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Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation in Turkey continued to deteriorate in 1994, in large part due to the government's heavy-handed response to an escalation of the conflict in southeastern Turkey. The government restricted freedom of expression and association, especially of groups voicing opposition to government policy in the southeast or toward Turkey's large Kurdish minority. Political freedom also was limited. In March 1994, the Turkish parliament lifted the parliamentary immunity of eight deputies, six of whom were deputies from the Kurdish-based Democracy Party (DEP). In June, Turkey's Constitutional Court banned the Democracy Party and stripped immunity from the remainder of its deputies, though a new Kurdish-based party, the Peoples' Democracy Party (HADEP), was formed in its place. Eventually eight parliamentarians whose immunity had been removed, seven from DEP and one independent, were charged with treason and separatism, allegedly for collaboration with the banned PKK, a violent guerrilla group. Torture in pre-trial police detention, death-squad style assassinations with alleged links to security forces, and violent police house raids in which alleged suspects are killed all continued in 1994.

The Turkish government's ten-year battle with the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] reached new heights of violence in 1994. Of the 13,000 civilians and soldiers estimated to have been killed between 1984 and 1994, half died in the past two years. Both security forces and the PKK continued to violate basic human rights of the civilian population in the southeast, with police targeting those suspected of collaborating with the PKK, and the PKK in turn striking at those whom it considered state supporters, such as teachers, civil servants, and village guards.

As in 1993, security forces in southeastern Turkey increasingly conducted intensive, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns to eliminate the PKK's logistical base of support. Such operations resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced Kurdish villagers in 1993-1994. [The total number of civilians displaced from the southeast during the decade of the conflict was estimated at a staggering two million.] Security forces often burned down the homes and evicted people from villages that refused to enter the village guard system. The village guard system was instituted in late 1985 in an attempt to arm villagers, enabling them to defend themselves against PKK pressure. Village guards, however, have been implicated in numerous human rights abuses, and in turn the PKK has targeted them and their families. Arbitrary detention and torture often accompanied security forces' raids on villages. Former Chief of Turkish General Staff Dogan Gures has termed this the "go hungry and surrender strategy," while the state minister for Human Rights, Azimet Koyluoglu, referred to it as "state terrorism".

The PKK, on the other hand, brutally punished any cooperation with the state. At its March 1994 Third National Conference, PKK leadership declared that, "all economic, political, military, social and cultural organizations, institutions, formations_and those who serve them_have become targets." The PKK interfered with local elections in March 1994 and vowed to kill candidates in December 4 by-elections. Attacks were often launched against villages that had entered the village guard system. During such raids, PKK members often killed both guards and their families. During a raid on January 22, 1994, against two villages in Mardin province, the PKK killed four village guards, six children, and nine women. The PKK routinely committed such abuses as summary execution, hostage-taking, indiscriminate shooting, bombings, and the destruction of civilian property in an effort to force the population to sever contact with state authorities or officials. Teachers were a prime target: in September-October 1994 the group murdered fourteen educators. Bombs were often placed in tourist areas, and travelers to the southeast were sometimes kidnapped by the PKK.

Freedom of expression suffered greatly in 1994. Intended to replace articles of the penal code outlawing communism, Kurdish separatism, and fundamentalism, the 1991 Anti-Terror Law especially Article 8 prohibiting "separatist propaganda" was widely applied to punish debate and expression concerning Turkey's Kurdish minority and the war in the southeast. Article 8 forbade all forms of expression, "regardless of method, intention, and ideas," that would damage the "indivisible unity" of the Turkish state. Some estimated that half of the cases in State Security Courts (DGM) were charged under Article 8. Despite some government attempts to amend the law to make it less restrictive, no changes have been made as of this writing.

In May 1994 the Turkish government introduced a democratization package that among other things would have amended the restrictive 1982 constitution to allow political participation by labor unions, academics, and students, but as of November the measure had still not been passed by the Turkish parliament.

