INTRODUCTION and OVERVIEW
- The evaluation section of this report has been drafted in an environment where deep sorrows caused by war are once again being suffered in Ukraine, another region close to us.
It is without doubt that, ending of this situation that is causing sheer torment to people, each of whom is unique and valuable, and that is witnessed by the whole world in this day and age, the year 2022 of the 21st century, should be a matter of highest priority.
Besides, this complete silence and non-functionality in regard to taking effective and fruitful steps, observed in the international mechanisms created by the humanity by reaching out through deep sorrows that have been experienced for centuries, to ensure that these sorrows are not suffered EVER again, shows the extent of the current humanitarian crisis in the world.
Therefore, and also considering especially the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is still continuing and that the region of conflict is one of the regions with the most num- ber of active nuclear plants, the evaluation herein was drafted in a period when it is ultimately important to further step up our collective effort(s) at every level toward:
- immediately ending Russia’s attack against and occupation of Ukraine;
- ensuring solution of the problems with direct involvement of the people, through peaceful means;
- creating an environment where NATO and its other third party states and orga- nizations cannot attempt to take steps that will escalate the climate of conflict and tension and accelerate the race of getting armed, by exploiting the sorrows experienced in Ukraine;
- making sure that international mechanisms, primarily the United Nations (UN), prevent the occurrence of new tragedies by taking action in accordance with their raison d’êtreand values, including initiation of processes for restructuring them- selves,
- and of course immediately putting an end to this environment of war.
I hope and wish that these and similar occupations and wars will have ended by the time the evaluation herein is read by you.
This sorrowful experience that is being suffered (was suffered) shows once again the fact that an order where the wars/conflicts causing gross violations of human rights, particularly the right to life, big traumas, economic and societal devastations, and destruction of cities, cultures, ecology and VALUES, will come to end in the en- tire world and our country, and a fair environment of peace will be ensured, needs to be created with an approach that makes the founding role of the human rights stand out again, and that this is the urgent agenda of highest priority for the people of the entire world as well as people of Turkey.
- On the other hand, the Covid-19 pandemic being experienced for more than two years also completely reveals the weaknesses and insufficiencies of the internation- al system. 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.
The fact that surrender of all public spaces, especially those concerning fundamen- tal rights such as health, education and a clean environment, to the market, and vio- lent intervention by human beings in nature, gradually result in greater destructions and outbreaks, is sadly being experienced through being directly affected by very broad societal segments.
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 together the requirements of a “human rights-centered pandemic struggle” and the necessary radical transformations during the pandemic.
Even though a statement such as “It is not necessary to highlight the word pandem- ic as much as we did previously. We should switch from the period of fighting the pandemic with restrictions as a society, to the period of individual protection.”was made by the Ministry of Health of our country on 2 March 2022 based on unknown scientific data and evidence, the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to exist in this last activity period as well.
Considering that, according to the data of the Ministry of Health, 97,666 people lost their lives directly due to Covid-19 as of 3 April 2022, we are going through loss- es each of which need to be addressed within the scope of the right to life mainly because they are preventable deaths, and which cause deep sorrows (direct or indirect deaths due to Covid-19), and in addition, we are going through a process where many rights violations are experienced, especially losses caused by the re- strictions on the right to access healthcare services, in the sense that they cause delays in treatment of or increase in many severe health problems; deprivations and exhaustions based on restrictions on social relations, and unequal restrictions in economic life, each of which should also be addressed within the scope of human rights violations.
As the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, we filed a criminal complaint on 10 December 2021 together with the Turkish Medical Association, Human Rights Asso- ciation and the Health and Social Services Workers’ Trade Union (SES), for a public action to be initiated against those who are responsible (Minister of Health, Minister of Labor and Social Security, and Board of Health and Food Policies) due to acting in breach of the requirements of their duties and causing grievance against individuals and public loss by negligence and delay in fulfilling the requirements of their duties during the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly due to violations of the right to life and health. Although the “decision ruling that investigation is unnecessary” and the “decision ruling that the petition be not put into process” were granted on 27 January 2022 with regard to our said application, the process of filing an objection to these decisions by us is underway.
It is without a doubt that, 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, LGBTI+’s individuals, detainees and refugees).
