaranteed by legislation or the constitution, autonomy from government, pluralism, including membership that broadly reflects the society, adequate powers of investigation and sufficient resources.

Erdem Türközü, a researcher at the İHV, complained that civilian society is not given any opportunity to make proposals about the preparations of bills in Parliament to deal with torture cases and human rights violations as he called on the government to listen to the demands of human rights organizations about the issue.

A request by NGOs, which released a joint statement last year asking for the establishment of a national human rights institute, was not taken seriously by the government, Türközü said.

Türközü pointed out that another reason that there were increased violations by security forces compared with previous years was an amendment in the Police Duties and Authorities Law (PSVK) easing the conditions for police to use weapons.

In January, Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced that Turkey would establish mechanisms that will monitor and control the security forces and monitor allegations of human rights violations. Among other things, he said Turkey will approve the UN Optional Protocols to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) -- and as a requirement to open prisons to international monitoring -- and will introduce another system to monitor security forces. Considering the fact that the bills Atalay mentioned are still waiting in Parliament, İHD’s Türkdoğan said the government should accelerate the legislation process so that cases of torture can be handled more speedily and appropriately.

Yet another reason behind the rise in the cases of torture is the rising nationalist feelings in the country as a result of terror cases, say human rights advocates. Over the past months, dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed in conflicts with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984.

Türkdoğan said human rights violations and torture cases go hand-in-hand with the rising terrorist activities and growing nationalist sentiments accompanying them as state officials feel more need to heighten security measures across the country, and given more authority, security forces can easily engage in violations and ill treatment.

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