INTRODUCTION and OVERVIEW
The report of our studies, which we carried out entirely against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic conditions, was prepared also under the conditions of this pandemic.
We pay tribute to those we lost during the pandemic, especially healthcare workers, and while evaluating this pandemic, we would like to particularly mention once again the efforts of healthcare professionals who, despite various constraints, have done their jobs with extraordinary self-sacrifices, and of those employees/workers who work in jobs aimed at maintaining/regenerating life.
1.1. Every day, we witness over and over again, on many occasions, how intertwined the pandemic we are going through and the human rights are with each other. This is because:
- Although SARS-CoV-2, the cause of this pandemic, is a biological factor, the prime responsibility of the systems and administrations that are causing major destruction on social relations at all levels and on relations between human beings and nature with all its living and non-living components, has become even more apparent within the context of both the causes of such pandemic and its consequences.
- Surrender of all public spaces, especially those concerning fundamental rights such as health, education and a clean environment, to the market, and violent intervention by human beings in nature, gradually result in greater destructions and pandemics.
- If we cannot fundamentally transform the current systems that have become the problem of existence of our planet and involve deepening inequalities and discrimination-based approaches of every level, and the mindset underlying such systems, the times we are living in will inevitably become known as the AGE OF PANDEMICS. In other words; we must acknowledge the fact that, if we further delay the making of necessary radical transformations towards a world where we can live in under humane conditions, we will also have difficulty in reaching a truly POST-PANDEMIC PERIOD.
- For this reason, and considering that the struggle for human rights is essentially a struggle for BECOMING MORE HUMANE in terms of a sustainable life that is in harmony with nature with all its living and non-living components, it is evident that a human rights struggle which is based on this approach is even more vital at this point.
- First of all, we are feeling the sorrow of losses (deaths directly or indirectly caused by Covid-19) which cause so much grief and each of which needs to be addressed within the scope of the right to life, mainly because they are deaths that were preventable.
In addition, we are going through a process where many rights violations are experienced, especially the losses caused by the restrictions on the right to access healthcare services, as they cause delays in treatment of or increase in many severe health problems, deprivations and exhaustions based on restrictions on social relations, unequal restrictions in education processes, and unequal restrictions in economic life, each of which should also be addressed within the scope of human rights violations.
- While the pandemic affects all segments of the society, the severe consequences of the pandemic are mainly experienced by the segments that are most negatively affected, directly or indirectly, by the ever-increasing inequalities (particularly those exposed to discrimination at all levels, workers, the poor, those in need, women, children, LGBTIQ+’s, detainees and refugees).
And that’s not all; inequalities that exist during the pandemic are even more increasing at all levels.
- For this reason; on the one hand, the requirements of an effective human rights-centered pandemic struggle must be fulfilled right NOW, and on the other hand, the requirements of the comprehensive RESTORATION prog- rams, which should be the priority agenda of the post-pandemic period, must be fulfilled starting from today.
- In the fight against the pandemic, it is necessary to pay attention to the scientific approach and ethical values, public health approach, and the basic principles of epidemiology (management of pandemics), as well as assuring the effective participation of the entire society and securing the right to access information/the right to be informed.However, the basic principles mentioned above are not respected in the fight against the pandemic and difficulty is experienced in taking every word of the constituents of the ruling party as a basis against a backdrop of a lie that prevents the participation, negotiation, and the right to access to information/to be informed. Such an environment itself can lead to further spread of all kinds of authoritarian governments.
- Although the scope of the restrictions specified in the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1984 include many explanatory principles such as the fact that the specified restrictions cannot be interpreted in a way that endangers the essence of the relevant right and that the responsibilities and burdens arising from the justification of the limitations on a right assured under the Convention rest with the state; the restrictions/closures introduced with respect to work life, right to education, freedom of movement, and those deprived of their freedom, without taking protective and supportive measures in our country, are themselves causing violations of human rights and the fact that such practices carry the risk of becoming ordinary and permanent constitute another important agenda item.
