Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation in Turkey worsened considerably in 1992. Killings by security forces, in house raids and during peaceful demonstrations, increased substantially over the previous year. So did assassinations by unknown assailants in southeast Turkey, including the killing of eleven journalists-with no serious efforts by the Turkish government to investigate these murders. Torture continued unabated. Sixteen people died in suspicious circumstances while in police custody. Free expression continued to be severely restricted; writers and journalists were detained and prosecuted, and journals were banned and confiscated. Freedom of assembly and association were also sharply restricted. Government abuses of Kurdish civilians in southeast Turkey accelerated, and Kurdish ethnic identity continued to be under attack.
The coalition government that took office in late November 1991 (made up of Suleyman Demirel's True Path Party and Erdal Inonu's Social Democratic Party) made a number of promises. Among them vows to end torture; to enact significant legal reforms; to draft a new constitution and, meanwhile, to repeal certain restrictive provisions in the current constitution; to acknowledge the "Kurdish reality"; and to respect freedom of the press. None of these promises has been kept.
A legal reform bill was passed by Parliament on November 18 and ratified by President Turgut Ozal. Although the new law shortens detention periods somewhat for people suspected of ordinary crimes, it preserves possible 30-day detentions for political suspects. And the maximum detention period for ordinary criminal suspects (eight days) is far longer than detention periods that have been outlawed by the European Court of Human Rights. The new law also assures a detainee's right to meet in private with his or her lawyer during every stage of the interrogation; this right already exists under Turkish law, but is almost never observed in practice. The law also assures legal representation for those who cannot afford it-a new development-but if a defendant is found guilty, the Union of Bar Associations can ask for return of court and defense fees.
During the first days of the Demirel government, the administration took some positive steps: the notorious Eskisehir Prison was shut down; 227 people who had been deprived of their citizenship for political reasons regained it; and some films and cassettes were removed from a list of banned artistic works. Since then, one Kurdish-language paper has been allowed to be published and distributed; a Kurdish institute has been permitted to open in Istanbul (but not to hang a sign outside its office); and a policy of allowing parents freedom to choose their children's names, including Kurdish names, was adopted.
Turkey faces serious problems: extremist left-wing groups, chiefly Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left), assassinated 54 police and other officials in western Turkey in 1992, and set off bombs in crowded civilian areas as well. The Kurdish Workers Party (pkk), a separatist group that espouses the use of violence for political ends, continues to wage guerrilla warfare in the southeast, frequently in violation of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war.
But instead of attempting to capture, question and indict people suspected of illegal activity, Turkish security forces killed suspects in house raids, thus acting as investigator, judge, jury and executioner. Police routinely asserted that such deaths occurred in shoot-outs between police and "terrorists." In many cases, eyewitnesses reported that no firing came from the attacked house or apartment. Reliable reports indicated that while the occupants of raided premises were shot and killed, no police were killed or wounded during the raids. This discrepancy suggests that the killings were, in fact, summary, extra-judicial executions, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. The practice demonstrates the Demirel government's apparent abandonment of its stated commitment to a "state of law based on human rights and freedoms."
Seventy-four people were known to have been killed in house raids in 1992, as compared to 19 people shot and killed in such raids in 1991. Of the 1992 shootings, 40 alleged terrorists were killed in western Turkey-in Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Mersin-and 34 alleged pkk members were killed in southeast Turkey.
Contrary to international law and standards, Turkish police continued to shoot and kill peaceful demonstrators-more than 100 during 1992. By contrast, in 1991 ten people were killed by police using live ammunition as a method of crowd control. In March 1992, during the celebration of the Kurdish New Year, government troops opened fire and killed at least 91 demonstrators in three towns in the southeast. Nine others were killed in demonstrations in the southeast in mid-August. Peaceful demonstrators were also killed in Istanbul, Izmir, Adana, Antalya and the southeast. No one has been charged in connection with any of these deaths.
