Report on Visit of International Human Rights Delegation
to Ankara and Istanbul

between 16 and 20 January 2005

 

A number of lawyers who were present at the public hearings by the European Court of Human Rights at Strassbourg in June 2004 in the matter of Abdullah Ocalan v the Republic of Turkey decided to form a delegation to travel to Turkey.

 

International media reports and numerous complaints by Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers have made the public acutely aware that although his case is still ongoing before the European Court of Human Rights, the increased severity of the conditions under which he is being held and the blocking of visits by members of his family and his lawyers have not changed. So the aim of the trip was to visit  Abdullah Ocalan in his prison on the island of Imrali, in order  that we could gain an impression of the conditions of his detention for ourselves. But our application to visit him was refused on “security grounds” by the Turkish Justice Minister. The latter was also unwilling to meet us, citing “lack of time” as the reason.

 

The Kurdish question is intimately connected with both Ocalan’s detention situation and with the pending decision of the European Court of Human Rights. A solution to the Kurdish problem should occupy a central place in the upcoming negotiations over Turkey’s accession to the EU. So the second aim of the delegation was to ascertain what sort of political solution the present government is considering and preparing in order to protect and guarantee the constitutional and internationally recognised human rights of the Kurdish population living on Turkish territory.

 

The members of the delegation were:

·        Essa Moosa, South African High Court judge

·        Jacobens Johannen Moses, lawyer, member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, South Africa

·        Rainer Ahues, lawyer, member of the Republican Lawyers’ Association, Germany

·        Dr Rolf Gössner, lawyer, President of the German Section of the International League for Human Rights

·        Professor Norman Paech, University Lecturer, member of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights and the Union of Democratic Lawyers in the Federal Republic of Germany

·        Heide Schneider-Sonnemann, lawyer

The delegation conducted a series of pre-arranged discussions with parties, organisations and associations. Apart from the Ministry of Justice, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was the only organisation with whom no appointment could be made. Summaries of the discussions with the rest of the institutions and organisations are attached in the order in which they took place. The discussions took place

·        In Ankara with: the AK-Parti (party of government), the European Commission of the Turkish Parliament, the IHD (Human Rights Association), the Turkish Lawyers’ Association, Mazlum-Der (human rights organisation) and DEHAP (pro-Kurdish party);

·        In Istanbul with: IHD (Human Rights Association), GÖC-Der (Organisation of People subjected to Forced Migration), YAKAY-Der, (Association of Relatives of the Disappeared), TUAD ( Association of Prisoners’ Families), and TOHAV (Foundation for Social and Legal Studies), and Freedom Group.

 

Summary and Demands

 

1. All our discussions took place in a very frank and open atmosphere. This was particularly true of the discussions we had with representatives of official institutions and ones close to the government. But it became clear from our discussions with numerous human rights organisations and from various reports in the media, that the official picture given of the problems was almost always glossier than the truth, when not totally untrue, and certainly not very close to reality.

 

In the last few years in the context of the EU accession process Turkey has in fact made considerable efforts towards democratic transformation and reform. This should absolutely be viewed as positive, but in all the discussions we had, we encountered the problem of a great discrepancy between the legal reforms and their being put into practice. The people we talked to from human rights organisations were taking it as read that the way of thinking within the Turkish government and the state apparatus has still not really changed in any fundamental way. The reforms that have been brought in have been carried out half-heartedly, and have certainly not resulted in any really substantial changes on the ground.

 

2. The refusal of permission to us to visit Abdullah Ocalan on “ security grounds” was caused above all by the fact that the military and not the Ministry of Justice controls the prison in Imrali. After our trip, Abdullah Ocalan, who had demanded to be able to see independent doctors, was told that he would be seen by a psychologist. As he was sentenced to death under section 125 of the Turkish Penal Code for having committed terrorist acts, it is possible for him to be held in isolation for up to nine years under after the commutation of his death penalty into life imprisonment under harsh conditions according to Article 1 Part B of Law 4771 of 3.08.02. There is no chance of early release on licence; according to the law, the term of life imprisonment will only end with death.