While the mainstream press in Turkey was not greatly affected by Article 8 or other press restrictions during the year under review here, numerous intellectuals, journalists, and writers were jailed and the publications for which they wrote banned under its provisions or under other restrictive legislation. In December 1993, police raided the Istanbul headquarters of the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda) and arrested thirteen editors and writers. The government charged that weapons, ammunition, and identification cards from dead Turkish soldiers were found in the building. In April 1994, Ozgur Gundem was closed down by the government for publishing "separatist propaganda" and later reopened under a new corporation and with a new name, Ozgur Ulke (Free Country). In June 1994, the thirteen Ozgur Gundem staffers arrested in December were put on trial, either for alleged PKK membership or for aiding the PKK. In June 1994, Dr. Haluk Gerger, founder of the Turkish Human Rights Association, was imprisoned for fifteen months under Article 8; in September, another three years were added to his sentence for refusing to pay a fine equal to roughly U.S. $295. In July, Recep Marasli was arrested on charges of "separatist propaganda" for a televised speech he gave in 1993 advocating broader Kurdish rights. Small leftist or pro-Kurdish journals, such as Emegin Bayragi (Worker's Banner), Alinteri, Kizil Bayrak (Red Banner), and Gercek (Real), suffered either seizure of editions, arrests of journalists and editors, or harassment.

A great blow to political freedom in Turkey came with banning of the Kurdish-based Democracy Party and the subsequent trial of seven of its parliamentary representatives and one independent. In March 1994 eight parliamentarians, six from Democracy Party, one independent, and one from the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi or RP), were stripped of their parliamentary immunity. Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Turk, Orhan Dogan, Sirri Sakik, and Leyla Zana of the Democracy Party, and independent Mahmut Alinak were charged under Article 125 of the Turkish penal code for treason, a crime that carries the death penalty. In July 1994, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the Democracy Party, and consequently all remaining members lost their immunity. Some fled abroad, while an additional two, Selim Sadak and Sedat Yurttas, were arrested and charged with treason. The trials of the seven DEP parliamentarians and independent Mahmut Alinak continued in Ankara's State Security Court at this writing.

While the decision to lift the immunity of the parliamentarians came from the Turkish parliament, most observers believe the action was motivated by then-Chief of the Turkish General Staff Dogan Gures, who complained that "terrorists" were sitting in parliament, and thus constitutes punishment for speech, rather than for any action committed. None of the deputies was charged with acts of violence or terrorism, rather they seemed to have been punished for speeches they had made abroad or at DEP gatherings, in parliament or for interviews they gave. Only one of the deputies, Orhan Dogan, was charged for an action he allegedly took: giving shelter to five PKK members and helping one of them obtain medical attention.

On September 20, 1994, the Turkish government announced that by-elections would be held on December 4, to fill twenty-two seats left vacant by the banning of the Democracy Party and by the deaths or resignations of other parliamentarians. At the time of this writing, the by-elections were tentatively rescheduled for December 18. According to the government's decision, all former DEP deputies including those on trial would be allowed to stand for election and, if victorious, could regain parliamentary immunity and the charges against would be dropped.

Conditions for electioneering for either HADEP or former DEP deputies would be limited, however, both by government harassment and death-squad assassinations of HADEP workers, and by the fact that large numbers of their likely supporters in the southeast had either migrated or been forcibly displaced from their rural homes by fighting and were no longer registered to vote. On October 14, Turkey's Supreme Electoral Board refused to update voter rolls to allow migrants to vote. On November 3, citing "negative and anti-democratic conditions," HADEP decided not to participate in by-elections. Repression directed against HADEP also played a factor, with reports that phones were bugged and organizers followed, often detained, and even killed. On October 3, 1994, two HADEP members, Rebih Cabuk and Sefer Cef, were assassinated in the town of Yuregir, Adana province, and a companion seriously wounded. Five days earlier, in the same town, one of HADEP's executive members, Salih Sabuttekin, was gunned down. Finally, on November 16, the Turkish Constitutional Court ordered voting rolls to be updated, and on November 17, Nihat Yauuz, head of the Supreme Electoral Board, cancelled the elections.

