Treatment and Rehabilitation Centres Reports for 2019 was completed in COVID-19 pandemic period. Considering the recent period, COVID-19 pandemic introduced numerous novelties to our life in many aspects. It is necessary to attribute special importance to health workers, who diligently make efforts to fulfil their professional responsibilities, and all other workers/labourers for their invaluable struggle to maintain/remanufacture life in the face of certain limitations resulting from the outbreak.
As regards to some aspects of the pandemic, which is directly related to human rights, the following points might be useful to consider:
- Although there is a biological agent, majority of the population acknowledges that the pandemic at this scale is a result of systems and administrations which do not pay attention to human beings, all other creatures and nature.
On the contrary, these systems and administrations immensely destroy social relations relationship between human and nature.
- The prerequisite for fighting against an outbreak, which reaches the level of a pandemic, is to adopt human rights principles as its main approach to the problem, to ensure an epidemiological process that is, inclusive, science-based, and respect ethics. Unfortunately, so far, it has not been the case.
- While the pandemic affects all segments of the society, it heavily impacts on poor segments everywhere. It is a result of inequalities that are getting worse and worse every day.
- The pandemic, which is not (and cannot) inclusive and has some temporary uncertainties-to some extent these uncertainties are understandable-, has the potential of spreading fear through most of the people; moreover, the principle of physical distance, which is an important aspect of fighting against the pandemic, was easily replaced with the concept of “social distance.” This change creates a sense that to survive human beings should be deprived of socialisation even though we-as human beings-are essentially social creatures. It has turned into the reality of our life.
- The fight against pandemic is problematic in terms of several aspects; the involvement of the public in the process and solidarity are blocked by relevant authorities; it is a fact that information is limited yet even this limited information is not shared by any segment of the public; channels to access to information are blocked; any attempt to access information is at risk of pressure. The public is channelised to accept the political power representatives’ statements as true-since there is no alternative-; the fear spreads through the public (in fact, the fear is spread by these figures) so that the extraordinary situation is presented as if it is “normal”; there are debates on digital monitoring systems at all levels. All these issues cause to making any types of authoritarian administrations more popular and to deepen fears.
- The political power makes the fight against the outbreak a security problem based on militarist mentality rather than an issue of prevention and protection; abuses this process to centralise its power and to increase pressure and control over the society so that it violates numerous fundamental rights and freedoms particularly right to information, right to life, individual security, the prohibition of torture, prohibition of discrimination, right to access to health, right to work, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of assembly.
- In addition to these human rights violations, there is a tragic indicator of the inhuman atmosphere in the country: although it is obvious that local administrations have an extremely important function in public involvement and public health especially in such outbreak periods the appointment of trustees to municipalities (8 trustees were appointed to the HDP municipalities on 23 March 2020; some other elected HDP mayors were “removed” from their offices and replaced with public officers who are called “trustees”); 3 MPs (2 HDP members and 1 CHP member) were stripped of parliamentary powers and lost their status and they were put into prisons; 3 other people died while they were on hunger strike since the political power acted irresponsibly otherwise their lives could have been saved by a human-centred approach to meet their human rights-related demands.
- On the other hand, this tragedy provides several opportunities for radical changes in Turkey and the world. It is mainly because the COVID-19 pandemic makes the following issues more visible: larger segments of societies have realised that values have been eroded by the dominant system; the general mentality, which pays attention to the price rather than the value per se, harms social relations and nature; therefore, the tragedy makes the fact clearer for everyone that there is need for a collective life based on human rights values-because we are citizens who have all these rights- and a scientific approach.
As our previous reports state, all these pandemic related problems and violations deprive individuals of their rights and harms their status as the holder of these rights and these problems occur under a kind of uncertainty regime where we suffer from legal and political unpredictabilities as well as state of emergency practices that have been already permanent. All these problems increase the importance of the issue for the present and future.
The country has been ruled by the State of Emergency regime since July 2016-there was a direct and official regime at that time; although it is announced that the state of emergency was officially lifted on 19 July 2018, we are still under the same regime for having numerous permanent regulations in force. The fact/situation of a permanent state of emergency led the political power to put the principle of constitutionalism aside so that both the legal system and its institutions turned into an “apparatus” of the repressive regime and the arbitrariness, the uncertainty became dominant
in the public sphere. As the 16th Human Rights Movement of Turkey Conference final declaration foregrounds “The new regime’ power to create uncertainty, which it uses as an administration technique, causes to the legal, political, economic, social and cultural collapse in all levels namely from daily lives to the high political life. It is because the uncertainty regime is not only a form of legal unpredictability but also a climate of fear that individuals determinations are under a continuous threat. Such a climate, on the one hand, causes to build relations based on “distrust” harms collective ties among members of the society and transformed the relationship between citizens and those who hold power-or rulers-into and a type that we can call expectational obedience and into certain types of actions that citizens decide by considering potential orders from these rulers. Furthermore, following the erosion of institutions the impunity-which means limiting the space for struggling against human rights violations-has become dominant, been regenerated and been established almost as a rule.”
