Human Rights Developments
A caretaker government and two subsequent coalition governments beset by bitter internal conflict were unable to produce any substantive democratization improvements or human rights legislation in 1996, though individual government ministers did speak out on human rights issues, and some positive actions were taken. A vocal, mostly free press, a small, but active civil society, and hotly-contested elections coexist with persistent violations, such as disappearances in detention or under suspicious circumstances, extrajudicial killings, restrictions on peaceful free expression, torture, forced evacuations, and death in custody. Illegal armed opposition groups, such as the Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK) and various radical left-and right-wing organizations, also continued to commit abuses such as extra-judicial killings. As in 1995, the main issue affecting human rights was the armed conflict between government security forces and the PKK in southeastern Turkey. A state of emergency is in effect in ten provinces there.
After the fall of the DYP/CHP coalition government of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller in September 1995, new parliamentary elections were held on December 24, 1995. They, however, brought no conclusive results: the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) received a plurality of 21 percent. Efforts to form governments proved lengthy and difficult. The short-lived center-right ANAP/DYP minority coalition government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz (ANAP) made promises about ending the state of emergency in southeastern Turkey and liberalizing policies concerning the linguistic and cultural rights of Turkey=s ethnic Kurds. During a March 21 trip to eastern Turkey for the Newruz new year holiday shortly after the formation of his government, Yilmaz announced a new approach to the conflict in southeastern Turkey, promising, Aa new, more human, more realistic and courageous approach to the Kurdish problem including, in particular, the lifting of the ban on the teaching of the Kurdish language.@ Ultimately, his government was able to accomplish little and collapsed in early June. Regrettably, it abolished the office of State Minister for Human Rights, which in the past two years was a strong proponent of human rights.
In July, Necmettin Erbakan (RP) become Turkey=s first Islamist prime minister since the founding of the republic in 1923. His party, in an awkward coalition with former Prime Minister Ciller=s True Path Party (DYP), made general reform promises but also was unable to accomplish much. While in opposition, Erbakan had spoken of an Islamic approach to ethnic and regional problems, in part an attempt to strengthen his party among ethnic Kurds. During his first news conference after the December 1995 elections, Erbakan promised that he would recognize a Kurdish identity: AA human being can come from any origin. It is God=s decision. We cannot discriminate.@ He also suggested allowing some form of Kurdish-language television and education.
These promises were not incorporated into the government=s coalition protocol, which stated that, AThe spiritual and psychological aspects of the fight against terror will not be neglected nor will debates be allowed that weaken our security forces conducting this struggle,@ while vaguely promising to Aremove the state of emergency having taken the necessary precautions.@ Shortly after taking office in July, however, Erbakan traveled to Bingol in southeastern Turkey, where he promised a return program for the inhabitants of more than 2,500 villages and hamlets depopulated in the conflict, mostly as the result of a government counterinsurgency campaign. A similar move by a previous government ended in failure. In a first step to end the state of emergency, which was last renewed for four months on July 31, a law was passed amending a number of laws, including one on provincial administration. This new law, however, was criticized by opposition deputies as Adisguised martial law@ as it strengthened certain police powers and made them valid for all of Turkey. In October, Erbakan stated that, AWe don=t have a Kurdish problem...We have a terrorism problem.@
Some government actions to investigate and prosecute allegations of human rights abuses were welcome and, if carried out widely, would do much to improve the situation. The DYP/CHP caretaker governmentCespecially State Minister for Human Rights Adnan EkmenCquickly charged officers implicated in the killing of the journalist Metin Goktepe. In April, a trial was launched against village guards implicated in a February 5 killing in Diyarbakir. In June, a trial was launched against ten officers charged with torturing sixteen high school students in Manisa in January. In late September, Justice Minister Kazan ordered an investigation after a prison riot in Diyarbakir took ten lives and suspended three top prison officials. In October, Foreign Minister Ciller promised to reduce detention periods.