- Along with the pandemic, transformations are being experienced which carry the risk of becoming permanent in the governments’ understanding and practice of governance.
The fight against the Covid 19 pandemic is being turned into an opportunity to further centralize the ruling party and to further increase its pressure and control over society, by addressing it not as a prevention and protection issue but mainly a security issue with a militaristic mentality.
As a result of this, violations in the field of almost all fundamental rights and freedoms are tried to be normalized on the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- In such an environment where fear has also become (been caused to be) widespread, the fact that survival is transformed, or transforms with consent, into the ultimate reality of people and that human beings are squeezed into an almost purely biological existence by substantially moving away from their historical, cultural and social elements, are becoming a major problem area for today and the future in terms of both the social relations and the potential spread of all kinds of authoritarian governments.
- Although the expression that nothing will be the same after the pandemic is widely used, we would like to point out that what will happen after the pandemic will be directly related to how purposefully we are and will be carrying out the requirements of a “human rights-based pandemic struggle together” during the pandemic.
1.2. All these experiences related to the pandemic process have to be handled together with the deep destruction happening in the human rights field in recent years.
As being both the cause and the result of this deep destruction;
- A state of emergency regime that has been made permanent and continuous is being maintained (including the “Law on Introduction of Amendments to certain Laws and Decree Laws”, which entered into force by being published in the official gazette dated 31 July 2018 and all the articles of which were permanent other than article 26 stipulating the right to dismiss public officials from public offices in a completely arbitrary manner, for a period of three years);
- The principle of constitutionalism, which limits the strength of the ruling party, is being abandoned, thereby turning both law and institutions into the “tools” of the oppressive regime and making legal and political unpredictability, arbitrariness and uncertainty dominate the public sphere;
- The atmosphere of armed conflicts which started right after the General Elections of 7 June 2015 still persists as a result of not taking sincere and comprehensive steps towards a peaceful, democratic and fair solution to the Kurdish issue and with the effect of the developments in the Middle East;
- As result of the attempts to close down HDP, a legitimate mass political party that won the votes of 6.5 million citizens in the last general elections, and especially the dismissal of HDP parliamentarians from the parliament, and the dismissal from the parliament and imprisonment of Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who, as both a physician and a human rights advocate, has always fought for the protection and development of rights and freedoms and has firmly not taken a step back from his rights advocacy activities also after he had been elected as a parliamentarian, on the grounds of an imprisonment sentence granted against him due to a news article he shared on social media in 2016, extremely worrying developments have been taking place which would destroy the social peace and the will to live together, by pushing a substantial part of Turkey’s society away from the participation and representation mechanisms;
- On the other hand, as a result of the perception of conflict and war as the only methods for the solution of both the Kurdish issue and international issues, the risk of our society’s losing its quality of truly being a society is increasing in the circumstances where militarism and violent tendencies are becoming widespread in the society and a systematic violence that is not controlled, judged and punished and that is ignored or even encouraged by those who hold political power is spreading across the entire society in waves;
- The practices of formation of security are being expanded in all areas of life through the ruling party’s attempts to define all issues as security problems/threats very often and easily and to turn them into a security topic;
- Basically, in all rights categories, the exercise of these rights is turning into an exception and violation of rights is turning into a rule;
- As a result, there are systematic human rights violations that are too closely witnessed by a very large part of the society, and moreover, to which a very large part of the society is directly exposed;
- Civilian and public spaces are being closed down to a great extent;
- Intermediary environments between the state and the human rights organizations (such as negotiation environment, law, international mechanisms) are disappearing in essence.
1.3. In such an environment;
- Violations of the right to life, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, acts of violence by the security forces in respect of ideas, meetings and demonstrations, which reached such an extent that can only be regarded as “torture”, and violations of almost all fundamental rights and freedoms, increasingly continue also by using the Covid 19 pandemic as an excuse.
