2003 – Turkey Human Rights Report


The year 2003 saw historical changes of the international human rights picture. The Documentation Center (DC) of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reviewed and evaluated the human rights question in Turkey for this year and compiled the results in this report. The report tries to reflect the changes in government and the legal amendments for an entry to the European Union (EU).

The occupation of Iraq
The occupation of Iraq must not only be noted as an important event in 2003. It will be an unforgotten act in history. While the pretext for the intervention did not persist the cruelty against the people in Iraq was a heavy blow against human values. With the decision to occupy Iraq US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair ignored the UN that had been founded by efforts of their predecessors Roosevelt and Churchill and UN legislation. The UN system accepts wars as a solution of disputes only in exceptional cases. Violence should only be used for defense and be limited to the time and amount that the attacker requires. In addition, the UN should approve of it.

The argument that Iraq was threatening the internal security of the USA, because it possessed weapons for mass destruction and had a connection to Al Qaeda was sufficient for the only super power in the world to intervene with some allies it had taken into the coalition against “evil”. These forces did not listen to the inspectors of the UN that had not found mass destructive weapons. The criticism of the anti-war coalition led by Germany and France was termed “aging Europe” and the millions of people who took to the streets against war, could not stop the occupation of Iraq.

The occupation of Iraq is the step into the Middle East to establish the rules of colonization again with the aim to control the energy resources of the world. The lies behind the occupation should give sufficient reason for all international organizations to ask the USA and its allies for an account of what was done.

The 12 September Coup and Democratization
The Law No. 4963 on Changing Several Laws (the 7th Adjustment Package) that entered into force on 7 August by publication in the Official Gazette changed the National Security Council (NSC) and its Secretariat. Looking briefly at what the NSC and its Secretariat that were founded one month before civilian Prime Minister Bülent Ulusu took over office from the junta on 9 November 1983 have done and how they affected the fate of Turkey since the military coup of 12 September 1980 we see:

The Secretariat was given the task to observe areas for protection and eradicate threats. The Presidency for Relations to Society was formed to work under the Secretary General (SG). This institution was given the tasks of protecting the indivisible unity of the State with its nation and country; take all necessary psychological measures to preserve the idea of unity and spread the philosophy of Atatürk; inform the Council of Ministers and relevant Ministries about the decisions of the NSC, plan psychological services and offensives, coordinate the efforts and supervise them.

One of the first things Prime Minister Turgut Özal did, when he came into office on 13 December 1983 was to approve the secret regulation on the SG of the NSC. In a way the government accepted that military rule continued and the government was only entitled to pass the relevant legislation. During more than 20 years the governments were not able to show civilian determination and hindered the democratization of Turkey.

A network of special agencies was set up in the State that left the civilian governments aside and prevented politics from getting civilized. Regardless of the programs of the political parties that came to power, once they formed the government they had to work under the directives of the NSC.
During the last 20 years the opposition was faced with political and extra-judicial killings, “disappearances”, torture, deaths in custody, internal displacement under such secret and unlawful powers. This attitude authorized the security forces to shoot without hesitation. The judiciary contributed to it with impunity of civil servants, who violated rights. The perpetrators were made “honorable heroes”, were promoted and awarded and some became political leaders. The person, who proudly announced that he had carried out 1000 secret operations as chief of police, became Minister of Justice and later Minister of the Interior. Oppositional political parties, trade unions, associations, foundations, human rights organizations and other NGOs were sealed, bombed, their activities were banned, leading members were killed, imprisoned and deprived of their political rights.

The southeastern region with a predominant and homogeny Kurdish population was ruled under emergency legislation that replaced martial law. The Law on Fighting Terrorism, the Penal Code, the Press Law, YÖK and RTÜK were used to restrict the freedom of expression, assembly and association. State security courts (SSC) used the same extraordinary rights as military courts.

Village guards, repentant militants, Hezbollah and former killers from the extreme right were frequently named in psychological operations of JITEM, political killings and smuggling of drugs and arms. The relation between State-politicians-gangs that came to light in the traffic accident in Susurluk was the basis for the organization in this period. The State provided the special arms needed for assassinations of the killers. The term “deep State” was used to explain these illegal forms of organization. During this time the actions of the “deep State” could not be controlled and the criminals could not be prosecuted.

Every step that was taken in Turkey towards more democracy provided new restrictions in an attempt to continue the status quo. Law No. 4963 restricted the competence of the NSC, but the authority for “psychological offensives” was handed over to the Ministry for the Interior. The Presidency for Relations with Society that was established at the Ministry of the Interior now has offices in all 81 provinces of the country.

In other words, even if the structure of the NSC is changed the principle attitude on bureaucracy and the whole organization of the State remains unchanged and this is the greatest handicap for Turkey.

The situation in Turkey
At the end of 2004 the candidacy of Turkey and the progress in adjusting to the principles of the EU will be reviewed. So far Turkey has passed 7 adjustment packages on legal amendments. These changes are a positive development, but in order to see how much of it has affected every-day’s life one should take a closer look at the area of human rights.