The armed conflict in southeastern Turkey continued, along with forced village evacuations, most by security forces. The majority of human rights violationsCwhether by state actors or othersCtook place in this region. Unrest expanded west toward the rural Alevi villages of southeastern and eastern Sivas province as the PKK and other armed opposition groups who sought to move into these areas clashed with security forces. Large-scale police detentions, blockades, and harassment further exacerbated the situation. A report issued in February on the Sivas events by three Democratic Left (DSP) parliamentarians stated that, Amany of our fellow citizens have chosen to leave their villages because of this >double-sided= pressure.@ In southeastern Turkey, so-called actor unknown death squad style murders of suspected PKK members and Kurdish political activists and intellectuals continued. Many such killings are believed to be directly or indirectly linked to security forces, a fact stated in a 1995 parliamentary report but not investigated. Such killings have also been perpetrated by two feuding wings of an illegal radical Islamist group AHezbullah,@ both against each other and against targets mentioned above, though security forces have continued a crackdown on this group.
The Human Rights Watch Arms Project continued to monitor arms sales to the Turkish government and deliveries to the PKK and to highlight the abusive use of these weapons. In October, a trial began against the translator and the publisher of a Turkish-language edition of an Arms Project report on the abusive use of such weapons by both sides in the southeast.
Although banned by a wide variety of domestic laws and international treaty obligations, torture continued to be used widely as an interrogation method by police, especially by units of the Anti-Terror Section. Detainees are stripped naked and often subjected to electric shock, beatings, suspension by the limbs, squeezing of sexual organs, and high-pressure water hose. While various government officials acknowledged the use of tortureCmost recently former Justice Minister Firuz Cilingiroglu in JanuaryCand groups like the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture regularly conducted expert on-site investigations, the practice continued because prosecution of abusive police is sorely insufficient and prosecutors are able to hold certain suspects up to fifteen days without access to counsel or appearance before a magistrate, a period that can be doubled under a state of emergency.
In early January, sixteen mostly teen-aged high school students were detained in the city of Manisa on charges that they were members of or had links with Dev-Sol (DHKP-C), a radical, leftist, illegal armed opposition group. During their eleven-day detention, they were subjected to torture. A parliamentarian who represents the region, Sabri Ergul (CHP), went to the police station to get information about the youths and came upon some of the young people lying on the floor, naked and blindfolded. Medical reports confirmed the torture.
Torture and ill-treatment were a major cause of unlawful death in police custody. A case that shook all of Turkey was that of Metin Goktepe, a journalist for the leftist Istanbul daily Evrensel who was detained at noon on January 8 in Istanbul while covering a funeral of prisoners beaten to death during prison unrest. Other reporters witnessed his detention and other detainees reported speaking to him. Police detained roughly 1,000 individuals and held them in a sport center turned into a temporary holding facility. Goktepe=s body was discovered eight hours later inside the facility. An autopsy indicated that Goktepe died of internal bleeding to the brain and body due to blows.
A weekly sit-down protest in Istanbul of families of those believed to have disappeared in police custody or under suspicious circumstances focused public attention on the problem as never before. Lengthy detention periods and police flouting of regulations requiring the immediate registration of detainees and the notification of their families exacerbated the problem. One such case was that of Talat Turkoglu, a left-wing trade unionist who had been imprisoned in the past and was convicted in late March of supporting an illegal organization. After reports that he was being followed by police, Turkoglu left Edirne on April 1 for Istanbul and was not seen again. Another case is that of Abdullah Canan, brother of former CHP parliamentarian, Esat Canan, who disappeared in Hakkari province in late January after reportedly being stopped at a gendarmerie check-point. His mutilated body was discovered a month later. An inquiry commission composed of three CHP parliamentariansCincluding former Culture Minister Ercan KarakasCissued a report calling for the investigation of a gendarmerie major who had conducted a raid on Abdullah Canan=s village and then publicly threatened Mr. Canan after he opened a case against him.
Considerable free and open expression in both print and television coexisted with the punishment of free expression through restrictive laws, such as Penal Code Article 312 forbidding Aracism,@ Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law banning Aseparatist@ propaganda, and the Law to Protect Ataturk (No. 5816). While the mainstream press also suffered restrictions, the main targets were leftist and pro-Kurdish publications or publishing houses or Islamists who question the secular basis of the state. In August, the Istanbul daily Cumhuriyet reported that in the first six months of 1996, 172 years of prison time had been given to free expression cases. The leftist daily Evrensel (Istanbul) was especially hard hit, with courts ordering its closure in April and May for periods of up to twenty days.