- Moreover, beyond the systematic violation of human rights, we are witnessing a deep destruction of values and norms of human rights, which means the abandonment of the idea of a rights-based regime, resulting in a mind- set that no longer perceives people as rights-possessing subjects, and which is also an indication of a “human rights crisis”.
- In addition to the law-making processes in the previous period, in which the possibilities for participation and negotiation were already limited; in the recent period, mainly the Presidential Decisions, various regulations, and circulars, and moreover, the arbitrary administrative practices in the form of verbal expressions such as “I am the state” or “we did not find it in our heart to do that” or “I think it’s a crime” are turning into a characteristic feature of the regime.
Just to give a few recent examples;
- At the end of the law-making process in which participation and negotiation possibilities were limited, the “LAW on Prevention of Financing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, which is comprised of 44 articles and prescribes amendment to 6 laws, and which is expressed by many national and international organizations to be contrary to the international human rights conventions by which we were bound, and especially the Constitution, and the acquired and vested rights, entered into force by being published in the Official Gazette dated 31 December 2020. By virtue of this law, where the last two articles are about the entry into force and enforcement, only six articles are stipulated for the intended purpose, and the remaining 36 articles are not directly related to the main reason, an attempt can be made to significantly restrict the freedom of association. Considering specifically the fact that most of the executives of associations operating in the field of human rights are prosecuted on unfounded accusations based on the problem of uncertainty and arbitrariness of terrorism crimes in Turkey, almost all associations that are opponents of the ruling party can be targeted.
- The ruling party unilaterally terminated the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), the first binding international convention on violence against women, with a PRESIDENTIAL DECISION consisting of four and a half lines, on 20 March 2021, ten years after it was opened for signature in 2011 in Istanbul.
- On August 21, 2020, again with a PRESIDENTIAL DECISION consisting of one and half line and lacking any justification, a clear scope or any information about the respective duties and authorities, the directorate of reinforcement alert force, which is the provincial organization of the Gene- ral Directorate of Police Forces, directly reporting to the center, was established in Istanbul province, in such a way that might imply formalization of the de facto practices of the “security state”.
- The “REGULATION on the Introduction of Amendment to the Movable Goods Regulation of the Turkish Armed Forces, National Intelligence Organization, General Directorate of Police Forces (EGM)”, which authori- zes law enforcement authorities to use heavy arms, which should normally be used in the case of external danger, in the events of domestic public incidents, entered into force by being published in the Official Gazette dated 6 January 2021. It is extremely worrying to even imagine the devastating and inevitable effects and consequences on citizens, other living beings, and natural and cultural places, of the use of heavy weapons, which should be possessed only by the TSK (Turkish Armed Forces), in settlement areas within the country by virtue of this regulation.
- The information regarding the publication of the CIRCULAR titled “Audio and Video Recording” of the General Directorate of Police Forces, dated 27 April 2021, which will lead to a cover up and invisibility of crimes, especially torture and other forms of ill-treatment, during arbitrary and illegal/ unlawful interventions of the law enforcement authorities against the freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration assured in the Constitution, appeared on the press on 30 April 2021, although the said circular could not be accessed on the official websites of the Ministry of Interior and the General Directorate of Police Forces. (Legal proceedings were initiated by several organizations as well as the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for the cancellation of this circular).
- Recently, the practices of many civil servants who use the phrase “I AM THE STATE” in order to cause various violations have become widespread.
- In the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, after the incomprehensible circulars and announcements of various ministries, as well as the announcements of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Interior about differing practices on weekend restrictions, the statement of the President of the Republic made on 5 June 2020, saying “WE DID NOT FIND IT IN OUR HEARTS TO DO IT; I’m ending the lock-down”, on the one hand shows that the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is dealt with not on the basis of scientific approaches, but as a matter of what is in one’s heart, and on the other hand, sets a special example regarding the current extent of arbitrariness of the administrative affairs in the country.
- On 7 May 2021, the use of the phrase “I THINK IT’S A CRIME” by the Minister of Interior, who is in the position of chief of law enforcement authorities, yet sets another special example in terms of showing how much the state of law, moreover, the rule of law, has been abandoned, and the level the arbitrary administrative practices have reached.