The Human Rights Advisory Council, comprised of members of official institutions as well as from NGOs, was established under the 57th Government (PM Abdullah Gül) and started to work under the 58th Government (PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan). Unfortunately, the Council was not asked for an opinion during the past period. The new statute on the work of the Council was passed on 8 December without asking the members of the Council for their opinion. Calls on deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to solve the problem remained unanswered. The fact that the Human Rights Advisory Council is not asked on steps towards more democracy and that NGOs cannot find a person in the government to turn to is an indication how honest the intentions towards more democracy are.

Trying to summarize the findings of the Documentation Center (DC) of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for the year 2003, we might say the following:
Violations of the right to life as one of the basic rights in national and international laws slightly decreased during the last year. Yet, extra-judicial executions, political killings, cases of “disappearances” continued as well as the impunity of the perpetrators.

The DC found out that at least 379 people were killed in 2003 in prisons and detention centers, in operations of the security forces, in attacks of armed groups, in civilian clashes, as a result of political killings or mine and bomb explosions.

The pressure in the prisons remained and 20 people lost their lives as a result of hunger strikes and death fast actions, illness, suicide or fights among the prisoners. One prisoner died because of medical neglect. Prisoners were subjected to ill-treatment during transfers to hospitals and courts. Two prisoners died as a result of the death fast that was started in October 2000 against the F-type prisons. Several prisoners that had temporarily been released because they are suffering from the incurable Wernicke-Korsakoff disease were re-imprisoned because of reports from the Forensic Institute that they had recovered.

Despite official statements that Turkey must get rid of the “shame of torture”, torture remained systematic and effective investigations did not start. Of the two trials against 10 police officers charged with the death in custody of the student Birtan Altınbaş in Ankara on 16 January 1991 only one concluded on 26 March 2004. Four police officers were acquitted and four officers were sentenced to 4 years, five months and 10 days’ imprisonment.
Torture and ill-treatment continued in the detention centers, even though the degree of violence decreased compared to previous years. On the other hand, incidents of kidnapping suspects instead of officially detaining them and interrogating them at deserted places increased decisively.
The DC established that 2 persons died in custody and at least 600 people, 72 of them children, were tortured in 2003. These figures are only the tip of the iceberg since many incidents are not reported to the media and NGOs.

In 2003 a total of 925 persons, 68 of them children, asked the HRFT for treatment of health problems related to torture. Of these people, who applied to the rehabilitation centers in Adana, Ankara, Diyarbakır, İstanbul and İzmir, 340 said that they had been tortured in 2003.

A number of legal changes were directed against restrictions of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Nevertheless, the persecution of dissidents continued. The DC discovered at least 774 court cases related to publications such as books, journals and newspapers. Many cases resulted in a conviction, which means imprisonment, extremely high fines and bans on publishing. The courts ordered these papers to stop publication for a total of 370 days. The High Council on Radio and TV Broadcasting (RTÜK) issued bans on broadcasting for radio and TV stations totaling 480 days (240 on radios and 240 on TV station). The DC found that 40 books had been confiscated in 2003.

The retrial of the former MPs from DEP that started in line with the judgment of the ECHR was not conducted fairly and in an independent manner. On 21 April 2004 Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak were again sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. It is now certain that they remain imprisoned until June 2005.

Subsequent governments did not take serious steps towards a solution of the Kurdish problem. The measures taken under the adjustment acts for entry to the EU remained cosmetic. Although the state of emergency was lifted political killings, torture and unlawful house raids continued in the region. The village guard system, as one of the main obstacles for a return of the people to their villages, was not removed.

Turkey’s promise to broaden the rights of minorities to use their languages resulted in discussions on the scope of changes needed. The relevant laws and the practice left the implementation to statutes and decrees, which in return resulted in the continuation of the ban on certain languages.

While the authorities talk of “democratization” and the “will of the people” it must be clear that the changes only were enacted after Turkey gained the status of a candidate for the EU at the summit of Copenhagen in 1999. The process was speeded up, when it became obvious that the report on progress at the end of 2004 will be of great importance. But even though several provisions of the Constitution were changed no fundamental revision of the 1982 Constitution (passed under the rule of 12 September) was done.

Abandoning the military-police structure of the State and changing the strategy that is based on national security can solve the problems of democracy in Turkey. The positive changes of the AKP government do not meet these criteria. Despite all talks about democracy and human rights the necessary steps for protecting the freedoms of the citizens, accepting multi-cultural society with different languages, religions and ethnicities instead of assimilation and standardization, securing an independent and impartial judiciary, preventing exploitation and fraud and installing a state of law based on human rights were not taken.

As human rights defenders, we believe that a new Constitution is needed. This period demands much effort from human rights defenders and NGOs. Cooperation and solidarity must be increased so that an organized society can contribute to democracy and human rights.