On the other hand, 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 we also mentioned in our previous reports, our country is governed with a State of Emergency regime, which was first applied directly from 2016 onwards, then as a process that was made permanent/continuous through many arrangements the last of which entered into effect on 28 July 2021, although the State of Emergency regime was said to be officially ended as of 19 July 2018. This situation/ process has resulted in abandonment of the principle of constitutionalism which limits the strength of the ruling party and thus, the turning of both law and institutions into the “tools” of the oppressive regime, making an environment of arbitrariness and especially uncertainty dominate the public sphere.
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” have been turned into a characteristic feature of the regime.
As laid down in the reports of both the human rights organizations in our country including our foundation and the international human rights organizations including the United Nations, which Turkey is a member of, and the relevant bodies of the Council of Europe, violations of the right to life, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, violence that has reached the level of “torture” by security forces in respect of thoughts, meetings and demonstrations, and violations of almost all fundamental rights and freedoms are tried to be made into something normal and ordinary and continue increasingly, also on the pretext of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Moreover, today, as witnessed by a great majority of people of Turkey and as directly experienced by many segments of the society, we are going through times when human rights violations have turned into a rule, exercise of rights has turned into an exception, and more importantly, the tendencies to resort to abolishment of human rights beyond their systematic violation are deepening, and the idea of a rights- based regime is being abandoned.
On the other hand, the Kurdish issue maintains its existence as one of the principal obstacles to democratization of Turkey. The environment of armed conflict, which started right after the General Elections of 7 June 2015, still exists, especially with the effect of the ruling party’s failure to take sincere and comprehensive steps to- wards a peaceful, democratic and fair solution to the issue, as well as the developments in the Middle East, and this environment leads to gross and serious human rights violations, particularly the right to life. The attempt to close the political party HDP, which received the votes of 6.5 million citizens in the last general elections, in particular, will push a substantial part of the Turkish society, and especially the Kurds, out of the inclusion and representation mechanisms, depriving them of the possibilities of exercising their political rights. This is an extremely worrying development given that it would largely damage the social peace and the will of living together. Development of sincere and effective programs by all parties with the active involvement of the whole society is an agenda item of priority in order to establish an environment of non-conflict, to strengthen, empower and monitor such environment by taking lessons from the past troubles, and to ensure public peace.
- In addition to these, Turkey is also going through one of the biggest economic crises of the last forty years. The impoverishment, increasing insecurity and disorganization, caused by the policies characterized as “neoliberal capitalist economy” that have been applied for years have further deepened and become continuous with the State of Emergency practices. And this picture has become more severe with the Covid-19 pandemic.
- In 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 period 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 HRA’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.
Eren Keskin was also acquitted on 17 February 2022 in the first hearing of a lawsuit where she was tried for a speech made in a panel.
- Dr. Serdar Kuni, the physician in charge of applications at HRFT Cizre Reference Center in the previous period and Head of Şırnak Medical Chamber, had been sentenced to imprisonment for 4 years and 2 months on 16 November 2020. The file the decision in which was then upheld by the intermediate appeal court is currently under review of the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court of Appeals).
Moreover, the family practice contract of Serdar Kuni was suspended by Şırnak Health Directorate for 2 months with effect from 28 March 2022 due to this file.
- Dr. Mehmet Selim Ölçer, a member of the Founding Board of HRFT, who held the position of member of board of directors in different periods and general secretary between 2000 and 2003, and served as the Head of Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) between 1990 and 1995, was sentenced by Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court on 11 October 2021 to imprisonment for 2 years and 1 month due to the studies he conducted at “Sarmaşık Association for Fight Against Poverty and Sustainable Development”, of which he was the founder.
- Öztürk Türkdoğan, the founding member of HRFT and the Co-President of HRA, had been released in the evening of the same day after being detained on 19 March 2021. Later, the next hearing of a lawsuit filed against him and concern- ing entirely his advocacy activities in the capacity of Co-President of the Human Rights Association has been deferred to 19 April 2022. Two separate lawsuits have also been filed against Öztürk Türkdoğan with a criminal complaint filed as a result of an administrative, financial and activity inspection in February 2020 by the Civil Inspectorate at the headquarters of HRA. The first of these is related to the allegation that the statements of the Human Rights Association made on 24.04.2017 and 24.04.2018 for recognition of the Armenian genocide were contrary to article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code, and the other one is related to the allegation that an article posted on the website of the Human Rights Association on 29.06.2018 contained offensive statements about Süleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior.