- In such a human rights climate where deep destruction is evident, oppression and threat policies against human rights organizations and advocates, primarily through the judiciary, are increasingly continuing. Furthermore, the government is trying to further strengthen the violence regime with the detention and arrest of lawyers, journalists and social media users in order to increase its control and repression and to spread horror and fear.
We would like to share some examples concerning our foundation, pertaining only to the last activity year and in the context of human rights advocacy (with our apologies to a multitude of human rights advocates whose names we could not mention in this study, even though we include them in all our reports):
- HRFT’s founding member and İHD’s (Human Rights Association) Co-President Eren Keskin, against whom a total of 143 lawsuits have been filed, some of which were merged in single case files later, was sentenced to imprisonment for 6 years and 3 months on 16 February 2021.
- Dr. Serdar Kuni, our previous physician in charge of applications at HRFT Cizre Reference Center and the Head of Şırnak Medical Chamber, was sentenced to imprisonment for 4 years and 2 months on 19 October 2016.
- Öztürk Türkdoğan, the founding member of the HRFT and the Co-President of İHD, was released in the evening of the same day after being detained on 19 March 2021.
- The trial process resumed in the local court on 3 February 2021 upon reversal by Istanbul Regional Court of Justice of the acquittal decision rendered by the local court in the lawsuit filed on the ground of participation, on various dates, of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the former President of our foundation and a current member of our board of directors, and the Council Chairman of TMA (Turkish Medical Association), toget- her with Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Journalist-Author Ahmet Nesin, in the ‘Editor-In-Chief On Duty’ campaign, which was launched in May 2016 for the purpose of forming solidarity with the newspaper Özgür Gündem, against the judicial harassment and pressures it was exposed to. Moreover, in another lawsuit against her, she was fined 7,080 Turkish Liras by the local court on 16 February 2021 for the offense of “insulting a public official” on the grounds that she insulted the President of the Republic in her social media posts.
- Social Services Specialist Serkan Delidere, an employee of HRFT Diyarbakır Representative Office, and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp, our volunteer, a former member of the Central Council of TMA and a current member of the Honorary Board, were detained on 20 November 2020 along with many rights advocates, lawyers, and representatives of non-governmental organizations from Diyarbakır and the neighboring provinces. Şeyh- mus Gökalp, who was arrested, was released after nearly three months of detention. Following the disproportionate police violence used in the protest in the form of a press statement, which Izmir Labor and Democracy Forces wanted to organize on 3 February 2021 about the appointment of a trustee to Boğaziçi University, 51 people, including the HRFT Izmir employee Aytül Uçar, were detained and released on the same day, and thereafter, 3 women including our colleague were summoned to testify on charges of insulting the President of the Republic.
- Moreover, hundreds of investigations and lawsuits in total are still ongoing regarding the executives and members of the IHD, the founding member of HRFT.
- In such a human rights climate, on 2 March 2021, the President of the Republic announced the 128-page Human Rights Action Plan, which includes 9 goals, 50 targets and 393 activities. On 30 April 2021, a Circular was published along with the Human Rights Action Plan and Implementation Schedule.
The fact that only about 13 of the 393 activities included in the Action Plan, which includes the heading “Prohibition of Torture and Other Forms of Ill-Treatment, and Procedural Safeguards, in the Legislation”, have a relatively factual content and that the other parts are included completely as common and general sentences, and in particular, the widespread and systematic violations of human rights taking place in the human rights field after the announcement of the Action Plan, are only some indicators of the insincerity of the ruling party in this regard.
- The extensive damages to international human rights mechanisms have also become more visible in different forms recently. As a result of the fact that international human rights mechanisms are increasingly and more evidently turning into “bureaucratic” mechanisms, that many mechanisms cannot run the processes that depend on the permissions of states which fail to fulfill or are reluctant to fulfill their obligations, as well as reluctance or limited capabilities of such mechanisms to implement the sanctions against those states which fail to fulfill or are reluctant to fulfill the recommendations put forward by these mechanisms, are all contributing to the restrictions and limitations in the functions of such mechanisms in the field of human rights.