 

The people with whom we held official discussions were seemed quite unimpressed by the complaints of relatives and lawyers about repeated blocking of attempts to make visits. They mentioned the conditions of detention in the context of international law, while we on the other hand see them as an inadmissible form of imprisonment in isolation. Imprisonment in isolation contradicts universal human rights, which is why such measures should not be taken. Isolation is a method suited for breaking the personality and will of political prisoners. This is why this method is categorised as “white torture”.

 

The Anti-Torture Committee of the European Council has already demanded the lifting of his imprisonment in isolation and a measurable improvement of his conditions of detention. But neither Turkey nor the European Council have so far followed the recommendations of the Committee. In terms of the more severe conditions of his imprisonment in isolation and the blocking of visits by members of his family and lawyers, nothing has changed. At the end of 2004 the lawyers’ office defending Ocalan was searched and all the documents in it confiscated, which has restricted the ability of his legal representatives to defend the rights of their client.

 

In our view the case of Ocalan is pre-eminently a political case of a high order. In a change from the previous state of affairs, his conditions of detention must be made a central subject of negotiation during the EU accession negotiations. The Ocalan case is an index of the credibility of Turkey’s development on the human rights front.

 

 

3. The people we spoke to who are close to the government insisted that Mr Ocalan is a normal criminal, whose case must be kept separate from the Kurdish question. This is an example of the fact that no basic reconsideration has taken place amongst government, military or political parties on the Kurdish question. Official policy is still far from being willing to recognise the identity of the Kurds as a people with the same rights and freedoms as others. Despite various legal changes the Kurdish language for example is still in actual fact suppressed via numerous obstacles, harassment, bans and prosecutions. There are no separate Kurdish radio or TV transmitters, and the transmission of Kurdish songs is continually met with broadcasting bans. The two weekend half hour broadcasts on state television are just propaganda translated into Kurdish. Article 81 of the Law on Parties is still in force, forbidding political parties to use any other language than Turkish, whether for publishing their programme, statutes or their material, in closed sessions or at public events, etc.

 

Since Kongra-Gel announced the ending of the ceasefire, as military attacks on areas in which Kurdish people live were continuing, military clashes have escalated. Many areas of Kurdish habitation have been adversely affected by this. The infamous village guard system has not been abolished, contrary to what was announced. Pressure is being put on people returning to their villages to become village guards themselves. Only people who sign a statement saying that their houses and property were destroyed by the PKK can get compensation. The number of people going back to the villages is therefore extremely small.

 

Even if the Turkish government has made some improvements under pressure from the EU, notably in the area of legislation, we must still come to the conclusion that it has so far not contributed much to finding a solution to the Kurdish question – Kurds are still oppressed, and still being deprived of their basic rights. Instead of always falling back on military and police methods, the government needs to put together a comprehensive programme for giving equal political, socio-economic and cultural rights to the Kurdish people. As long as the government is not ready to do this, accession to the EU cannot be recommended. However we are of the opinion that it is precisely the influence of the EU during accession negotiations that can be the most influential factor for finding a peaceful and politically fair solution to the Kurdish question. We therefore demand that the EU make the Kurdish question a central element of the negotiations.

 

4. Turkey has already in numerous cases been the subject of adverse judgments of serious human rights violations by the European Court of Human Rights, especially the systematic practice of torture. In some cases Turkey has also been ordered to pay substantial compensation to the victims. Most of the judgments relate to cases dating from 1993 to 1996, when there were many cases of torture, and “extra-judicial” killings, when people disappeared and villages were destroyed. But cases of more recent date have been heard by the European Court and the majority of them end with a judgment against Turkey.

 

The EU accession negotiations were viewed by many, including human rights organisations, as a historic chance for the development of human rights in Turkey. But the people we spoke to from human rights organisations unanimously confirmed that in spite of some improvements, a bad situation with regard to human rights still persists. Restrictions of basic rights and freedoms, restrictions of freedom of expression, especially for the press and broadcasting, are still the order of the day, as are violations of the right to association and organisation, and the rights to religious freedom. Moreover oppositionists are persecuted, and torture continues as before. This finding has also been confirmed by Amnesty International.

