Posts Tagged Turkey
Looking at the front page at the website of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, two news items on the top feature the same word – Turkey.
On Friday of last week, a Turkish court convicted Pınar Selek, a sociologist and writer, on charges arising from an explosion at a market in Istanbul in 1998. Yes, 1998. Fifteen years ago, Turkish authorities arrested the researcher, who was conducting ongoing interviews with the Kurdish minority, tortured her to find out the names of those she had interviewed, and charged her for the explosion at the market. For 15 years, authorities have been trying to convict Selek. During that time she has been acquitted three times, but the judicial harassment continued.
Selek’s work focused on the Kurdish minority and women. And after the explosion, prosecutors claimed that Selek had something to do with a terrorist organisation that planted a bomb. But experts even disagreed if there was a bomb in the first place – many experts said it was instead a gas leak that caused the explosion. Witnesses for the prosecution withdrew testimony as well, claiming that it had been coerced under torture. The through the IRCT project on forensic evidence, experts corroborated that Selek had in fact been tortured in detention.
Today, Selek remains in Strasbourg, France, but a visit to her home country could result in an arrest and life imprisonment. The IRCT is calling for the charges to be dismissed and the harassment to end.
But use of Turkey’s extremely broad and easily abused anti-terrorism legislation, these arrests are not uncommon. Just earlier this month, police arrested 15 lawyers, all of whom belong to Progressive Lawyers Association (Cagdas Hukukçular Dernegi – ÇHD) – an extremely important non-profit organisation that provides legal assistance for victims of human rights violations, including torture.
One such case of theirs was on behalf of Engin Çeber, a human rights activist that was also arrested and tortured in detention in 2008. He died from his injuries. Only after independent forensic evidence confirmed that he had been tortured did Turkish authorities investigate the case. Three prison officials were sentenced to life; nine others were convicted and given prison terms ranging from 5 months to 12 1/2 years.
These two cases point to a long-term continuous abuse of the anti-terrorism legislation to target human rights defenders and critics of the Turkish state. In just October of law year, the UN Human Rights Committee criticized Turkey on this issue, writing in their final report that:
The Committee is concerned that several provisions of the 1991 Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 3713) are incompatible with the Covenant rights. The Committee is particularly concerned at: (a) the vagueness of the definition of a terrorist act; (b) the far-reaching restrictions imposed on the right to due process; (c) the high number of cases in which human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and even children are charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law for the free expression of their opinions and ideas, in particular in the context of non-violent discussions of the Kurdish issue. (arts. 2, 14 and 19) [DOC]
The IRCT and our partners are concerned for the safety of the lawyers that remain in custody. But further to that, what does this mean for human rights defenders in Turkey and their continuous fight against torture and other human rights violations?
Happy New Year! We have just returned from the year-end holiday. But before we look forward to 2013, let’s take a look back at 2012 and the events, successes, tragedies and changes in human rights around the world. This list is of course not exhaustive, so please feel free to add your own suggestions and story links in the comments section.
Click the first image to view in a slideshow.
A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment
The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control. However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.
A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.
The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue. The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:
“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.
The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.
The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”
The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.
In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities. Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range. He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.
In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies. Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.
The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras. As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required. In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.
The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.
Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española
Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.
We are really thrilled to congratulation Prof. Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci on winning the first International Medical Peace Prize.
She was chosen for her courageous opposition to human rights abuses and torture and commitment to justice and medicine.
Dr. Fincanci heads the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, an IRCT member centre, and was instrumental in the creation of the UN-endorsed Istanbul Protocol, the international standard for investigating and documenting claims of torture. In addition, she was among the seven authors of Atlas of Torture, a medical atlas of documenting torture, in conjunction with IRCT’s Senior Forensic Advisor Dr. Önder Özkalipci. Dr. Fincanci also sits on the IRCT Council, our governing body.
Read our full statement here.
Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will post updates on ongoing cases of torture, new opinion pieces in the media, or news stories or issues that emerge.
Over the weekend, numerous claims of torture have merged from Pakistan. Firstly, last week international think-tank International Crisis Group (ISG) released a report on the state of prisons in Pakistan, saying torture, impunity, and corruption reign in prisons, which detains more than 78,000 people. The News International Pakistan wrote, in an editorial published Sunday, that, “Inmates are regularly tortured and maltreated and there is no system of checks and balances or accountability which would allow prisoners to protest legitimately at their treatment.” There is an urgent need for reform, the editors wrote.
Over the weekend, there were further cases of torture in Pakistan. Police in Lahore were accused of torturing a 60-year-old man to death. Fiza Gilani, Goodwill Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment and daughter of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, condemned police torture of Lady Health Workers (LHW). She also affirmed that was the responsibility of the Punjab government to pay them “dues”, however, I am unsure from this article if that is referring to reparations to torture victims, an obligation under the UN Convention against Torture that Pakistan has ratified. And on Friday, a Lahore court order legal actions taken against police in the torture of Ayesha Malik, daughter of PML-Q leader Abdul Ahad Malik. A medical report was submitted to the court that day that confirmed torture from beating with fists and wooden clubs.
In Turkey, a soldier died after being in a coma for 80 days due to alleged torture from his military superiors, just days before he was set to be discharged. The perpetrators are not yet known, but an investigation is under way. The Turkish Parliament’s Human Rights Commission previously had announced plans to investigate claims of mistreatment of conscripted soldiers in the military. A fellow soldier in the same military unit had also reported abuse and torture to the Turkish parliament, which included wading through a sewer, beatings, forced lack of sleep, being forced to sit in the sun, and having hot water poured on him.
Our member centre Balay Rehabilitation Centre from the Philippines is in the news. The centre, which has a prison monitoring programme, has found 16 of 26 inmates they examined had experienced torture and 2 had post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many inmates are also dying from lack of medical attention.
Four organisations have submitted an alternative report to the United Nations on the ongoing and systematic use of torture in Sri Lanka. The report is for consideration of the UN Convention against Torture, which is set to review the situation in Sri Lanka in November. The report remarks on “the failure of the government to comply with the CAT by its failure to provide for a credible and competent investigating mechanism for the investigation of torture allegations, the government’s failure to provide protection to victims by proper legislation relating to protection to the victims and also failures relating to the Attorney General’s Department and the judicial process itself.”
Torture, arbitrary detention, drug crimes: reform of the prison system is urgently needed (Agenzia Fides)
Reforming Pakistan’s Prison System (ICG)
Pakistan: Rotting Prisons (The News International Pakistan)
State brutality: Cops accused of torturing senior to death (The Express Tribune, Pakistan)
Fiza Gilani flays police torture on LHWs (The Nation, Pakistan)
Action against cops ordered after torture on Ayesha proved (The News International Pakistan)
Soldier tortured by superiors dies after 80 days in hospital (Today’s Zaman, Istanbul)
Soldier tortured in same military prison as Kantar sought deputies’ help (Today’s Zaman, Istanbul)
Inmates in Provincial Jails in Southern Philippines Need Medical Help (AllVoices)
An alternative report to the committee against torture (Sri Lanka Guardian)