As of today, international mechanisms have not only ceased to be a focus of reference in terms of some kind of affirmation of justice, but they have also literally turned into tools used to strengthen the oppressive regimes.
1.4. However, we believe that it is quite possible for a country, and the entire world, to achieve an order where people can live humanely despite all the evils of those who think they are in power.
Indeed, torture and other most gross human rights violations are the primary brutal acts of violence committed by human beings. And if we are talking about an act committed by the very hands of human beings; as a rule, every such act/situation can be AVOIDED.
Furthermore, as we have also mentioned in our previous reports, “Although this process, which has caused deep destructions despite all these efforts, has not been prevented so far, this does not mean that this process cannot be prevented in a reasonable time.” Naturally, the speed of our journey from this climate of deep decay to a life of co-existence based on human rights values with all its necessary elements ultimately depends on the efforts of all of us as the subjects of this life. In the face of all the “efforts” of evil, all the extraordinarily valuable efforts that have been and are being carried out only and solely for a world which is humanly livable are the guiding principles in this regard.
Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic also offers opportunities for radical transformations for Turkey and the entire world. This is because this process also offers possibilities for wider segments of societies to face the fact that the main factor causing the pandemics is the destruction of nature and values to such great extent, and it introduces a stronger understanding of the fact that our main need is a collective life based on human rights values and scientific approaches, as well as a stronger understanding of the fact that, within the scope of fundamental rights, none of the public spaces, especially those concerning healthcare, education, and a clean environment, can be left to the mercy of the markets, and it emphasizes the requirement of being actively involved in life with an approach based on rights and justice.
Therefore; the following requirements have become a matter of life and death:
- Further strengthening the existing studies quantitatively and qualitatively,
- Strengthening the studies for expansion, and moreover, reconstruction, of the civil and public spheres, which have been narrowed down, and even closed down, with an approach that re-emphasizes the “founding role” of human rights,
- And developing and strengthening solidarity and cooperation in the national and international arena, especially against a backdrop of deep destruction in international mechanisms.
That is why, in this recent period, as HRFT, we have been increasing our efforts to further strengthen the existing studies quantitatively and qualitatively on one hand, while on the other hand, have been paying attention to develop several special prog- rams in order to contribute to the reinforcement of the public life on the basis of the founding role of human rights, the development of the capacity of the human rights movement to create a transformative effect in such a challenging climate, and the expansion of the basis of the struggle for human rights.
Under the title of “treatment and rehabilitation centers report”, we would like to share with you again this year, as is the case every year, our works within the scope of treatment and rehabilitation services organized by all our centers for people who have been subjected to torture, other cruelties, inhuman treatments and behaviors and punishments, which constitute the main field of study of HRFT.
Founded by the İHD as a result of the efforts of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) and İHD in 1990, with the presence of 32 human rights advocates consisting of intellectuals and legal entities, HRFT is a human rights organization with interna- tional recognition and reputation, which has been contributing to the right of access of torture survivors to treatment and rehabilitation services and which has been carrying out studies on the documentation and prevention of torture for 31 years. As also specified in Article 3 of its statute that regulates its purpose and fields of service; preparing periodical or non-periodical publications and documentation and conducting scientific research and training aimed at preventing particularly those gross/ serious human rights violations as defined in international human rights instruments and domestic law are among the objectives of its establishment.
HRFT is still carrying on its studies on the treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors, in five treatment and rehabilitation centers in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Izmir and Van provinces, and at a “reference center” that started its operations in Cizre on 17 October 2015.
This service provided by HRFT for the solution of physical, mental and social problems of torture survivors is carried out with a multidisciplinary approach by professional and volunteer teams, which have hundreds of members from many different fields of expertise, especially consisting of healthcare workers.