During 1992, torture continued to be routinely and systematically used during the interrogation of both political and non-political suspects. Sixteen people died in suspicious circumstances while under interrogation in police headquarters-five in western Turkey and 11 in the southeast. Police asserted that six of the 13 had committed suicide; three of the five were children, ages 13, 17 and 17. No one has been charged for any of the 16 deaths, and only two cases are being investigated.
Torture takes place in police interrogation centers. Although a 1989 decree ordered that detainees have immediate access to lawyers, such access is consistently denied in practice.
In August, Helsinki Watch interviewed 24 victims of torture in four cities in western Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Antalya. Some were Kurds, some were left-wing activists, and some were suspected of ordinary crimes. All told horrifying tales of their treatment at the hands of the police. Torture techniques included: suspension by arms or wrists, blindfolded and naked (the "Palestine hanger"), while electric shocks were applied to genitals and other sensitive body parts; falaka (beating the soles of the feet); rape and sexual abuse; severe beatings; attacks with highly pressurized water; being dragged by the hair or having hair pulled out; having one's face pushed into a septic tank; and being placed in a cell with an attack dog and repeatedly bitten. Nine of the detainees were released and never charged with a crime. Charges against others included political offenses like distributing magazines or literature; attending a leftist's funeral; writing for a left-wing or pro-Kurdish journal; occupying a university building in a protest action; taking photos at a student demonstration; hanging posters for a journal; and covering a student demonstration. None had been allowed to see a lawyer; only one had seen a doctor while in detention.
Torture is not confined to adults. In January, Helsinki Watch issued a report detailing the torture by police of nine children between the ages of 13 and 17. Some were suspected of political offenses such as distributing literature or attending a protest rally. Some were suspected of ordinary crimes. Most were released without being charged with any crime. Torture techniques used including slapping, punching, hitting with truncheons, falaka, the Palestine hanger,electric shock, and inserting a truncheon into the anus. None of the children had been allowed to see lawyers; none of the children's families was notified of their whereabouts. During 1992, Helsinki Watch continued to receive reports of the torture of children.
The pkk's guerrilla war, begun in 1984, markedly intensified during 1992. Of the approximately 5,000 deaths that have resulted in the past eight years, 2,000 occurred in 1992. Many who died were unarmed civilians, caught in the middle between the pkk and security forces, targeted for attacks by both sides.
In 1992, the military markedly stepped up its attacks and frequently killed civilians and destroyed civilian homes, in some cases bombing villages from the air. At least one city, Sirnak, was nearly obliterated by Turkish security forces in August. The Turkish government stated that the pkk had attacked Sirnak, provoking the attack, but Sirnak residents denied the claim. Homes and shops were so badly damaged and the residents so fearful that only between 2,000 and 3,000 people remain in a city that had contained 35,000. Helsinki Watch has received reports of similar destruction in other towns in the southeast.
In addition, Kurdish villagers were frequently forced by the government to choose between acting as village guards, thus making them targets of pkk attacks, and abandoning their homes and fields. The Diyarbakir Human Rights Association branch has listed 400 villages that have been abandoned in the southeast.
The pkk continued to attack and kill large numbers of village guards as well as civilians; in many cases bodies of victims were suspended from telephone poles with notes indicating they had been killed as informers.
During 1992 there was a disturbing increase in the number of suspicious deaths in southeast Turkey. More than 100 people were killed by unknown assailants; most of the victims had been leaders or in positions of responsibility in the Kurdish community, including doctors,political leaders, lawyers, teachers, human rights activists, businessmen. Eleven were journalists, all but one of whom had written for left-wing or pro-Kurdish journals, and several had written about purported connections between a "counter-guerrilla" force and Turkish security forces. Nine of the eleven were deliberately targeted for assassination, including several shot with one bullet in the back of the head. Although there were eyewitnesses to several of the murders, the Turkish government has made no serious effort to investigate the murders or to find the killers, who appear to have acted with impunity.