- In the lawsuit in which Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the former president of our foundation and a current member of our board of directors, and the Central Council Chairman of TMA (Turkish Medical Association), Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and journalist-author Ahmet Nesin, were tried on the grounds, and acquitted, in relation to their participation in the ‘Editor-In-Chief On Duty’ campaign launched in May 2016 for the purpose of forming solidarity with the newspaper Özgür Gündem against the judicial harassment and pressures the newspaper was exposed to, the intermediate appeal court has decided for a retrial in order to have them sentenced, and thus, they have been subjected to a pressure policy by means of the judiciary. Their next hearing will take place on 14 June 2022.
It was learned on 21 March 2022 that another investigation has been initiated about Şebnem Korur Fincancı due to an interview she gave on a YouTube channel.
- Social Service Specialist Serkan Delidere, an employee of HRFT Diyarbakır Representative Office, and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp, our volunteer, a former Mem- ber of the Central Council of TMA (Turkish Medical Association) 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. Although Şeyhmus Gökalp, who was arrested, was released after nearly three months of arrest, a lawsuit was nevertheless filed during which he was acquitted in the hearing dat- ed 19 November 2021. Serkan Delidere, on the other hand, was acquitted in the hearing dated 21 April 2021 in the course of the lawsuit filed.
- Gulan Çağın Kaleli, the lawyer of HRFT, was prevented from carrying out her duty and an investigation was initiated about her with the accusation of organization membership on 10 March 2021 in the file where she served as counsel.
- Aytül Uçar, treatment secretary of HRFT Izmir Representative Office, was detained on 3 February 2021 for warning the law enforcement officers who resorted to torture and other forms of ill-treatment during the protests against appointment of Melih Bulu as chancellor for Boğaziçi University, and two separate lawsuits were filed against her although she was released on the same day. First of all, the next hearing of the lawsuit filed against three women including herself on the grounds of “insulting the President of the Republic” was deferred to 13 May 2022. Secondly, the first hearing of the lawsuit filed on the grounds of “opposition to the law on meetings and demonstrations” will take place on 15 April 2022.
- Hüseyin Yaviç, physician in charge of applications at HRFT Van Representative Office and Head of Hakkari-Van Medical Chamber, and Sevim Çiçek, secretary of HRFT representative office, were detained as a result of the intervention of law enforcement officers in the press statement made on 25 October 2021 to commemorate Dr. Rümeysa Berin Şen, who lost her life in a traffic accident that took place in Ankara while she was going to her home after a watch that lasted 36 hours, and then they were released on the same day. The first hearing of the lawsuit filed against them on the grounds of “opposition to the law on meetings and demonstrations” will take place on 26 May 2022.
- 8 healthcare professionals who are members of TMA and SES, including our physicians in charge of applications, Dr. Ayfer Bostan and Dr. Hüseyin Yaviç, who is also the Head of Van-Hakkari Medical Chamber, were detained due to a press statement made in Van within the scope of the S(Task)RIKE performed on 8 February 2022 upon a call from the Turkish Medical Association and organized labor and professional associations in the field of health, to express the justified problems and demands of the healthcare professionals across the country.
- Moreover, hundreds of investigations and lawsuits in total are still ongoing regarding the executives and members of HRA, the founding member of HRFT.
- In addition, there are both administrative and judicial investigations against the legal personalities of the human rights organizations like HRFT and HRA. The investigation processes initiated with respect to the report prepared after Cizre visit, collectively by HRFT, HRA, Gündem Children’s Association, SES and Diyarbakır Bar Association within the scope of documenting the gross/serious human rights violations in the settlements located in the south-east of Turkey, where curfews were applied, are continuing within the scope of Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code.
- As also mentioned in our previous report; while such a process was taking place in the field of human rights;
i. A 128-page Human Rights Action Plan, which included 9 goals, 50 targets and 393 activities, had been announced by the President of the Republic on 2 March 2021. Then, on 30 April 2021, a Circular had been published along with the Human Rights Action Plan and Implementation Schedule.
a) In terms of the statement, “To give a flower too little water would dry it up, and yet, to give it too much water would wither it’; this is a fact that requires the justice to be carefully implemented with the meticulousness of a jeweler. And surely, we will not water every flower we see, either. While giving water to a flower whose neck is bent from thirst is to do justice, giving water to a thorn can mean cruelty”, which was included in the 37-page written speech of the President of the Re- public delivered at the meeting where the 128-page Human Rights Action Plan, including 9 goals, 50 targets and 393 activities, was introduced; we are of the opinion that these are sentences of special importance that reflect the human rights view which dominates the Human Rights Action Plan.
