EU Should Insist on Reforms to Counter Persisting Inequality and Abuses
May 22, 2008
Democracy means defending all people’s basic rights against the dictatorship of custom and the tyranny of hate.
Scott Long director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program

Turkey should urgently change law and policy to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from extensive harassment and brutality on the streets, in homes, and in state-run institutions, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch also called on the European Union to make Turkey’s membership aspirations contingent on ending endemic abuses and guaranteeing equal rights and protection for LGBT people.

The 123-page report, “‘We Need a Law for Liberation’: Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights in a Changing Turkey,” documents a long and continuing history of violence and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Human Rights Watch conducted more than 70 interviews over a three-year period, documenting how gay men and transgender people face beatings, robberies, police harassment, and the threat of murder. The interviews also exposed the physical and psychological violence lesbian and bisexual women and girls confront within their families. Human Rights Watch found that, in most cases, the response by the authorities is inadequate if not nonexistent.

“Democracy means defending all people’s basic rights against the dictatorship of custom and the tyranny of hate,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Where lives are at stake, Turkey needs to take concrete action and pass comprehensive legislation to protect them.”

In recent years, Turkish authorities have repeatedly harassed human rights defenders and civil society groups working on issues of gender and sexuality. Most recently, on April 7, 2008, police raided the offices of Lambda Istanbul, a nongovernmental organization that has advocated for LGBT people’s rights for over 10 years. The police justified the incursion by claiming the organization “encourages” and “facilitates” prostitution. The Istanbul Governor’s Office has also filed a lawsuit trying to close down Lambda, arguing its name and objectives are “against the law and morality.” Lambda will once again have to defend its right to exist before the Beyoðlu 3rd Civil Court of First Instance on May 29, 2008.

The report examines a wide range of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Several transgender people told Human Rights Watch how police tortured and raped them. One gay man recounted how another man stabbed him 17 times in an attempted murder that still remains unsolved. A lesbian couple described how their parents used violence to try to separate them; when they turned to a prosecutor for help, he refused, questioning them instead about their sex life. Human Rights Watch also found that, in a flagrant violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Turkish military continues to bar gay men from serving in its forces. At the same time, Turkey withholds any recognition of conscientious objection to military service. Some objectors must instead identify themselves as “sick” – and are forced to undergo humiliating and degrading examinations to “prove” their homosexuality.

The report acknowledges that there have been some positive changes in Turkish law and policy as the country attempts to join the European Union. However, it also calls on the EU to insist on respect for LGBT people’s basic rights as a barometer of Turkey’s human rights progress.

Turkish law offers no express protections for LGBT people’s universal human rights. In 2005, Turkey reviewed some of its laws to bar discrimination, a move meant to show Turkey’s commitment to European Union standards. However, Turkey has yet to adopt a comprehensive antidiscrimination law that conforms to EU standards.

“In the complex path toward European Union accession, this report points to an area where little or nothing has changed,” said Long. “The EU must fully incorporate issues of sexual orientation and gender identity when considering Turkey’s application for membership.”