Kurdish ethnic identity continued to be under attack in 1992. Although the authorities repealed a law forbidding the speaking of Kurdish on the street, using Kurdish in court or in other official settings is still forbidden. Kurdish associations have been closed. Education in the Kurdish language is forbidden. Cassettes with Kurdish songs are frequently confiscated by the police. Kurds have been detained and interrogated for working with the Mesopotamia Cultural Center in Istanbul. Kurdish cannot be spoken on Turkish television, nor can advertisements for a Kurdish newspaper appear. Kurds have been detained and arrested for singing Kurdish songs at wedding ceremonies in Izmir, Adana and Gaziantep.
During 1992, scores of journalists, editors and writers were beaten, interrogated, tortured, charged, tried and sometimes convicted for what they had written, edited or published in Turkey. Most were charged under the very broad Anti-Terror Law for such offenses as "criticizing" or "insulting" the president, public officers, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or the military; printing "anti-military propaganda"; "praising an action proscribed as a crime"; "praising a terrorist organization"; or spreading "separatist propaganda."
Turkish authorities also raided editorial offices and confiscated and banned dozens of issues of small, left-wing or pro-Kurdish journals. The most frequent targets were the journals Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda), 2000'e Dogru (Towards 2000), Yeni Ulke (New Land), and Mucadele (Struggle).
Freedom of assembly continued to be restricted. During 1992, dozens of meetings, demonstrations and marches were banned, and dozens of demonstrators and marchers were prosecuted. Moreover, as noted, police used live ammunition as a method of crowd control, and shot and killed more than 100 non-violent demonstrators.
Many independent Turkish associations were harassed, restricted, raided and sometimes closed during 1992, and many of their members were detained, tortured and indicted. Some associations closed during 1992 were the Association forStruggle against High Cost of Living and Unemployment, the Association for Rights and Freedoms, the Association for a Patriotic and Democratic Culture, the Association of the Unemployed, the Patriotic Women's Association, the Art and Culture Association of Kartal, the Folklore Education Association, and the People's Houses of Karsiyaka, Adana and Bursa. The associations' members were charged with such offenses as "shouting illegal slogans," "possessing confiscated or prohibited publications," violating the Law on Associations or the Anti-Terror Law, "having links with illegal organizations," engaging in "activities incompatible with [the organization's] aims," or "carrying out illegal activities."
The Right to Monitor
The Human Rights Association (hra), a large organization with 20,000 members and 40 branches throughout Turkey, continued to operate with legal authorization, monitoring human rights developments during 1992. However, the association suffered from regular governmental abuse. Association branches were raided; the Istanbul and Bursa branches were raided several times during the year. The Adana branch has been closed by authorities. In addition, hra officers and members were detained, tortured and sometimes charged with violations of the law of associations, spreading separatist propaganda, or committing offenses such as "organizing a funeral."
One human rights monitor, Siddik Tan, an active hra board member from Batman in southeast Turkey, was murdered on June 20 by three unidentified armed attackers. Tan had been injured in an earlier attack, on July 2, 1991, by a bomb that had been placed in his car. No one has been charged with his death, and Turkish authorities have made no serious effort to find his murderers. Nor have Turkish authorities made any serious effort to find the killers of Vedat Aydin, one of the founders of the Diyarbakir hra, who was murdered in Diyarbakir on July 5, 1991.
hra officials reported that death threats against hra members were common. In May, a leaflet containing death threats against 28 people was widely circulated in southeast Turkey. All 28 were Kurds; all were either members of Parliament or had spoken out on behalf of Kurds in Turkey. One, writer and journalist Musa Anter, was murdered on September 20. Some of the 28 had investigated human rights violations against Kurds. Four were members of the hra: Yavuz Binbay, president, Van hra;
Sekvan Aytug, president, Sirnak hra; Faik Tunefan, member, Istanbul hra; and Omer Hazar, member, Istanbul hra.
One of the four, Yavuz Binbay, was beaten almost to death by security officers in southeast Turkey during the Kurdish New Year celebrations in March. He suffered six skull fractures and a crack in the orbit of his eye, as well as a series of heart attacks following the assault. On April 3, he was arrested on charges of unlawful assembly, unauthorized demonstration and spreading separatist propaganda.