 

 

According to the IHD (Human Rights Association),  in the first half of 2004 approximately 700 cases of torture were recorded in Turkey. (Almost 1000 were recorded in the same period of 2003). The unrecorded true figures must be considerably higher, as many victims of torture do not dare to reveal publicly what has happened to them either out of shame or out of fear of reprisals. For the second half of 2004 there are hundreds of suspected cases of torture (see IHD report attached). Certainly the number of cases is falling, but reports of more sophisticated methods of torture that leave fewer lasting traces are on the increase: electric shocks, hosing down with cold water from high pressure hoses, beatings, forcible undressing, sexual assault, mock executions, threats of rape, psychological terror, sleep deprivation and refusal of food, drink and permission to go to the toilet.

 

In view of these facts can one still speak of the systematic use of torture in Turkey? According to the Anti-Torture Committee of the UN, systematic torture takes place “ if it does not just happen at a certain time and place, but is widely used as a matter of routine and used deliberately in a large part of the country.” It seems to be the case that the Turkish state or certain state institutions no longer order or conceal torture. This is why the EU report on the state of the reforms at the end of last year comes to the conclusion that torture is no longer systematically practised in Turkey. Instead the report speaks of “many cases of torture and mistreatment still taking place”. Turkish and international human rights organisations (including IHD, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) have also pointed to a large number of cases of torture, which moreover are added to by the numbers of unofficial and thus unrecorded arrests by civil police in the second half of 2004. Given the numbers and the profile of these cases, we are definitely not talking about isolated instances of “administrative excess”.

 

We, the members of the human rights delegation, are demanding, based on our findings during our trip to Turkey:

·        The setting up of a standing European commission to monitor human rights reform in Turkey, in which both NGOs from Turkey and from EU member states will participate;

·        Regular, unannounced visits to police stations and places where detainees are held, as a preventative measure against torture and mistreatment. These visits to be carried out by representatives of independent monitoring bodies;

·        The immediate lifting of Abdullah Ocalan’s imprisonment in isolation and the cessation of all arbitrary practices which interfere with his contact with family members and his lawyers. Additionally we demand that he should be allowed to have unimpeded access to information via newspapers, magazines, radio and TV;

·        The despatch of an independent medical commission to investigate Ocalan’s health, take suitable medical  steps as quickly as possible, and to put an end to all the aspects of his prison conditions that are damaging his health. Speed is of the essence if his conditions of imprisonment are not to lead to execution by degrees;

·        An amnesty for those who participated directly or indirectly in the military clashes between Turkey and the Kurds (except for violations of international law and human rights law, capital crimes and serious crimes committed personally);

·        The release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners who have been imprisoned for non-violent political activity, for their political views or for expressing their opinions;

·        The easing of returns by Kurdish people to their homes, such as return to villages and property, and reconstruction of same, including with EU funds (since 1984, the beginning of the military conflict in Kurdistan, until 1999, 353,000 people were “evacuated” from 3,428 villages; the actual number of those who were driven out is put by NGOs at over two million);

·        Cessation of the practice of  demanding affidavits from people wishing to return to their villages stating that they were driven out of their villages by PKK “terrorists” (Background: hundreds of claims against Turkey for compensation by people who were driven out are pending in the European Court of Human Rights, involving many million Euros);

·        Prompt abolition of the “village guard system”, the  60,000 strong “militia” whose wages are paid by the state, who are frequently themselves engaged in serious criminal activity, and who frequently refuse or make very difficult the return of the rightful inhabitants to villages which they were driven out of.

 

Summary and demands are primarily those of the German participants in the delegation

 

 R Ahues, R Gössner, N Paech, H Schneider-Sonnemann

 

Bremen/Hamburg/Hanover, 20 February 2005