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State of Flux: Human Rights in Turkey

Auteur : Helsinki Watch
Éditeur : The Watch Committees Date & Lieu : 1987, New York
Préface : Pages : 164
Traduction : ISBN : 0 938579-68-1
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 155x230 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. Eng. Hel. Sta. N° 1762Thème : Général

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
State of Flux: Human Rights in Turkey

State of Flux: Human Rights in Turkey

Helsinki Watch

The Watch Committees

Human rights in Turkey are still in a state of flux. This report, the sixth on human rights in Turkey issued by Helsinki Watch since 1982, concludes that positive steps in the areas of free association and assembly are undermined by negative actions such as the continued use of torture in police detention and the incarceration of many thousands of political prisoners. These problems stem from the repressive 1982, Constitution and a series of equally repressive laws. In addition, the report charges that the Kurdish minority in eastern Turkey is routinely denied its ethnic identity: the Kurdish language, culture, customs and history are not recognized by the Turkish government, which denies the existence of the Kurds.
This Helsinki Watch report is based on a fact-finding mission in June 1987 that included a visit to eastern Turkey and on reports in the Turkish press.


"You coined the phrase," a Turkish writer told us, "human rights in Turkey are in a ‘state of flux’" It was June 1987, and we had just arrived in Istanbul on a human rights mission; we were the fourth Helsinki Watch fact-finding delegation to visit Turkey since 1983. Our Turkish friend was referring to previous Helsinki Watch reports in which we used the phrase "state of flux" to describe the confusing, often contradictory human rights situation in Turkey since the government began its self-proclaimed return to democracy in 1983.

This report, the sixth report on human rights in Turkey that Helsinki Watch has issued since 1982, is a supplement to our March 1986 report entitled Freedom and Fear: Human Rights in Turkey. That report was based largely on information gathered during a Helsinki Watch fact-finding mission to Turkey in December 1985; the present report derives much of its information from our visit to Turkey in June 1987. Together with Freedom and Fear, it provides an overview of Turkey’s human rights policies since the re-establishment of a parliament in 1983. This report also includes a long overdue addition to our previous human rights concerns in Turkey: an investigation and description of some of the human rights abuses endured by the Kurdish minority in eastern Turkey.

When a Helsinki Watch delegation first visited Turkey in September 1983 the country was under martial law, established after the September 12,1980, military coup. We were distressed at the suppression of institutional and individual freedoms that we witnessed: all independent institutions in the country had either been taken over by the military or been banned, and private citizens who had managed to escape detention and arrest were fearful of speaking their minds to foreigners, aware that anything they said could be misconstrued by the authorities and might result in arrest and imprisonment. Their fears were well founded. In the years immediately following the 1980 coup, some 178,000 Turkish citizens were detained by the police for questioning; most were brutally tortured, and many were sent to prison to await the outcome of mass trials that dragged on over a period of years. Prison conditions were deplorable, resulting in frequent hunger-strike protests by prisoners which sometimes resulted in deaths. In the early fall of 1983, the prospects for human rights in Turkey seemed ominous indeed.

When the army took control of Turkey in 1980, it brought to an end an intolerable situation of near-anarchy that had existed in the country during the late 1970s. Street violence between right and left had reached alarming proportions with many deaths each day as a result of violence. The army promised to restore order in the country, which it did, and also, eventually, to restore democracy as well. And, in its own way, it kept its promises, gradually loosening the absolute authority that it had assumed in 1980. A turning point came in November 1983 when parliamentary elections were allowed.

The November 1983 parliamentary elections were closely controlled by the military. Already banned from political life were the two mainstream parties in Turkey before the coup, as well as all former politicians. In addition, only three of the fifteen new parties that sought to participate in the elections were approved by the military. Nevertheless, the Turkish electorate found a way to voice its independence. The candidate selected and promoted by the military was resoundingly defeated, while the most independent of the three parties, the Motherland Party of Turgut Ozal, was voted into power. General Evren, who led the martial law government, continues to this day in a seven-year term as President of Turkey, having been so designated in a 1982 Constitutional referendum. But the military, since 1983, has slowly distanced itself from day-to-day rule. Martial law has been gradually lifted throughout the country, replaced by a state of emergency in many provinces which is also very strict. The lifting of martial law in Istanbul and Ankara in 1985 had a major effect on the press which is now speaking out more freely on many sensitive issues.

