26 June, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

In year 1984, “United Nations accepted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” and the convention became valid on 26 June 2018 after adequate number of states signed. 10 years later on 1997 UN General Council underlined the importance of the convention and declared 26 June as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The convention absolutely prohibits torture. The prohibition of torture being an absolute and universal demand and that no justified form of torture existing is accepted by all states. Turkey accepted the “Convention Against Torture” on 1998 and prohibited torture both in the constitution and criminal law. Prohibition of torture is declared both in international documents and internal law.[1]  Despite all these developments, unfortunately, torture is still being used as an inhumane punishment and intimidation towards the public by many states around the world. During the recent years an acceleration of torture methods are observed not only authoritarian regimes and dictatorships but also developed democracies.

The existing regime develops various methods to naturalize violence, attract public acceptance towards it and turn into a culture. Taking this into consideration, it is clear that torture is not only directed at individuals. Instead, starting with relatives and close ones of the tortured individuals, it is a concrete intimidation against the entire public. Therefor on the 21st anniversary of its declaration, 26 June International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is even more meaningful and important.

A crisis that manifests itself through any economic, cultural, religious, ethnic, “war” reference possible, as an ongoing state of emergency, is all round the world including our country. This crisis is actually the crisis of humanity.[2]

The ongoing oppressive process in our country went beyond the limitations on fundamental rights through a state of emergency, and became a period that no core rights with unconditional illimitability are respected. Although the struggle against the perpetrators of the failed coup attempt was declared as the cause of the state of emergency, the point we are at shows that decrees with the force of law disabled many citizens from their “rights to have rights” thus prevented their citizenship rights. The state of emergency became an oppression tool used against the entire public. During this malicious process that effects all segments of the public, public laborers resisting in Yuksek Street, the human rights monument under blockade, highs school students on the streets protesting the education system, the violence against rights activists in Kadikoy and Bakirkoy, the torture towards Sapatan village and Semdinli’s Binahare village locals, teacher Ayse who went to prison for sayin “children shoud not die” are few examples we remember only from a short term.

A visible increase is monitored in torture and other ill treatment forms during the state of emergency, as well as in South East and Eastern Anatolia where armed conflict once again emerged in July 2015. I official custody settings, unofficial custody settings, in the streets, almost in all surroundings, torture became prevalent. Also with the long-term curfews that started in 2015, Kurdish cities became open torture spaces. As isolation continues in the prisons, torture and other ill-treatment towards convicted and arrested prisoners unfortunately increased extraordinarily. Along with physical assaults during entering and leaving the prison, arbitrary cell punishments, transfers and exile, solitary confinement/isolation against individuals or small groups, limits on access to health services, handcuffs outside cells and other forms of ill-treatment, Decree with the Force of Law number 696 dated 24 December 2017 brought a “single-type prisoner’s uniform” which is can have serious consequences both today and in the future. It is also worrying that forced disappearances occurred during the state of emergencies. Forced disappearances are a black stain on our country and our civilization.

616 people applied to Human Rights Foundation of Turkey in 2017 (The number was 487 in 2016). 40 of these applicants were relatives of torture victims and 12 applicants were tortured outside the country. Remaining 564 applicants were tortured and subjected to other forms of ill treatment in single or multiple locations. 272 (%48) of the applicants were tortured in Police headquarters, 55 (%10) were tortured in official custody settings like police stations. In addition to this, 171 people (%30) were tortured in vehicles of security forces. Also in 2017, 226 people (%40) were tortured or subjected to ill-treatment in open air spaces during demonstrations. 70 people (%12) were tortured or subjected to ill-treatment in houses or workplaces. These numbers show that torture and ill-treatment in unofficial custody settings reached a worrying state. According to curfew maps between 16 August 2015- 1 June 2018 based on HRFT data, curfews were declared in at least 11 cities and 49 districts for at least 314 times. It is believed that continuous curfews affected at least 1 million 809 thousand people.

Based on Human Rights Association of Turkey’s (IHD) data and research, it is identified that in 2017, 5268 people including 133 children were tortured in custody, outside custody, by rangers, during demonstrations, by security forces. Journalists, students, politicians are arrested during the state of emergency and occupancy rate of prisons increased. According to Ministry of Justice data, number of arrested and convicted people in 2005 was 55.870. As of December 2017, the number is 232.179. 467.673 people being on probation as of April 2018 also shows us the general atmosphere of the country. According to latest IHD data, as of March 2018 there are 1154 ill prisoners including 401 prisoners who are extremely ill. The problem of ill prisoners awaits.

