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Turkey: Simple Steps to Root out Torture

Increased Police Supervision Could Deliver Rapid Results

Inadequate supervision of police officers allows torture and ill-treatment to continue in Turkey despite the country’s introduction of comprehensive legal safeguards, Human Rights Watch said today in a briefing paper.

“The government’s declaration of ‘zero tolerance’ for torture was an important step in the right direction, but the policy won’t implement itself,” said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “Simple measures like visits by independent monitors are needed to open up police stations to public scrutiny. These steps could be put into practice within days, not years.”

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper analyzes Turkey’s current record on torture and ill-treatment in police custody. Since the introduction of the improved safeguards in the past five years, incidents of torture and ill-treatment in police custody have decreased considerably. Yet torture remains common because some police officers ignore the new rules.

The briefing paper outlines a series of simple recommendations to the Turkish government to ensure full compliance with the safeguards. The justice and interior ministries could put these measures into practice within days and improve compliance within weeks.

Legal reforms enacted since Turkey was recognized as an EU candidate in 1999 give all detainees in Turkey the formal right to a lawyer, which is the best safeguard against abuse. But many victims report that police deny them access to counsel. In the absence of comprehensive supervision, police sometimes beat, threaten and insult detainees. A smaller number report being blindfolded, stripped naked and hosed with water or subjected to electric shocks during interrogation in some police stations.

This year alone, scores of citizens have complained of torture to prosecutors and to the government human rights body, while hundreds of other victims have reported abuses to the local human rights association or independent medical treatment centers.

Turkey’s human rights performance is under particular scrutiny at present. On October 6 the European Commission will publish its report on Turkey’s progress toward meeting the European Union’s criteria for membership, including key human rights benchmarks. On the basis of this report, the European Council in December will decide whether Turkey’s candidacy should advance to negotiations for membership.

Turkey’s internal monitoring systems currently do not make their findings public, which makes it difficult to establish whether the monitoring is really being done and whether it is sufficiently probing. Apart from occasional visits by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, there is no independent monitoring. Although this committee is able to visit only a handful of police stations each year, it continues to uncover slack practices and ill-treatment.

Human Rights Watch’s recommendations to the Turkish government reflect the guidance of the U.N. Committee against Torture and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Key suggestions include:

  • Make public the findings and methods of investigations of police station that are carried out by prosecutors and provincial governors.
  • Encourage impromptu visits to police stations by independent monitors from medical and bar associations through their participation in the existing system of local human rights boards.
  • Provide a ministry-level response from Ankara to every substantial torture allegation reported to the government and nongovernmental organizations, establish whether the police unit in question has been implementing the relevant laws, regulations and advisory circulars, and take remedial action.

“Improving supervision of police stations is a win-win proposition for Turkey,” Cartner said. “Proper monitoring deters torture, so detainees will benefit. Ankara will gain by showing the European Union that it is prepared to do whatever it takes to eradicate this abuse.”

Last year, the European Commission’s 2003 assessment of progress in combating torture concluded that: “While implementation has led to some concrete results, the situation is uneven and torture cases persist.”

In the first four months of this year, the Human Rights Directorate of the Prime Minister’s Office recorded 50 complaints of torture and ill-treatment in police custody. The Turkish Human Rights Association reported 692 incidents of torture and ill-treatment by police in the first six months of the year. From January to August, 597 people applied to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation for medical attention for torture, ill-treatment as well as illness arising from prison conditions.

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