Today is 26 June. It is a special and significant day for human rights defenders both at home and abroad as the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in 1997 with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) which was adopted on 26 June 1987.
The UNCAT, which Turkey has also signed in 1988, absolutely prohibits torture to protect the inherent dignity and value of the human person. Such an absolute prohibition, which is a common achievement of the human family and constitutes one of the most fundamental rules of modern human rights law, is jus cogens as per hierarchy of norms, in other words, it qualifies as a peremptory norm. There can, therefore, be no exceptions to this rule. Thus Article 2 § 2 of the UNCAT prescribes: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Yet torture is still being committed in many countries in the world by states against societies as an instrument of inhuman punishment and intimidation. Turkey ratified the UNCAT in 1988 and prohibited torture in its Constitution and the Turkish Penal Code (TPC). Torture, however, has sustained its existence as a systematic state practice not only during periods of military coup d’états but throughout the history of the republic. Moreover, today the whole country has virtually become a site of torture because of the current political power’s repressive mode of governance and control having rendered all the issues of the country ranging from economics to public health a security problem. The appended data reveal the fact that torture remains the most prominent human rights problem in Turkey in spite of its absolute prohibition and qualification as a crime against humanity. These data indicate that the statement “Zero tolerance to torture” is nothing but a historically and factually blatant lie.
Acts of torture and ill-treatment have been maintained with all their severity and gravity in official custodial places, in proportion to the increasing authoritarianism of the political power, and have been brought about by the violation of procedural guarantees, long-term custody periods, dysfunctional monitoring and prevention mechanisms or the sheer absence of independent monitoring and prevention mechanisms and the like through such reasons as law, rule and norm control evasion; arbitrariness and willful negligence that have become quite common at various levels of the state.
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the streets, outdoors during the intervention of the law enforcement into peaceful assemblies and protests or at spaces like houses and offices, in other words, in non-official custodial and extra-custodial places, have also reached unprecedented levels. Such violence by the law enforcement is against the rules, not controlled, not punished, ignored and even encouraged by the political power and it goes way beyond the right to use force defined in universal law and domestic laws while becoming a part of everyday life. Numerous citizens have been subjected to violence by the law enforcement that amounted to torture and other forms of ill-treatment on the grounds that they violated the measures taken in response to the pandemic.
Similarly Boğaziçi University students who have been protesting the unelected rector appointed to their university peacefully exercising their right to freedom of assembly and protest that forms the basis of a democratic society and guaranteed by the Constitution itself, women and the LGBTI+ voicing their opposition against Turkey’s withdrawal from the İstanbul Convention, workers who were laid off because they were union members seeking their rights, villagers defending their lands, water and air, political parties -notably HDP- looking for ways to expand democratic opposition, professional organizations qualifying as public institutions, and human rights defenders keen on promoting and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms have been subjected to such inhuman and disgraceful violence by the law enforcement.
The recurrent increase in enforced disappearance/abduction cases following 2016 when the state of emergency was declared, which is one of the most disgraceful human rights violations of our recent history qualifying as a crime against humanity, is extremely alarming as well. Of the two persons abducted, the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Yusuf Bilge Tunç have been unknown since 8 August 2019 while the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit have been unknown since 29 December 2019. We would once again like remind the authorities that they should inform the public about the fates of these individuals offering material information without delay.
Prisons, where acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment are being committed intensively in every aspect, have become the riskiest spaces against human life as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. The Ministry of Justice has further restricted the rights of prisoners, which were already restricted, through measures taken on the grounds of the pandemic and a new “normal” has been created that amounted to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
This alarming reality, which becomes visible with the appended data, has also been reflected in reports drawn up by international prevention mechanisms and human rights bodies. Yet the political power unwilling to limit itself with any rule and norm, particularly by the Constitution, has not been heeding international mechanisms along with their criticism and warnings and failed to take steps to prevent torture. It, on the contrary, has been attempting to “guarantee” impunity by introducing regulations and amendments in legislation that are against the absolute nature of prohibition of torture and hoping to curb the struggle against torture by threats against human rights defenders who have been striving to render these violations visible. It is, nevertheless, possible to stop torture because it is committed at the hands of humans despite such bleak truth.
The obligation to prevent/stop torture falls firstly on states. We, therefore, remind the political power of the following minimum demands once again that we have been patiently and persistently voicing for years as part of our duty as human rights defenders and ask them to be put in effect without delay:
- The main reason why acts of torture are committed at such a high level in our country is the presence of a very serious culture of impunity that is in non-compliance with the absolute prohibition of torture. Policies of impunity that the authorities attempt to turn into mundane rules, above all, should be put to an end.
- Authorities at all levels should renounce discourse praising and encouraging torture and torturers; acts of torture should be condemned publicly in a crystal clear manner in line with recommendations by international mechanisms.
- Procedural guarantees for custody conditions should be implemented without any reserve.
- Custody periods should be shortened.
- The current Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey should be abolished and a thoroughly independent national prevention mechanism should be established in compliance with the provisions of the OPCAT and Paris Principles.
- The Law Enforcement Supervisory Commission should be made impartial and independent.
- Documentation and reporting of torture should be conducted in accordance with the principles set forth in the İstanbul Protocol which is a UN document.
- Torture allegations should be investigated in a rapid, effective and independent way; they should be inquired by independent boards; international ethical and legal rules should be observed at each stage of legal jurisdiction processes.
We, however, would like to remind all that protecting human dignity and preventing torture is at the same time the responsibility of the whole society. In order to be a human being and a citizen, to protect the common bond that makes us a society we have to see the misery torture brings about and we have to enhance solidarity.
İHD and HRFT, whose raison d’être is to create a country and a world without torture, are 34 will continue standing with survivors of torture under all circumstances to make their voices heard despite all cover up, intimidation and silencing attempts; continue documenting and reporting acts of torture they were subjected to, supporting their physical and psychological healing processes, assisting them in accessing justice, fighting impunity in order to make sure they will not suffer ever again.
We do see, we do speak up, we do fight…
Human dignity will triumph over torture…
A world without torture is possible!
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey – Human Rights Association
Click to see the detailed report in English: Torture in its various dimensions in Turkey (26 June 2021)