From the time of its establishment until the end of 2020, HRFT has contributed to the right of access of 18,975 people who have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and their relatives, to treatment and rehabilitation services.
In the presence of pressures on the human rights climate, including the limitations/ difficulties brought by the pandemic and the intensification of practices of torture and other ill-treatment, our treatment centers continued their studies in 2020, paying maximum attention to pandemic measures in the light of the guidelines prepared. Moreover, although we anticipated a total of 530 new applicants (hereinafter refer- red to as applicant/application), consisting of persons subjected to torture, or their relatives, applying to our centres for treatment and rehabilitation, a total of 605 new applicants have applied, which is more than what was anticipated under these circumstances. The fact that there are more applicants than the anticipated number not only is an indicator of the negative course of human rights, including in terms of torture, in the country, but also shows the meaning and effectiveness of our studies, especially under the current pandemic conditions.
It was determined that out of 605 new applications made to HRFT Treatment Centers in 2020, the number of applicants exposed to torture and other ill-treatment across the country is 562, the number of relatives of applicants is 31, and the number of applicants exposed to torture and other ill-treatment outside of Turkey is 12. Out of a total of 605 new applicants, the number of those who were subjected to torture in the same year (in 2020) was 357 (59%).
A reference center was opened in Van on 13 January 2018 in order to enhance the studies of the HRFT in Van and its surroundings where there are gross/serious human rights violations caused by the climate of armed conflicts that started again in July 2015, and the state of emergency practices that are still in effect/have become permanent. Although 50 people exposed to torture and other ill-treatment were included in the rehabilitation program in 2018 at Van Reference Center, to which only 25-40 new applications were expected annually in the first years, a special program was developed in 2020 to transform the Van reference center into a treatment and rehabilitation center as there were applications five times our predicted number (202) in 2019. As a result of this program, as of 2021, our center in Van was transformed from a reference center equipped with the function of initial evaluation of applications into a center that will carry out comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation studies. As a result of this particular transformation of Van reference center into a well-equipped treatment center for torture survivors, our efforts towards a wider geography that is directly affected by the climate of conflicts (Eastern Anatolia) will be enhanced even more.
On the other hand, our efforts that we have been carrying out since 1993 to accept applications from provinces where we do not have treatment and rehabilitation centers continued also in 2020, and within this scope, 219 applications were recei- ved in 2020.
In 2020, 36 new applicants, 15 of which were children, were included in the special social support program and 7 new applicants were included in our legal support program.
As a requirement of the multidisciplinary and holistic approach to combating torture and human rights violations, numerous medical evaluation reports which ensure documentation of torture allegations have been prepared at the request of applicants who were subjected to torture both from Turkey and from different countries around the world, which reports are respected by international judicial bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In this respect; in 2020, medical evaluation reports/epicrisis were prepared for a total of 95 applicants by our treatment and rehabilitation centers. In this context, HRFT has virtually become a school in terms of documenting and reporting torture cases and contributing to the treatment and rehabilitation processes of torture survivors.
In 2020, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey (CC), for the first time, made a direct reference to the medical evaluation reports prepared by the HRFT and decided on the existence of rights violation in 5 separate lawsuits (two applications to the CC, dated 2016, and three dated 2017). This situation can be considered as a positive precedent for the prevention of torture, albeit relatively. As a result of the Constitutional Court’s reference to the medical evaluation reports prepared by the HRFT becoming a case-law, the value of the medical evaluation reports prepared by independent physicians based on their examination of the torture survivors will increase. And this will contribute to the physicians’ performance of their profession based on scientific and ethical values.
Together with the Turkish Medical Association and the Association of Forensic Medicine Specialists, HRFT has played a leading role in preparation of the “UN Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (Istanbul Protocol), which is recommended by the United Nations (UN) to be used worldwide and which is also accepted by the State of Turkey as a standard reference in forensic examinations. Due to the developments in the field of law and health and the emergence of new torture methods around the world, the study for the 2020 Edition of the Istanbul Protocol, which was prepared 20 years ago, was completed in 2019 and presented to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Although the 2020 Edition of the Istanbul Protocol prepared as a result of this study that was coordinated by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), REDRESS and HRFT, by involving also the UN bodies (UN Commit- tee against Torture, UN Subcommittee against Torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture) was planned to be published in 2020, it was postponed for a certain period due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the UN bodies decided to publish it on 22 May 2021.