Also based on IHD data revealed on 30 May 2017, 11 forced disappearances occurred, mostly in Ankara. Four of these people were later released, one of whom committed suicide. One more forced disappearance case occurred in 2018. We still don’t know the whereabouts of these eight people. All of these cases were reported to United Nations working group on forced disappearances. In addition, many people in Ankara and around the region were abducted and threatened, also tortured.

This downright, reckless execution of torture, defending it, encouraging it, not only destroys the superiority of law but also indicates that authorities are willing to discipline the public with violence and create a community of fear.

Decrees with the force of law declared during the state of emergency brought serious limitations on people’s rights and liberty. It also overthrew the right to live. An atmosphere was created to tolerate torture and perpetrators were both encouraged and protected. Starting with the state of emergency, decrees with the force of law, sustained the judiciary base of this. Many state of emergency decrees, especially number 667 and 668, guaranteed impunity with withdrawing binding legal obligations of government officials. The violence monopoly of the state protected by impunity has been shared with individuals as well and created a partnership in crime. These applications encouraged armed forces, paramilitary and military forces and even civilians. According to Ministry of Justice data, 42 lawsuits were filed for torture n 2019 whereas 340 lawsuits were filed for persecution which requires a smaller punishment. In exchange, 26.195 contra lawsuits were filed for “resisting police officers”. These figures show that counter law suits are systematically used as an intimidation method to suppress/discourage torture survivors from filing complaints against perpetrators. All these data show that impunity is the biggest obstacle when fighting against torture.

ECHR’s decision to reject the case of Roboski massacre on 17 May 2018 also presents an unforgettable turning point indicating the state of impunity even at international mechanism levels.

Although the right to reparation is a fundamental part of the right to live and prohibition of torture, decisions like “the physical damage is due to persons own defect” or “law enforcement is without a guilt as public is not responsible for the incident” result in the elimination of the right to reparation and these tend to become regular court cases.

Procedural security had an important role in preventing torture but it has been neglected for many years. It became further destructed with recent negative regulations regarding torture legislation and approaches of ruling political power.

Turkish Human Right and Equality Institution was established with the law dated 20 April 2016. The institution was expected to be impartial and independent. It is the most recent example of eviscerated national human rights institutions which are certainly not in compliance with Paris Principles and OPCAT principles. This institution did not have any meaningful activity during such a period that contains various right violations, starting with torture. Instructions on Human Rights and Equality Speciality was published on 11 November 2017 and Regulations on the Application of Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution Law was published on 24 November 2017. Both documents were not in compliance with Paris Principles and OPCAT principles.

As a result, we as the organizations that signed this declaration, without losing our hope and ambition for a future without torture, would like to share once again on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture;

The state of emergency, applied with arbitrary decrees far away from all kinds of inspection, creating a convenience for a torture atmosphere, must be lifted immediately.

Urgent and effective legal and constitutional adjustments to prevent and prohibit torture must be immediately implemented and precautions must be taken to make prohibition against torture visible.

Public effort to prevent torture is more important than ever considering the systematic teaching of torture to armed forces, the mentality that normalizes torture, and the risk of legal adjustments that support this normalization.

We as human rights defenders, will continue to expose all pressure, torture and all kinds of violence against humanity. We will continue to document it, continue our fight with all our strength to prevent torture, continue to be in solidarity with everyone tortured.

We would like to declare once again our call to everyone who has been subjected to torture or ill-treatment as well as their relatives. We would like to remind that HRFT coordinates treatment and rehabilitation, conduct research on unseen effects of torture, help with forensic-medical reporting, and provide legal support.

Dignity of Humanity Will Prevail Over Torture!

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey                                             Human Rights Association


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (m.5), UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights (m.7),European Convention on Human Rights ( m.3), UN Convention Against Torture, Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court ( m.7) Constitution of the Republic of Turkey ( m.17), TCK ( m.94) .

[2] 14. Turkey Human Rights Movement Conference, Declaration