Prison unrest and the excessive use of force in dealing with it remained a serious problem. During a riot in Umraniye prison in Istanbul in January, four inmates were reportedly beaten to death in retaliation. During unrest in the Diyarbakir E-Type Prison in September, ten prisoners died in a similar incident. In July, a hunger strike among leftist prisoners led to eleven deaths due to starvation. While part of the strike was motivated by the prisoners= refusal to be moved from preferred barracks-style prisons to ones with individual cells, many of their demandsCsuch as the desire to be close to their trial, not to be maltreated during transport, and access to proper medical careCfell clearly within Turkey=s international obligations.
There was also pressure against political parties. Forty-one top administrators of HADEP, the pro-Kurdish party that took 4.5 percent of the national vote in December 1995 and came in first or second in many southeastern provinces, were arrested in July on charges of being linked to the PKK after a June party congress at which a Turkish flag was ripped down and replaced by a PKK one. Eleven were released in September; but the trial continued. Three HADEP members were murdered execution-style in June near Kayseri. In May, proceedings were started to close the ALabor@ (AEmek@) party because its charter contained Aseparatist@ propaganda. Various judicial proceedings were also launched against the Freedom and Solidarity Party (AOzgurluk ve Dayanisma Partisi@).
Illegal armed opposition groups continued to commit serious abuses in 1996, such as extrajudicial executions. In spite of public statements to abide by Common Article 3 protecting civilians and other non-combatants, the PKK consistently and flagrantly violated it. Victims included families of village guard members, government employees such as teachers, and those perceived by the PKK as Asupporting the state.@ In March, an individual was assassinated in Adana for Acooperating with the state.@ In April, PKK leader Ocalan threatened that fifty Germans would Areturn home in coffins@ if they vacationed in Turkey. In June, family members reported that the PKK executed a village headman in Tunceli province in front of them because the man=s daughter lived with a Turkish army NCO. That same month a rocket attack on a television station in Diyarbakir killed nine, mostly woman and children. In August, after stopping a bus in Sivas, PKK members executed the tourism director of the Malatya police force and another individual. In January, the radical leftist group Dev-Sol (DHKP-C) assassinated Turkish industrialist Ozdemir Sabanci. In August, militants of the radical Islamists AIslamic Great Eastern Raiders Front@ (IBDA-C) burned down the office of a journal.
The Right to Monitor
Turkey=s active and vocal human rights monitoring groups, led by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey(HRFT), the Human Rights Association(HRA), and the Islamist-based Mazlum-Der, faced trials, detentions, and the banning of their publications throughout 1996. Amnesty International=s researcher for Turkey remained banned from entering the country, though a large A.I. delegation headed by President Pierre Sane traveled to Turkey in September.
Both the HRFT headquartered in Ankara and the Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers for torture victims it operates in Adana, Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul, faced legal harassment. The pressure against the treatment centers, which have operated openly since 1990 and which receive U.N. and E.U. funding, was a first. In late 1995 a trial was launched against nine members of the HRFT board and the former head of the Balikesir Bar Association for an article in a foundation publication, A Present to Emil Galip Sandalci. The trial ended in acquittal in May. In March, charges were filed against the head of the Adana branch of the HRFT, Mustafa Cinkilic, and a doctor who consulted at the treatment center there, for Adisobeying orders of an official@ and Anegligence in reporting a crime.@ The prosecutor charged that both men had a legal obligation to report to officials the torture cases of those who sought treatment. In September Dr. Sukran Akin of the Istanbul HRFT treatment center was charged with Aoperating an unlicensed health center@; in November, the trial ended in acquittal.
The pressure against the HRFT appeared to come from the fact that the data it gathered was widely used and quoted by news agencies and foreign embassies and governments: for example, the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has often used HRFT data.
The HRA, which has 15,000 members and operates offices in most of Turkey=s provinces, faced similar difficulties in 1996. In the areas of southeastern Turkey under emergency rule, the HRA operated formally only in Diyarbakir because of threats, detention and torture, and in the past, killings. In February, the Iskenderun HRA branch was raided and searched, and a case was opened under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law against seventeen HRA members and administrators for a bulletin issued on September 1, 1995, in connection with World Peace Day; the case ended in acquittal in October. In March, the Adana office was also raided and ordered closed for fifteen days, and a Hakkari branch board member was detained by police. In April, the Kirsehir branch was mysteriously set ablaze; seventeen individuals who protested this action were detained by police. In August, HRA Deputy Secretary Erol Anar faced charges along with his publisher under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law for his book, A History of Human Rights.