After the printing process of the 2020 Edition of the Istanbul Protocol by the UN, the plan was to translate the new edition into Turkish and to perform the first trainer training right after.
HRFT has organized and is still organizing many trainings, especially the Istanbul Protocol Trainings, attended by thousands of healthcare professionals and lawyers in Turkey and in many parts of the world, and also conducted and is currently conducting many scientific studies, especially on the topics of detection of torture and efforts to increase the effectiveness of treatment processes. In 2020, before the Covid-19 outbreak was “officially” announced, one Istanbul Protocol trainer training and two Istanbul Protocol implementation trainings had taken place.
Furthermore, in order to contribute to the efforts for making the international mechanisms effective and for preventing torture;
- A report was prepared and submitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 30 July 2020, together with the Memory Center and İHD, against the execution control of the lawsuit group pertaining to the case known as “Batı and others” filed against Ulaş Batı and his friends who were exposed to torture in 1996. After our application, the Commit- tee of Ministers convened in September 2020 and made an evaluation by taking into account our report and the CPT reports. As a result of the evaluation, it was decided not to close down the lawsuit group, and, instead, to request new measures from Turkey.
- In terms of contribution to the prevention of torture and other gross/ serious human rights violations, HRFT actively participated in the process of 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey through 28-30 January 2020. As a result of these efforts, 321 recommendations were made at the 3rd UPR session for the prevention of torture and human rights violations.
Having received great interest and recognition also on the international ground for the scientific and objective nature of its pioneering work toward the documentation and treatment of torture, HRFT has been invited to many scientific congresses and meetings or taken part in organization of the same.
Our presentation of three papers to the Online 1st International and 17th National Forensic Sciences Congress through 12-15 November 2020 not only shows the quality of our work, but also demonstrates the contribution of our work to the scientific fields.
- Early pregnancy loss due to torture (case report presentation); this report focused on the case of early pregnancy loss as an example of the physical and mental effects of torture leading to mortality and morbidity.
- Exposure to electroshock weapon and multiple torture (case report presentation); this study focused on the use of electroshock weapons as a torture and ill-treatment method.
- Evaluation of the decisions regarding torture and other forms of ill-treatment, granted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Turkey between 2017 and 2019 within the scope of the Istanbul Protocol: the decisions rendered within the scope of violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights; this study has once again demonstrated the importance of conformity of the medical evaluations and the prepared reports, with the Istanbul Protocol’s standards in terms of solving the relevant cases.
Many of the survivors of torture and other forms of ill-treatment are affected also by other components of the complex trauma. Recognizing that more is required than just medicine for the most comprehensive restoration possible, HRFT has been working since 2004 to develop a more holistic and multidisciplinary program that also addresses the complex and ongoing problem of dealing with social trauma. In this context, events such as national and international trainings, panels, symposiums etc. have been organized since 2000 and the program for coping with social trauma is addressed within the framework of three interrelated main topics (truth, justice and restoration).
As a continuation of these efforts, the “Reunion Meeting on Coping with Ongoing Social Trauma” will be held in Diyarbakır on 5-6 June 2021 in a mixed online and face-to-face format. This meeting, which consists of speaker-debater panels on the topics of City; Justice; Mental Processes, and Redress and Civil Society, focuses on the destructive process that started with lockdowns and conflicts since 2015 and that continues with the appointment of trustees, and pressure and harassment against the civil society. The aim is to contribute to the design of concrete prog- rams that can be implemented collectively to cope with the currently-ongoing social trauma caused by this process.