In December 1985, when a Helsinki Watch fact-finding mission returned to Turkey, the situation was dramatically different from 1983, especially with regard to the parliament and the press, a change which continues to the present time. The existence of a parliament with representatives who are responsible to an electorate has led to open parliamentary debate on some of the most delicate human rights issues, including the continued use of torture in police detention centers and the deplorable conditions in Turkish prisons. A parliamentary commission conducted an investigation of prison conditions in 1985 and issued a report with some pointed recommendations. The opposition parties in the Turkish parliament have taken up the cause of human rights, constantly attacking the government on this issue, and their criticisms receive extensive coverage in the press. For a while in 1985 and 1986, the issue of torture seemed to consume the country; each day brought new reports from victims, culminating in a sensational expose by a former policeman/torturer who described instances and techniques of torture in a graphically illustrated series in the press. Yet all the investigations and incriminations had little effect on actual practices: we have received ample evidence that torture is continuing unabated and that conditions in the prisons remain unchanged.

In our March 1986 report entitled Freedom and Fear: Human Rights in Turkey, we concluded that Turkey is "a society in ferment, its direction uncharted." Nevertheless, we remained optimistic: "That very ferment is the best reason for hope."
Unfortunately, our expectations for continued human rights progress in Turkey have not yet been fulfilled. We determined during our most recent visit, in June 1987, that human rights in Turkey are still in a state of flux. Positive steps are continually being undermined by negative actions. Although there have been some noteworthy improvements, mainly in the area of freedom of association, the continued use of torture in police detention is both distressing and inexplicable, given the Turkish authorities’ claims that they have brought an end to the use of torture and that any incidents that come to light are either fabrications aimed at influencing world opinion against Turkey or are isolated cases of police brutality. The evidence of torture that we received indicates that torture is still routinely practiced in Turkey, involving the same techniques in the same police stations as has been documented in the past. If there are fewer instances of torture in Turkey today, it is because there are fewer arrests than before, and not because practices have noticeably changed.

On the positive side, there is now a Human Rights Association in Turkey that has received official permission to function and is conducting investigations and issuing reports on many human rights violations in the country. There is also an Association of Families of Detainees and Convicts, which is tolerated by the authorities; we attended a public meeting organized by the group in Istanbul at which repressive prison conditions were openly discussed and deplored. Yet (and there is always a "yet" when discussing human rights improvements in Turkey) other organizations have been denied the right to function: a group called Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was banned two weeks after it was formed and a case was opened against 49 of its founders; an Association for the Purification of the Turkish Language was also closed down.

In similar fashion, the press remains outspoken in its criticisms of human rights violations in Turkey and has even begun to speak tentatively about a subject that has traditionally been forbidden: the situation of the Kurds in eastern Turkey. But journalists and editors proceed at some risk: they are frequently brought to court for articles that they have written, and magazines with controversial articles have been banned or seized from the newsstands. A large number of books and publications are officially banned in Turkey.
The Turkish government, ever mindful of world opinion and particularly solicitous of Western
Europe since its recent bid for full membership in the European Community, has agreed to the right of individual petition to the European Commission of Human Rights. This is potentially a most significant human rights advance for Turkish citizens, who now have the right to file their individual complaints with the Commission. But the Turkish government has qualified its acceptance of the right of individual petition in various ways, and it remains to be seen how the complaint procedure will work in practice.

The basic problem with regard to human rights in Turkey remains unchanged. It stems from the repressive 1982 Constitution and a series of equally repressive laws that remain in force, exerting a chilling effect on the society. Many of the freedoms that have been tolerated in Turkey since 1983 may very well be a gesture by the government to international opinion, rather than the reflection of a genuine desire for democracy and human rights. And because these freedoms have no legal guarantees, they can be easily reversed if there is a change of policy. Unless the restrictive legislation in Turkey is changed, any human rights progress may turn out to be transitory.

During its 1985 mission to Turkey, Helsinki Watch received unprecedented cooperation from the Turkish government and met with many Turkish officials. We were gratified by the government’s cooperation and by the opportunity it provided for us to conduct detailed and frank conversations with officials in the various ministries about human rights policies and practices in Turkey. We also saw this openness on the part of the government as a positive indication of change in its attitude toward human rights organizations and their concerns.

The Turkish government’s attitude toward Helsinki Watch was very different, however, with regard to our most recent mission in June 1987. When the authorities discovered that we planned to enlarge our previous agenda to include an investigation of the situation of the Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey, doors that had previously been opened to us were closed. We were told, in advance of our trip, that not only would we be denied meetings with officials in southeastern Turkey, but that officials in Ankara would also be unwilling to see us. Prime Minister Ozal recently stated at a public meeting that Helsinki Watch tended to talk to the wrong people and thus get a mistaken idea of what is going on in the country. Yet the government’s refusal to meet with us, short of a few perfunctory meetings with spokespeople in the Foreign Ministry, made it impossible for us to receive first hand explanations of the government’s point of view.