The Role of the International Community
European organizations of which Turkey is a member or an associate all played a role in human rights developments in 1996: the European Union; the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and the Council of Europe=s European Commission of Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights.
On December 13, 1995, the European Parliament ratified a Customs Union Agreement between Turkey and the European Union. The customs union is intended to reduce trade barriers and tariffs. As part of the agreement, Turkey should receive U.S.$470 million in adjustment funds between 1996 and 2000. Shortly after ratification, the parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Turkey, calling on the E.U. Commission to, Amonitor permanently human rights and democratic developments in Turkey.@ The parliament, which has veto power over the allocation of adjustment funds, also called on the commission to prepare periodic reports on human rights and democratization in Turkey.
On September 19, the European Parliament passed a resolution criticizing Turkey for doing little regarding Aimprovements promised by the then Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, in the areas of democratization and human rights...@ Consequently, it decided to block the 1997 adjustment fund payment of $66 million. Previously, these funds had been blocked due to objections from Greece. On October 11, the E.U. Commission presented its annual report on relations with Turkey since the implementation of the customs union. The report, which parliament will debate, called on Turkey to strengthen individual freedoms and liberties.
Other European bodies were also active. In July, the OSCE parliamentary assembly passed a resolution calling on Turkey to improve its human rights shortcomings and promising further OSCE activity in this area. The European Commission of Human Rights, which acts as screening mechanism for the European Court of Human Rights, continued to review cases brought by Turkish citizens. More than 800 applications from Turkey have been made to the commission since 1991. In September, the court found Turkey guilty of violating the European Convention of Human Rights concerning the destruction of an ethnic Kurdish village in southeast Turkey and ordered damages to be paid.
The United States
While U.S. officials did not abandon human rights dialogue with the Turkish government in 1996, its overall emphasis and importance fell compared with 1994 and 1995, a period highlighted by high-profile visits by Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck. The strategic value of the Turkish-American relationship was spotlighted, while human rights were downplayed. This shift can be explained by several factors: growing U.S. concern over stability in Turkey given the inability to form a government after the December 1995 elections; the January conflict with Greece over the disputed Kardak (Imia) islet in the Aegean; an unspoken official unease over the entrance of the Islamist Welfare Party into the government; and the internecine Kurdish fighting in Northern Iraq and the desire to extend Operation AProvide Comfort,@ which operates from bases in Turkey. The embassy in Ankara, however, was active in monitoring the human rights situation, including trials, and the State Department=s Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1995 was accurate and forthright.
During a speech in March, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman stated that A1996 has already been more challenging,@ but affirmed that,@the United States supports a strong security partnership based on our shared interests.@ President Clinton did not mention human rights or democratization as one of the topics of his discussion with Turkish President Demirel in official statements released after a March meeting. In response to a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki letter outlining human rights concerns in Turkey on the occasion of the meeting, President Clinton affirmed that Athe promotion of democracy and human rights serves as the cornerstone of my Administration=s foreign policy@ and regretted not having reviewed the letter before the meeting. In early July, upon the formation of the RP/DYP government of Prime Minister Erbakan, Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff traveled to Ankara to reaffirm the Turkish-American security relationship. While in the opposition, Erbakan had stressed the need to reorient away from the West and toward the Islamic world. Commenting on Tarnoff=s visit, a State Department spokesman stated that, AThe national interests of the United States in Turkey dictate that we will continue to be concerned by Turkey=s full...participation in NATO, with the fulfillment of the vision that both Turkey and the United States have had, that Turkey should be associated with Western institutions like NATO...that democracy and human rights are important.@
U.S. military loans (FMF) and economic support funds (ESF) were drastically reduced in 1996, part of a long-term trend. In March, the Clinton administration asked for $175 million in military loans and $60 million in economic support funds for Fiscal Year 1997. After various amendments were attached in the House of Representatives to ESF, Turkey rejected the funds. At the Conference Committee in September, these amendments were scrapped, and it was decided to allocate to Turkey $175 million in FMF and $22 million in ESF for FY 1997. As of this writing, the administration has still not authorized the sale of ten attack helicopters to Turkey despite reports that Prime Minister Erbakan specifically requested them. The sale is being held up because of human rights concerns raised within the administration and by a number of groups, including Human Rights Watch.