And the reason we are saying this is that, presenting a human rights plan con- taining a language that has the power to determine who will have rights and who will be excluded from rights, means rejecting the principle of equality, which is one of the basic principles of the concept of human rights, from the outset. There- fore, a human rights action plan that is not based on a human rights perspective cannot be truly a human rights action plan.
b)Moreover, the previous humanrights action plan was published on 1 March 2014, seven years ago, under the title of “Action Plan for the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”.
Making an objective evaluation in terms of human rights for the seven years that elapsed since the publication of the previous Action Plan, the longest term of which had been determined as 5 years, before evaluating the Human Rights Action Plan that came to the agenda again seven years after the action plan published on 1 March 2014, formerly known as “Action Plan for the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”, and revealing in the first place, based on concrete criteria, the extent to which the goals and targets announced in 2014 were achieved or not achieved, and preparing a new human rights plan based on this evaluation, could be an appropriate method to follow.
For example; the introduction section of the action plan published in 2014 states, “When we look at the statistics of the ECtHR, it is seen that, as of 31 December 2013, 11.3% of the pending files before the Court are the applications made against our country, and that in this respect, Turkey ranks 5th after Russia, Italy, Ukraine and Serbia. As of the same date, the total number of violation decisions (1959-2013) awarded by the ECtHR regarding Turkey has reached 2,639 and unfortunately our country is the country with the highest number of violation decisions”.
However, in the ECtHR report for 2020 published on 28 January 2021, it was stated that “Out of a total of 62,000 cases, 13,650 cases (22.4 percent) were about the Russian Federation, followed by Turkey with 11,750 cases (18.1 per- cent), Ukraine with 10,400 cases (16.7 percent), and Romania with 7,550 cases (12.5 percent)”, and that “there was a 27 percent increase in applications made against Turkey, compared to 2019”.
In other words, Turkey, which was in the 5th place with 11.3% of the pending files before the Court in 2013, has risen to the second place after Russia with a rate of 18.1% in 2020. Again, in the ECtHR report of 2020, the total number of violation decisions (1959-2020) awarded by the ECtHR against Turkey increased from 2,639 decisions in 2013 to 3,742 in 2020, and Turkey maintained its position as the country with the highest number of violation decisions.
As a result; when the Action Plan for the Prevention of ECHR Violations, which was published seven years ago on 1 March 2014, is evaluated in the light of objective criteria, it is obvious that the goals and targets set forth in the Action Plan have not been achieved and that there is an even deeper level of destruction observed in the human rights field.
It will not be realistic to predict that any positive step will be taken without daring to acknowledge these problems, and especially with an approach based on the confession made in the Action Plan with the statements such as, “The last 20 years, in which the strongest democratization and demilitarization steps of the history of our republic were taken, witnessed many innovations that facilitated the daily life of individuals in all areas of life and reinforced the sense of trust in the state, as well as reforms made in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms”, which signals that the mentality and practices that have been adopted so far will continue, and furthermore, such an approach will inevitably lead to an even worse repetition of past mistakes.
Besides, the ECtHR report for 2021, published on 26 January 2022, indeed shows that the situation has further worsened when this criterion is taken into account. This is because, in the last ECtHR report published, the number of pending files before the Court has increased from 62,000 in the previous year (2020) to 70,150 in 2021. It was stated that, out of a total of 70,150 cases, 24.2 percent (17,000) were about Russia, 21.7 percent (15,250) were about Turkey, 16.2 percent (11,350) were about Ukraine, 8.1 percent (5,700) were about Ro- mania, and 3,646 files were about Italy.