Such death squad-style assassinations and suspicious disappearances have plagued Turkey the past few years, especially in the southeast, increasing to new levels in 1994. Either the victim was killed by unidentified assailants with a single shot to the head, or he was detained by security forces, who then alleged that the individual detained earlier was released and was no longer in custody. Victims included suspected PKK sympathizers, HADEP and DEP organizers, journalists especially of pro-Kurdish publications, and trade union activists. Sometimes the victim's body was discovered days later by the side of the road, or he simply disappeared. The assassins were suspected of having unofficial links with security forces. Often the police simply did not investigate the crime seriously.

In June 1994, however, thirty-five members of the Menzil faction of Hizbollah were charged with twenty-five death squad-style executions, and a month later thirteen members of the Ilim faction of Hizbollah, a group opposed to Menzil, were charged by authorities with fourteen such killings. Many believe the charges stem from killings the two factions carried out against each other.

Torture and suspicious death in pre-trial detention and house raids in which deadly force is used continued in 1994. "Falaka" (beatings on the soles of feet), the application of electric shock, and beatings with truncheons in police lockup were widespread abuses. According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation's File of Torture (Iskence Dosyasi), fourteen people died under suspicious circumstances in pre-trial detention in the first eight months of 1994, and 387 individuals were tortured in the first seven months of the year including 117 females and sixteen children. There were also a reported twelve rapes in detention in 1994. House raids, especially against violent, extreme leftist groups like Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left), often result in the deaths of the house's occupants even though no return fire was reported.

For their part, violent leftist groups like Dev Sol continued their activities in Turkey in 1994, targeting military and security members, judges and prosecutors, and government officials, including those retired. On September 29, 1994, Dev-Sol militants, for example, assassinated former Justice Minister Mehmet Topac.

The Right to Monitor

In Turkey, the main monitoring group is the Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernigi, or IHD), a decentralized, membership-based group with forty branches. The Human Rights Foundation, (Insan Haklari Vakfi, or IHV), set up by the Human Rights Association but now independent, runs a human rights documentation center and publishes a yearly journal, a daily news summary, as well as thematic monographs. Both organizations operate legally.

While the IHV operated largely free of government interference, in October the Ankara State Security Court confiscated the IHV publication File of Torture and considered bringing charges under Article 8 against the author of the work and the chair of the IHV. In 1994, many of the human rights associations, especially those in the southeast, faced government repression and threats from right-wing groups. In the past two-and-one-half years, ten association officials or members have been killed, three of whom died in 1994. Branches of the association were often raided, with documents seized and members detained and reportedly tortured. On May 1, for example, police raided the Iskenderun association and briefly detained its chair, Sadullah Caglar.

In several instances, the associations were closed down for a period of time. In September, moreover, the Adana Human Rights Association was ordered closed indefinitely. According to Akin Birdal, chair of the Turkish Human Rights Association, many of the associations in southeastern Turkey, especially those in Hakkari, Siirt, Agri, Mardin, Sirnak, Tunceli, and Batman, were no longer able to operate normally because of severe harassment and repression. On September 22, chair of the Tunceli Human Rights Association, Ekber Kaya, was detained by police.

Often human rights association members were harassed for their publications. In July, Kutahya branch President Seydi Bayram was sentenced to twenty months in prison for press statements he made in 1993, and in October, a trial was launched against the executive leadership of the human rights association for a book it had published, A Section from the Burnt Down Villages, (Yakilan Koylerden Bir Kesit). Both cases were brought under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law.

