(New York) - The killing of Ebru Soykan, a prominent transgender human rights activist, on March 10, 2009, shows a continuing climate of violence based on gender identity that authorities should urgently take steps to combat, Human Rights Watch said today. News reports and members of a Turkish human rights group said that an assailant stabbed and killed Ebru, 28, in her home in the center of Istanbul.
Members of Lambda Istanbul, which works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual (LGBTT) people, told Human Rights Watch that in the last month Ebru had asked the Prosecutor's Office for protection from the man who had beaten her on several occasions and threatened to kill her. Lambda Istanbul was told that a few weeks ago police detained the man but released him two hours later. The same man is under police custody as the murder suspect.
"The Turkish police have a duty to respond to all credible threats of violence, whoever the victim," said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Investigating violence against LGBT people, prosecuting suspects, and passing effective legislation to ensure equality are all critical to ensuring that these murderous abuses end."
This is the second killing of a member of Lambda Istanbul in the past year. In July 2008, an unknown person shot and killed 26-year-old Ahmet Yildiz as he was leaving a café near the Bosporus. No one has been charged with this crime.
Members of Lambda Istanbul described Ebru as a leading figure in the organization, who worked to end police harassment and ill treatment of transgender people in Taksim, a central area in Istanbul. The LGBTT Platform for Human Rights, a coalition of several LGBTT organizations in Turkey, held a vigil on March 12, 2009 in front of Ebru's home.
In 2007, Lambda Istanbul twice submitted a file of 146 cases they had documented to the Istanbul Provincial Human Rights Board, many dealing with reports of violence against transgender people, including cases of violence by the police. Several of these cases had been reported to the police. The then-deputy governor of Istanbul told Lambda Istanbul that the governor's office had found no records of these allegations and complaints in the police districts involved.
"Until an anti-discrimination law is in place to protect the LGBT community and the police take seriously their duty to protect everyone, these murders will continue," said Cano Nieto. "Turkey cannot continue to ignore its obligations when lives are at stake."
The European Court of Human Rights has held that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life, requires police forces to take reasonable steps to protect a person when they receive credible information that there is a risk to that person's life.
A May 2008 Human Rights Watch report on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Turkey, "We Need a Law for Liberation," documents the long and continuing history of violence and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity there. A subsequent December 2008 report specifically documents police violence in the country and features cases of harassment and abuses against transgender people in Istanbul.
In these reports, Human Rights Watch called on Turkey to pass legislation protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.