In other words, the ratio of Turkey having the slice of 18.1% of the pending files before the Court in 2020 has increased to 21.7% in 2021. Again, in the ECtHR report of 2021, the total number of violation decisions (1959-2021) awarded by the ECtHR against Turkey increased from 2,639 decisions in 2013 to 3,820 in 2021, and Turkey maintained its position as the country with the highest number of violation decisions.
c) Moreover, the fact that only about 13 of the 393 activities included in the Action Plan 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, as well as the legal regulations made and the statements made by the authorities, immediately after the announcement of the Action Plan, are only some indicators of the insincerity of the ruling party in this regard.
ii. In this respect, some legal regulations mentioned below, which were made immediately after the announcement of the Human Rights Action Plan on 2 March 2021, are a tangible indicator of the insincerity of the ruling party in this regard as well as constituting the examples of the ruling party’s arbitrary governance, which has turned into the characteristic feature of the regime:
a) 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 DECISIONconsisting of four and a half lines, on 20 March 2021, ten years after it was opened for signature in 2011 in Istanbul.
b) On 27 April 2021, a CIRCULARwas published by the General Directorate of Police Forces (EGM), prohibiting the taking of audio and video recordings of the law enforcement officers who intervene in meetings and demonstrations, on the grounds that it “breaches the right to respect for private life”.
c) The process of enactment of the legislation titled the “ACT ON INTRODUCITON OF AMENDMENTS TO CERTAIN LAWS AND DECREE LAWS”, which was published in the Official Gazette dated 28 July 2021 and is publicly referred to as an “omnibus bill”, showed once more the extent of arbitrariness in the law-making technique and the heavy destruction this has caused in the functioning of the democracy.
But more importantly, within the scope of this legislation, the Law No. 7145 which entered into effect after being published in the Official Gazette on 31 July 2018 and is publicly known as the “new security law”, meaning an “actual State of Emergency”, has been extended for an additional one year. As is known, in the preamble section of the Law No. 7145, it was clearly expressed that the amendments in question, including an unacceptable amendment of the detention period as 12 days, were necessary since the official State of Emergency that lasted two years between 21 July 2016 and 19 July 2018 could not be extended any more. Thus, although the ruling party alleges otherwise, the State of Emergency regime that was announced to have been ended on 19 July 2018 had been extended for an additional three years in practice on 31 July 2018 despite all the criticisms and objections of the human rights organizations.
d) The fact that the scope of gun license has been further expanded and facilitated by means of the “REGULATIONon introduction of amendments to the regulation on firearms and knives and other tools”, published in the Official Gazette dated 11 September 2021, as well as the amendments to the effect that those who have been convicted of crimes committed with firearms can apply for a license after five years from the execution of their sentences and that license may be granted if the respective fine is paid for certain crimes, have further increased the danger in terms of individual armament.
e) By means of the “REGULATIONon Introduction of Amendments to the Regulation on Associations”, published in the Official Gazette dated 21 October 2021, an attempt was made to negatively and seriously affect the independent activ- ities of the associations, which is in addition to several regulations made in the recent period.
f) The “PRESIDENTIAL CIRCULAR” published in the Official Gazette on 19 January 2022 has been one of the most negative examples of the new attempts to create pressure and censorship on media, constituting, in a sense, a special state of emergency, going beyond the violation of freedom of expression and press.
g) As detailed in the section “2.2 Prohibition of Torture and Other Forms of Ill-Treatment, and Procedural Safeguards, in the Legislation” of our report, five consecutive amendments have been made recently in most of the regulationssetting out the working order and method in prisons and the rules to be complied with by those working at such institutions, and broad powers have been granted by these amendments unlawfully to prison administrations.
- It is without doubt that, despite all the negative situations being experienced, people all around the world and across our country and many different segments of the society including the healthcare professionals with their ‘white actions’ as well as the labor movement, human rights movement, environmental movement, students’ movement, and women and LGBTI+ movements, are raising their voices with the demands for freedom, justice, equality and human rights, and this is extremely valuable and gives hope for the future.
We would like to express once again our belief 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.
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 de- cay to a life of co-existence based on human rights values with all their 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.
That is why, in this recent period, as HRFT, we have been striving to increase our ef- forts to further strengthen the existing studies quantitatively and qualitatively on one hand, while on the other hand, 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 HRA as a result of the efforts of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) and HRA in 1990, with the presence of 32 human rights advocates consisting of intellectuals and legal entities, HRFT is a human rights organization with international recognition and reputation, which has been contributing to the right of access of torture survivors to treatment and rehabilitation services and which has been carry- ing out studies on the documentation and prevention of torture for 32 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 grievous/ 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” in Cizre.