Turkish officials, it appears, are unhappy with the fact that Helsinki Watch, after hearing the official point of view in 1985, has continued to criticize many of Turkey’s human rights practices. They were particularly upset at our decision to investigate the situation of the Kurds, the most sensitive human rights issue in Turkey.
We traveled to eastern Turkey despite the government’s disapproval. No efforts were made to prevent us from going there or to limit our activities while we were there. We were able to talk with a number of Kurdish people-lawyers, political leaders, journalists, businessmen—who described a situation of extreme repression that has continued to worsen in many respects since the 1980 coup. The situation is complicated by guerrilla warfare that has been raging in the border areas since 1984, waged by Kurdish terrorists seeking an independent Kurdistan.
The Kurdish minority in Turkey has long been denied any semblance of ethnic identity: the Kurdish language, culture, customs and history are not recognized by the Turkish government which denies the very existence of the Kurds. Recent military actions in the area appear to have given the government license for still greater intimidation of the Kurds. Ordinary citizens are caught between the army and the guerrillas and are being persecuted by both. The guerrillas, a relatively small band according to the Turkish government, have been ruthless in their attacks against innocent civilians, including many women and children. On the other hand, however, the Turkish army seems to be waging warfare against the Kurdish population as a whole, accusing the local people of assisting the terrorists. Some parts of the southeast that we visited seemed to be in a continual state of seige. We received more complaints about the day-to-day practices of the army than we did about sporadic attacks by the guerrillas.

Even on the basis of a cursory inspection, it seemed clear to us that the Turkish government is pursuing a self-destructive policy in the east. By refusing to recognize the ethnic rights and economic needs of the local population, the government is fanning flames of hatred and revolt and encouraging the Kurds to identify their own well-being with the aims of the secessionist guerrillas. Although most Kurds reportedly reject the terrorist tactics of the guerrillas and do not wish to secede from Turkey, the government is not providing them with a feasible alternative. 'We don’t like the terrorists," we were told by some local Kurds, "but they are the best we have right now." And a parliamentarian from the area told us that support for the guerrillas has increased from zero to 40 percent in his province because of the strong-arm tactics of the Turkish army and the government. "The people don’t want a separate Kurdistan," this politician assured us, "they want freedom."

The human rights situation in Turkey remains in a state of flux, but there are still good reasons for optimism. A number of important steps have already been taken by the government to improve the situation and a verbal commitment to human rights and democracy has been publicly made by most of the major political forces in the country. Despite its defensive posture with regard to the most recent Helsinki Watch fact-finding mission, Turkey has proved to be responsive to international criticisms of its human rights practices; it is therefore important that Western governments and international human rights organizations continue to keep up the pressure for change.

Most important of all is the will of the Turkish people themselves: during successive trips to Turkey, we have become increasingly impressed by their dedication and their strong desire for independence and democracy. This provides a basis for our continued hope that Turkey will ultimately achieve a government that respects human rights in its actions as well as in its words and provides guarantees for their protection.

Jeri Laber
Lois Whitman

December 1987

I. Legal Safeguards

Previous Helsinki Watch reports have described Turkey’s repressive Constitution, passed in 1982, and a number of restrictive laws that severely hamper freedom and human rights in Turkey. Since the last Helsinki Watch fact-finding mission in December 1985, however, martial law has gradually been ended in all of Turkey’s 67 provinces, the last four, Hakkari, Mar din, Siirt and Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey in July 1987. Nevertheless, a state of emergency still exists in nine provinces under which individual liberties can be sharply curtailed. In addition, in July 1987, a special governor was appointed to oversee the eight eastern provinces—Diyarbakir, Mardin, Tunceli, Hakkari, Siirt, Van, Bingol and Elazig—where Kurdish guerrillas have been active, and the governor has been given extra powers to bring the area under control.

In addition to the ending of martial law, there have been a few constructive legal changes. A law for reduction of sentences was passed in March 1986 and resulted in the release of 31,000 prisoners, according to the European Commission on Human Rights (see Political Prisoners'). In April 1987 the Parliament abolished the law on internal exile, a law which permitted the courts to impose a sentence of internal exile to follow the completion of a prison sentence.

In January 1987, the Turkish government recognized the right of individual petition to the European Commission of Human Rights. Unfortunately, however, the government has qualified its recognition in a number of ways, including stating that the "notion of a ‘democratic society5 in ... the [European] Convention [on Human Rights] must be understood in conformity with the principles laid down in the Turkish Constitution and in particular its Preamble and its Article 13." The Preamble and Article 13 set forth a number of restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms of the Turkish people. The Preamble says, for example:


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