Sekvan Aytug, another hra president on the death-threat list, was arrested on May 14 in Sirnak, charged with "organizing certain funeral activities." He was severely tortured during interrogation.
The Bush administration has had no positive impact on human rights in Turkey. Although the State Department continues to report behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade the Turkish government to end torture, the abuse continues at the same rate as before. In a statement to the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East reported below, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Thomas M.T. Niles acknowledged that torture has not diminished under the new government. But the State Department has made no effort to persuade Turkey to end the use of deadly force during house raids in western and southeast Turkey, to outlaw the use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators, or to investigate the murders of journalists and community leaders in the southeast. Nor has the U.S. government condemned Turkey for its armed attacks against civilians in the southeast. During the Kurdish New Year killings by security forces of at least 91 peaceful demonstrators, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler went so far as to congratulate Turkey on its "use of restraint."
The Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, has never linked human rights to foreign aid for Turkey. Nor has it explained to Congress, as required by section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, what "extraordinary circumstances" warrant provision of military and security assistance to Turkey in light of its consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.
Turkey continues to be a close and important U.S. ally. Turkey's support of the U.S.-led coalition during the Gulf War, its permission for U.S. planes based in Turkey to fly missions over northern Iraq to protect the Iraqi Kurds, and its potential influence over the Turkic republics in the former Soviet Union, all contribute to its importance as a U.S. ally. Turkey continues to be the third largest recipient of U.S. aid; for fiscal year 1992 it received grants for $578 million in military assistance and economic support funds. For fiscal year 1993, in an important departure from past assistance patterns, Turkey will receive $450 million in military assistance in the form of loans (not grants), and $125 million in economic support funds-grants. In addition, $180 million worth of excess military equipment (helicopters, aircraft, vehicles and the like) was transferred to Turkey in 1991 and 1992.
In February, after a two-hour meeting in the White House with Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, President Bush said, "Turkey is indeed a friend, a partner of the United States, and it's also a model to others, especially those newly independent republics of Central Asia." He referred to the relationship between the United States and Turkey as an "enhanced partnership." He made no mention of ongoing human rights violations in Turkey.
The U.S. continues to provide anti-terrorism training to Turkish police. During an August fact-finding mission, Helsinki Watch found that 74 police officials had been trained in the United States under the Anti-terrorism Assistance program during 1992. These officials were in charge of, or employed in, the Anti-Terror sections of police interrogation centers-the places in which political suspects are interrogated, and torture routinely takes place. In one police center, Helsinki Watch saw on the wall a U.S. Department of State certificate stating that the official in charge had been trained in the United States.
On a more positive note, the chapter on Turkey in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991 provided a picture of human rights abuses in Turkey that was more accurate than earlier reports. Issued in January 1992, the report stated that Turkey "has not succeeded in reducing the incidence of torture of persons in police custody." It also discussed several cases of torture.
Other human rights abuses described in the report included the deaths of 18 people in police custody, "the use of excessive force against noncombatants in the southeast by security forces trying to suppress terrorism," restrictions on freedom of expression, and the absence of the right of detainees to have an attorney present during interrogation.
However, the report downplayed the severity of other human rights abuses in Turkey. For example, it represented that "[t]here were no known political killings attributable to the government," in disregard of security force killings of suspects in house raids and of nonviolent demonstrators. In addition, the report stated that peaceful assemblies are permitted but may be restricted to designated cites. It failed to report that dozens of meetings, demonstrations and marches were banned in 1991, and dozens of demonstrators and marchers were detained, beaten and sometimes prosecuted. The report mentioned the use of live ammunition for crowd control only in the case of security forces' killing of demonstrators during the funeral of human rights activist Vedat Aydil. It neglected to report that three other peaceful demonstrators had been killed by security forces.