A drastic decrease in access to southeastern Turkey for both journalists and foreign human rights monitors complicated human rights monitors. While travel was allowed to Diyarbakir, attempts to enter the countryside were either strictly monitored or blocked, often with a short detention resulting. The government usually justified such actions by stating the need to protect the individuals in question from the PKK. Toward the end of 1994, the Foreign Ministry instituted stricter controls on entry into Northern Iraq: official humanitarian organizations and international bodies would be allowed in, while journalists and nongovernmental groups would face a strict application process. In October, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher was refused a Turkish entry visa on grounds of his alleged contacts with the PKK, a charge the London-based group completely denied.

U.S. Policy

In 1994, the Clinton administration consistently raised human rights issues with the Turkish government, a dialogue underscored through two high-profile trips by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor John Shattuck and one by former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Steven Oxman.

The administration advised Turkey that it must not sacrifice human rights in its legitimate fight against the PKK. In March 1994, Oxman said he favored "civil and social" solutions to the conflict in the southeast between security forces and the PKK. During an October 25, press conference in Ankara, Shattuck stated that human rights and democracy were "very much" the focal point of Turkish-U.S. relations. Shattuck warned, "The United States has laws that make very clear that the use of military assistance to violate human rights of any individuals or civilians is particularly prohibited....That has been made very clear to the Turkish officials." Shattuck reportedly told Turks that they stood to lose "millions" in military aid if the human rights situation did not improve. Turkish Foreign Minister Soysal, however, rejected such pressure and stated that Turkey would diversify its arms procurement.

The Clinton administration had hitherto been reluctant to condition U.S. military aid to Turkey on human rights performance. The "millions" Shattuck mentioned refered to the 10 percent of U.S. military assistance to Turkey for fiscal year 1995 that Congress had withheld pending an administration report on Turkey's human rights practices and Cyprus negotiations. In fiscal year 1994, Turkey received $405 million in military credits at an interest rate of 5 percent and $120 million in Economic Support Funds. For fiscal year 1995, the administration proposed giving Turkey $450 million in military credits, but Congress reduced this to $364.5 million and then withheld 10 percent of it as mentioned. Turkey remained the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt.

Surplus U.S. weapons are still being delivered to Turkey, and according to the Congressional Research Service, the agreements under which they are transferred to Turkey allow their use for internal security purposes. In 1993, Turkey received from the U.S. main battle tanks, howitzers, armored personnel carriers, attack helicopters, and anti-ship missiles. In 1994, Turkey purchased an estimated $1.8 billion in weapons from the U.S. and plans to acquire $1.3 billion in weapons in 1995, making it the second largest purchaser of U.S. weapons during both years.

The executive branch's policy of supplying Turkey with extensive military equipment, much of which might be used in a counterinsurgency campaign in southeastern Turkey marked by human rights abuses, undermined the administration's welcome policy of increased candor about rights abuses. In 1994 this new candor was demonstrated by the Shattuck visits and by excellent human rights reporting in the section on Turkey in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practice for 1993.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki kept pressure on Turkish government officials directly and also pressed the U.S. government, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the European Union to use their influence to bring about human rights improvements in Turkey. We focused on three issues: the war in the southeast and its consequences; the banning of the Kurdish-based Democracy Party; and PKK violations of the laws of war. In April 1994, a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki mission went to Turkey to investigate the stripping of parliamentary immunity and jailing of parliamentarians. We met with government officials, DEP members and parliamentarians, politicians, and human rights activists. The Turkish government, however, refused our request to meet with the jailed deputies. In August and September 1994, another Human Rights Watch/Helsinki mission to Turkey investigated the forced displacement of civilians by government security forces. During that mission Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also wanted to investigate PKK violations in southeastern Turkey: although the Turkish Foreign Ministry encouraged the idea, the Emergency Rule Governor's Office in Diyarbakir did not allow the mission to proceed.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki publications for 1994 included Turkey: 21 Deaths in Detention and Turkey: Forced Displacement of Ethnic Kurds From Southeastern Turkey, based on our August-September 1994 mission. The Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project released State Control of Women's Virginity in Turkey, based on a 1993 mission. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also regularly published articles and issued letters and press releases condemning abuses by the Turkish government and the PKK.

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