Yesterday's damning ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in İzci v Turkey has thrown the spotlight on Turkey's persistent policing problem, which sees police move in quick and heavy with violent force and tear gas to disperse peaceful demonstrators.
The case, brought by a woman injured by police during a demonstration to mark International Women's Day in 2005, is the latest in a series of European Court decisions (the Court said more than 40) finding “use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators" and a failure to show "tolerance and restraint before attempting to disperse a crowd which had neither been violent nor presented a danger to public order."
The Court ruled there had been violations of the prohibition on ill-treatment, the right to freedom of assembly, and the obligation to investigate abuses and provide a remedy.
Such police tactics have been on view to the world over the last month during the Gezi park protests, when Human Rights Watch documented repeated incidents of police using excessive force and in particular misusing tear gas, turning the canisters into life threatening projectiles. We have told the Turkish authorities that immediate reform and accountability should follow. Now, the European Court has also said “enough.” Calling the problem “systemic” and noting that there are over 130 cases with similar complaints pending before it, it has said that the Turkish government must undertake general measures to prevent repetition of these violations and accountability for the police who commit them.
A starting point for the Turkish government to respond to the court's order would be to ensure that existing laws and regulations in Turkey are implemented in practice and that circulars on policing practice issued by the Interior Minister count for more than the paper they are written on. Human Rights Watch recommended just last week to end the misuse of teargas and to press for accountability for abuses, to help change police practices and ensure all in Turkey can exercise their right to peaceful assembly and expression, without fear of unlawful police violence.
It should not take another 130 human rights court cases to redress this long standing and unacceptable state of policing.