Moreover, in discussing freedom of association, the report cited the closing of branches of only one association-Ozgur Dernegi (Freedom Association). It neglected to state that dozens of other associations or their branches had been closed, including Ozgur-Der (The Association of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms); the Kadikoy, Cankaya and Kecioren branches of the People's Houses; the Construction Workers' Solidarity Association; and the Revolutionary Youth Association.
Discussing torture, the report listed common torture techniques such as the use of cold water hoses, electric shocks, beating of the genitalia, and hangingby the arms. It failed to describe other appalling forms of torture, such as rape, truncheons forced into the vagina or anus, sleep deprivation, denial of food or water, and placing a suspect in a small cell with an attack dog. The report also failed to state that children as well as adults are tortured.
In a written statement prepared for a hearing on Turkey held by the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East on September 29, Secretary Niles acknowledged that torture has not decreased:
On the issue of torture, it had previously been our impression that, reflecting the policy of the new government, the trend was in a favorable direction. Recent reports, however, indicate that allegations of torture have not diminished, and torture may have actually increased.
On free expression, Secretary Niles was more sanguine:
I have previously expressed our satisfaction that laws on thought crimes have been abolished, and are no longer a basis for arrests.
The secretary neglected to report that journalists and writers are now prosecuted for thought crimes under the broad and vague Anti-Terror Law, enacted in 1991, and that a number of journalists are currently serving prison sentences for their writings.
The State Department also glossed over persistent restrictions on Kurdish cultural rights. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on October 8 that the U.S. has
"supported the efforts the Turkish government is making to ensure the cultural and political rights of all the Turkish citizens, including those of Kurdish origin...." In referring to the Turkish government's efforts "to ensure the cultural rights of its Kurdish minority," Boucher ignored continuing restrictions on the use of Kurdish in courts, schools and official settings, and the ongoing harassment of Kurds attempting to express their ethnic identity, as described above.
The Work of Helsinki Watch
During 1992, Helsinki Watch continued its attempts to improve human rights in Turkey by focusing attention on Turkey's appalling human rights record and trying to persuade the Bush administration to pressure the Turkish government to end human rights abuses. Helsinki Watch sent three missions to Turkey during the year: one in January to meet with government officials and others and to release "Nothing Unusual": The Torture of Children in Turkey; another to southeast Turkey at the end of April to investigate killings by security forces during the Kurdish New Year celebrations; and the third to Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Antalya in August to visit police interrogation centers, to interview recent victims of torture, and to measure the new government's compliance with its pledges on human rights.
In August, Helsinki Watch met with State Department officials and Congressional committee staff members to report on the dreadful state of human rights in Turkey, and to urge an investigation of U.S. training of Turkish police under the Anti-terrorism Assistance program.
Helsinki Watch issued three major reports. The first, "Nothing Unusual": The Torture of Children in Turkey, released in January, described the routine torture of children under the age of 18. The second, Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: The Greeks of Turkey, released in March, described the harassment and abuse of the small remaining Greek community in Turkey. The third, Broken Promises: Torture and Killings Continue in Turkey. was released in December.
In addition, seven newsletters were issued: "Violence against Civilians Increasing," released in January; "Kurds Massacred: Turkish Forces Kill Scores of Peaceful Demonstrators," "Five Journalists Killed; Free Expression Restricted," and "Eleven Deaths in Detention Since February; Three were Children who 'Committed Suicide'", all released in June; "Human Rights Activist Murdered; Human Rights Association Under Attack," released in July; "Eight Journalists Killed Since February; A Ninth Critically Wounded," released in August; and "Censorship by Assassination: Eleven Journalists and one Newspaper DistributorMurdered Since February," released in December. One of the reports ("Nothing Unusual") and two newsletters were translated into Turkish and distributed in Turkey, resulting in considerable additional press attention.
Helsinki Watch published four op-ed articles in 1992 on Turkish human rights abuses: two in The Washington Post (including one reprinted in The International Herald Tribune), one in The New York Times, and one in Kathimerini, an influential Athens daily. Letters to the editor were also published in The New York Times and The Washington Post.