Moreover, two separate international symposiums were held in order to create a common-thinking space where rights advocates, academics, and most generally the constituents of the civil environment, could come together for issues that are urgent and alarming in the human rights field.
- Through 3-7 October 2020, the international symposium titled “Towards a New Human Rights Movement: What to Do in the Face of the Global Human Rights Crisis?” was held. The symposium held online included sessions on the following topics: “From regulatory to transformative: Forgetting/remembering the political horizon of human rights”, “Political violence, truth and confrontation”, “Destruction of national and international human rights mechanisms”, “Limitations of humanitarianism while advocating for human rights”, “Advocacy practices in the field of human rights under oppressive governance”, “Defending human rights in authori- tarian regimes”, and “Responses to global human rights crisis: Examples of an effective struggle”.
- The international symposium on the “The Human Rights Agenda in the Post-Pandemic Period” was held through 20-23 May 2021. The symposium held online included sessions on the topics of “One world, one health, one species? Cosmopolitics during the pandemic”, “What does the increasingly-corporate nature of states mean for human rights?”, “Populism, lies, and human rights in the post-truth world”, “Human rights and new technologies”, “Covid-19, the right to life, and ‘expendable lives’”, “Learning from the struggle”, “Courage in dark times”, as well as “HRFT Academy mentorship program research presentations”.
HRFT regularly monitors the human rights violations in Turkey and publishes daily and annual human rights reports in two languages (Turkish and English) as well as reports that are specific to particular violations and incidents, in order to reveal them in an accurate, fast and continuous manner and to prevent the violations. In this respect, it has developed an objective and reliable system for the documentation of gross/serious human rights violations, especially torture, and has created an important knowledge base.
It contributes to the reinforcement of public life on the basis of the founding role of human rights, through new programs developed by HRFT in an environment where the entire country is tried to be transformed into a place of torture, human rights violations are tried to be turned into a standard rule, and the exercise of rights into an exception, and where values are tried to be destroyed by closing down civilian spaces. In this respect; a comprehensive project/program expanding the basis of the human rights struggle, to be implemented in 6 regions of Turkey (Çukurova, Eastern Anatolia, Aegean, Southeast, Central Anatolia and Marmara), incorporating an approach centered on the foundation that bridges the local and country-wide efforts and empowers human rights actors at all levels, including the establishment of preventive and protective mechanisms, was launched on 1 March 2021 together with the IHD, FIDH and OMCT.
Efforts to strengthen the gender equality perspective were continued in order to address the findings and recommendations regarding the gender review of the 2020-2024 HRFT Strategic Plan. A working group was formed in October 2020 with the demand of mainstreaming the organizational structure and gender and strengthening the gender equality for treatment and rehabilitation. Efforts are ongoing to produce policy instruments, guidelines and regulations for the promotion of gender equality.
Furthermore, within the scope of the 2020-2024 HRFT Strategic Plan, preparations for the “HRFT’s Climate/Environmental Policy for Sustainable Living and Position Paper Regarding Protection of Ecological Life”, with the aim of contributing to the establishment of a rights-based climate/environmental approach in the face of the climate crisis and devastating environmental events, were completed in 2020.
The main mission of HRFT is to contribute to the fight against torture in all areas of life and to help torture survivors cope with the trauma they experienced and achieve a full physical, mental and social well-being. In other words, its intention is to create some kind of a “social apology” atmosphere for individuals and communities who have been subjected to gross human rights violations.
We would like to share once again, of course, that all these efforts are undoubtedly the joint works of members of the founding board, members of the Executive Board, and staff of the HRFT, who have been working with great moral and financial devotion for years, as well as of hundreds of concerned people from different social segments and fields of expertise, particularly healthcare professionals, lawyers and human rights advocates, who have come together for the same purpose from across the country.
We would like to express our gratitude once again to all our friends who contributed to these studies and did not leave us alone, and to all relevant organizations, especially the Human Rights Association and the Turkish Medical Association, which have supported our studies from the very beginning.
Ankara, 28 May 2021
 Dr., President of HRFT