Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week met with an advocacy group seeking justice for enforced disappearances in Turkey. After the meeting Parliament’s Human Rights Commission decided to form a sub-committee to investigate enforced disappearances.
The sub-committee will be composed of deputies, but human rights advocates are demanding the establishment of an independent commission composed of scientist, doctors and representatives of civil society organizations.
They also demand that Turkey sign the international agreement on the issue, which has been signed by 87 countries. On the commission will be Murat Yıldırım, Erdal Kalkan and Zafer Üskül from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Çetin Soysal of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Şenol Bal from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The priority of the commission will be to investigate Tolga Baykal Ceylan, who disappeared in 2004 when the AK Party was in power. According to Human Rights Association (IHD) statistics, two persons were disappeared in 2003.
Öztürk Türkdoğan, chairperson of the IHD, noted the commission will give priority to the Tolga Baykal Ceylan case. “It is understandable that the government wants to investigate cases that happened while it was in power, but what about other cases? They should investigate all cases of those who were disappeared,” he said, adding that Parliament’s Human Rights Commission is also acting strangely. “The relatives of the disappeared persons have petitioned the commission many times, but they did not receive an answer. They only decided to act after the prime minister asked them. But still, even if it is for one person, it is important that an enforced disappearance is investigated,” Türkdoğan told Sunday’s Zaman.
Enforced disappearances have been on the agenda of civil society for a long time. The exact number is unknown, but since the military coup in 1980 it is estimated approximately 1,000 persons were disappeared while in custody. Especially during the 1990s when clashes between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were very intensive, many hundreds of persons were disappeared in southeastern and eastern Anatolia.
The first meeting of the Saturday Mothers was held in August 1998 with 30 relatives of people who had disappeared. Security forces attacked the group, and politicians accused it of being a tool for the outlawed PKK. The Saturday Mothers suspended their meetings in March 1999 due to the political atmosphere created by the capture of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK who is serving a lifetime sentence on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara. They resumed their meetings in January 2009 but with a smaller number of participants.
However, at the beginning of this year the Saturday Mothers held their 300th meeting, which was also attended by intellectuals, journalists, human rights defenders and Rakel Dink, the wife of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered.
The Saturday Mothers decided to accelerate their efforts to find out what happened to their loved ones after the Ergenekon case started, as some of its suspects are directly related to the disappearances. The Ergenekon gang allegedly intended to overthrow the government by creating chaos, and some of the suspects have been involved in the group for a long time.
For example, relatives of Ebubekir Deniz and Serdar Tanış, two founding members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) in Silopi, allege their disappearance in 2001 took place upon the orders of Levent Ersöz, an Ergenekon suspect, but the indictment in his case does not mention any disappearances. Most of the families of those who have disappeared, especially in Silopi, allege that Ersöz is responsible.
The European Court of Human Rights has in many cases ruled against Turkey for such disappearances; however, Turkey has still not signed the UN-backed International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The UN convention classifies enforced disappearances as a crime against humanity. It was submitted for signature almost four years ago and has since been signed by 87 countries, and 21 have ratified or acceded.
“This convention brings serious responsibilities to the member states and is the best way to prevent disappearances. For many years we have urged the government to sign and ratify the convention as soon as possible and investigate the cases,” Türkdoğan said.