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 2021, HRFT has contributed to the right of access of 19,959 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 torture and other forms of ill-treatment, our treatment centers continued their studies in 2021, paying maxi- mum attention to pandemic measures in the light of the guidelines prepared. More- over, although we anticipated a total of 530 new applicants (hereinafter referred to as applicant/application), consisting of persons subjected to torture, or their relatives, resorting to our treatment and rehabilitation centers for help, a total of 984 new applicants have turned to our centers for help, which is almost twice of 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.
Among 984 people who applied to HRFT in 2021, 871 (89.6%) of 972 applicants who were covered by the scope were included in the evaluation processes since they were exposed to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in Turkey, 44 (4.5%) thereof were included since they were exposed to torture and other forms of ill-treatment outside Turkey, and 57 (5.9%) of the applicants as being the relatives of tortured individuals. Out of a total of 984 new applicants, the number of those who were tortured in the same year (in 2021) was 630 (64%).
A reference center was opened in Van on 13 January 2018 in order to enhance the studies of HRFT in Van and its surroundings where there are grievous/serious human rights violations caused by the climate of armed conflicts that started again in July 2015, and by the state of emergency practices that are still in effect/have become permanent. Although 50 people exposed to torture and 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 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 trans- formed 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 cen- ters continued also in 2021, and within this scope, 195 applications were received in 2021.
In 2020, 66 new applicants, 24 of which were about children, were included in the special social support program and 5 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 torture survivor applicants both from Turkey and from different countries around the world, which reports are respected by international judicial bodies such as the Europe- an Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In this respect; in 2021, 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.
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 Cru- el, 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 Committee 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 had been postponed for a certain period due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the UN bodies had decided to publish it on 22 May 2021. However, introduction and announcement of the new Edition of the Istanbul Protocol by the United Nations was then postponed to 2022.
Due to this postponement process, a plan was made in 2022 which envisages that, after the printing process of the 2022 Edition of the Istanbul Protocol by the UN, the new edition will be translated into Turkish and the first trainers’ training will be held right thereafter.
HRFT has organized and is still organizing a lot of 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 con- ducting many scientific studies, especially on the topics of detection of torture and efforts to increase the effectiveness of treatment processes. In 2021, Istanbul Protocol implementation training was performed along with Izmir Bar Association.
Two separate reports were submitted under two different headings to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2021 (one with the Memory Center and HRA, and the other with HRA, Association of Lawyers for Freedom and Society and Legal Research Foundation).
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.
A paper titled “Human rights violations in prisons during Covid-19 Pandemic” was presented to the Online 2nd International & 18th National Forensic Sciences Congress” held on 14-17 October 2021.
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” was held in Diyarbakır on 5-6 June 2021 in a mixed online and face- to-face format. This meeting, which consists of speaker-negotiator panels on the topics of City; Justice; Pschological Processes, and Restoration and Civil Society, focused 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 was to contribute to the design of concrete programs that can be implemented collectively to cope with the currently-ongoing social trauma caused by this process.
Moreover, an international symposium was held in 2021 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. The international symposium on “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 consultancy 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 these violations in an accurate, fast and continuous manner and to prevent them. In this respect, it has developed an objective and reliable system for the documentation of grievous/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 HRA, 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. The documents titled “Paper on Attitude Toward Gender-Based Violence”, “Gender Equality in the Process of Treatment and Re- habilitation of Torture Survivors and Their Relatives”, “Guide for Gender-Sensitive Communication”, “Guide for Gender Equality in Research”, “Guide for Gender Equality in Foundation Events” and “Guideline for Commission of Measures and Support against Gender-Based Violence”, which were finalized in 2021 by the work group formed specifically in this regard by receiving the contribution of the circle of the entire foundation have entered into effect upon their ratification by the board of directors of HRFT.
The main mission of HRFT is to contribute to the fight against torture in all areas of life and to help torture survivor cope with the trauma they experienced and achieve a full physical, mental and social well-being. In other words, its intention is to create somewhat of a “social apology” atmosphere for individuals and communities who have been subjected to grievous 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 board of directors, and employees of HRFT, who have been working with great moral and financial devotion for years, as well as of hundreds of concerned people from different society 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, 4 April 2022
Metin Bakkalcı, MD., President of HRFT