Adopting the armed conflict and war as the only method of solution to both the
Kurdish issue and international problems causes to spread military and violence
inclinations into the society. When there is an atmosphere that systematic violence is not controlled, brought to justice and punished, ignored by political power representatives, on the contrary, it is encouraged by these figures, there is no way to talk about any form of society. The State means an actor that ensures and maintains ties among citizens who have the will of living together. The State turns into a violent structure rather than a genuine State if it harms and unknits these ties. This is a terrifically dangerous and worrying situation.
Under such circumstances, human rights violations are continuously increasing in the country. Some of these violations can be listed as follows: right to life, torture and ill-treatment practices, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of
association, attempts to abolish freedoms, pressure on human rights defenders and
organisations, security officers use of excessive force, which amounts to “torture”, in demonstrations. Moreover, there is an attempt to create a perception that the exercise of these rights is an exception while violations of them is a rule.
We still observe an increase in torture and ill-treatment practices, the right to health and access to social rights are restricted in prisons. Similarly, problems that seriously
ill-prisoners, children and other disadvantaged groups and disabled individuals continue and become more serious every day.
Human rights defenders, political party leaders, MPs, mayors, scientists, lawyers and journalists are still in prisons. Furthermore, to increase its control and pressure over the society, to spread fear and fright, the political power attempts to make its violent regime more powerful by arresting and detaining lawyers, journalists and social media users.
The local elections, which were held on 31 March 2019, present the current picture of our time and give significant hints about the future. The importance of cautious hope, which many people felt on 31 March and on 23 June when the elections were renewed in Istanbul, is considerably obvious to us. Having said that there are some worrying developments about the election results. As an indication of erosion in institutions and arbitrariness that forces the limits of dreams, some co-mayors, provincial and municipal council members were not allowed to get their power on the ground that they were dismissed from the public services by an emergency decree-law (KHK); even some co-mayors and municipal council members were detained and sent to prions. The founding principles of democracy were violated by replacing these mayors with trustees that means the will of citizens was blatantly ignored by the political power.
Some of these violations were documented by international reports on human rights. For example;
- The Reporters Without Borders Turkey’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index states Turkey has ranked 154 out of 180 countries. According to the report, the situation is getting worse and Turkey decreased to this level. Turkey fell 56 places in the index in the last 14 years.
- The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, which has been published since 2008, states Turkey has ranked 107 out of 128. The Index was launched on 11 March 2020.
- The Institute for Economics and Peace based in Australia launched its 2019 Global Peace Index in June 2019. Turkey has ranged 152 out of 163 countries (It ranked 138 in 2015).
As our previous reports state, we would like to reiterate that “the destructive practices have not been prevented yet despite relentless efforts; however, it does not mean that it will never be prevented.” It is quite natural that a solution to this decay and deterioration requires collective efforts from everyone and depend on the pace towards human rights-based life-style. As a response to various “evil efforts”, such invaluable efforts are the key guidelines for a better world.
The HRFT annual report on treatment and rehabilitation provides information about its documentation of physical and mental treatment and rehabilitation services, which are carried out by all offices, to those who are subjected to torture, other cruel, inhuman treatment, and other types punishments throughout the year.
The HRFT-for which the efforts by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and Human Rights Association (İHD) are important and which has been established by 32
human rights defenders, intellectual and İHD’s legal entity in 1990-is a credible and internationally known organization. It has been making contributions to the access to treatment and rehabilitation services for those who have been tortured for 30 years. Also, the HRFT’s purposes include, as Article 3 of the Statute states, periodicals and non-periodic publications, documentation, scientific research and pieces of training to prevent grave human rights/serious violations defined by the international human rights instruments as well as national legislation.
The HRFT currently has four treatment and rehabilitation centres in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul and Izmir, and two “reference office” in Cizre and Van that began activities respectively on 17 October 2015 and on 13 January 2018.
HRFT’s services to solve the physical, psychological and social problems of torture survivors are carried out by hundreds of professional and volunteer teams from different disciplines, particularly from health officers. The teams have a multidisciplinary approach to these services.
The HRFT has served to 18.370 people, who were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment practices, and their relatives from its establishment to the end of 2019. While we predicted to receive about 480 applications in 2019, it was doubled. Accordingly, there are 908 people, torture survivors and their relatives, who applied to the HRFT treatment and rehabilitation centres in 2019. It is has been classified that 838 out of 908 applications are people who suffered from torture. There are 51 applications from relatives of torture survivors. 19 of these cases were from people who were subjected to torture and ill-treatment practices outside Turkey. The 566 out of 838 applications (67.5 %) were subjected to torture and ill-treatment practices in 2019. Reasons for the increase in the number of torture cases, which is two times more than our prediction, are examined by our colleagues in many aspects. One of the reasons is that the Van reference office, which is a new office, predicted to receive only 50 applications in 2019 yet there were 202 new applications. Hence, it has become important for the HRFT that there is need for transforming the Van reference office into a full-fledged rehabilitation centre.
Furthermore, 145 people applied to our treatment and rehabilitation centres from cities where the HRFT has no office in 2019. These applications were accepted as part of the HRFT policy, which began in 1993, about accepting applications from provinces other than treatment and rehabilitation centres exit. Similarly, 21 applicants benefitted from the rehabilitation program within the scope of the Mobile Health Teams program that we launched in 2008 to respond to the grave/serious torture and other human rights violations occurred in cities that the HRFT offices do not exist.
In 2019, a total of 21 new applications, 19 of them were children, were submitted to the special social support program and 5 new applicants were accepted to the legal support program.
In line with the need for a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to combat torture and human rights violations, we have prepared numerous alternative medical reports
on torture allegations by torture survivors from Turkey as well as other countries. These reports, which were considered credible by international judicial bodies e.g. the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), In this respect, the HRFT has become a school for documentation, reporting and rehabilitation of torture cases. In this context; 87 alternative medical report/epicrisis documents were issued by the treatment and rehabilitation centres in 2019.
The HRFT has played a leading role in drafting “Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol)” that is recommended by the United Nations (UN) to be used worldwide and is accepted as the standard in forensic examination by Turkey. Due to developments in health and legal fields and new torture methods across the world, the study about the Istanbul Protocol Supplement (Supplement IP to IPS) was initiated by experts. The Istanbul Protocol 2020 Edition was completed in 2019 and submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. While it was planned to publish the Istanbul Protocol 2020 Edition, which was coordinated by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), International Rehabilitation Council for Victim (IRCT), REDRESS, and the HRFT and including UN bodies, in 2020, it is likely that due to the COVID-19 outbreak it might be postponed.
The HRFT has organized many pieces of training particularly about İstanbul Protocol pieces of training and carried out and continues to carry out many scientific studies in Turkey and many parts of the world. Thousands of health care professionals and lawyers attended these pieces of training Istanbul Protocol pieces of training which aim to improve the effectiveness of determining torture and treatment processes.
The HRFT either was invited or involved in the organisation of several scientific congresses and meetings since the scientific and objective aspects of its pioneering works on the documentation and treatment of torture are highly regarded and accepted in the international arena.
Most of the people, who are subjected to torture and ill-treatment practices, are affected by other components of trauma. Recognizing the fact that there is need for more than medicine to accomplish the comprehensive treatment as much as possible, the HRFT has been carrying out activities to develop a comprehensive and multidisciplinary program to address issues including the complex and ongoing social trauma since 2004. In this context, national and international training, panels, symposiums and other events and the program to cope with social trauma have been carried out within the framework of three main topics (truth, justice and repair) since 2000.
The HRFT prepares daily and annual human rights reports and special human rights violations focusing on incidents in two languages (Turkish and English). These reports are prepared to monitor human rights violations in Turkey regularly, in an accurate and fast manner. In this context, an objective and reliable system for documentation of grave/serious human rights violations has been developed and formed an important knowledge.
Considering that democracy and human rights values face a substantial danger in our time and there is need for more efficient prevention and repair of torture and other forms of grave/serious human rights violations, we prepared the HRFT Strategic Plan for 2019-2024 in a collective manner. We benefited from our experience in the preparation and drafting process of the previous strategic plan. We paid special attention to feedback and comments from applicants on our activities as well as analysis of current developments in the country.
The main mission of the HRFT is to fight against torture in all areas of life to contribute to the process of coping with the trauma of torture survivors and physical-spiritual-social well-being of these people. In other words, creating a “social apology” space for people and communities that are subjected to severe human rights violations.
Undoubtedly, we would like to underline that all these activities are a result of collective efforts made by the founding members, executive board members and employees as well as hundreds of sensitive people and experts particularly health officers, lawyers and human rights defenders who come together for a common objective.
The HRFT would like to express its heartfelt thanks to all our friends, in particular the Human Rights Association and the Turkish Medical Association, and organisations that contributed to our activities and did not leave us alone in our activities.
1 June 2020, Ankara