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Saturday, December 3, 2016

UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, on the visit to Turkey




UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, on the visit to Turkey.

II. Preliminary findings.

Given the limited duration of my stay in the country, and the limited number of detention places and inmates visited, the observations I am presenting today are preliminary and non-exhaustive. Based on the information collected during my mission, I will draft a more comprehensive and updated report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2018.

During our meetings with the authorities, all officials of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of the State emphasized their commitment to Turkey’s “zero tolerance” policy on torture. At no point did any official at any level in the hierarchy challenge the absolute and non-derogable prohibition, or suggest any exceptions or interpretations inconsistent with international law.

2. Disconnect between policy and reality.

However, during my interactions with inmates, lawyers and civil society representatives, I also received persistent allegations suggesting a serious discrepancy between the legal and procedural safeguards put in place and their actual implementation as far as the investigation of alleged violations is concerned. Based on my preliminary assessment, this discrepancy seems to be the result of several coinciding factors:
  • The sweeping security measures taken by the Government in response to the failed coup of 15 July 2016 seem to have resulted in a general sense of intimidation and distrust in many segments of the population, preventing not only inmates and their families, but also civil society, lawyers, and doctors from initiating or participating in any procedure that may be perceived – rightly or wrongly - as opposing or criticizing the Government and its officials.
  • Some recently passed legislation and statutory decrees have created an environment conducive to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including:
    • the extension of the period of custody without judicial review to 30 days;
    • the extension of the period without access to a lawyer to five days;
    • the denial of confidential exchange between inmates suspected of terrorist crimes and their lawyers;
    • the introduction of immunity from criminal prosecution for forces conducting counter-terrorist operations in the Southeast.
  • As a consequence of the recent dismissals of thousands of judges, prosecutors and other officials, the case-load of individual complaints cannot be processed in a timely manner.
  • Due to these dismissals and other delays caused in administrative appointment processes, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution, which according to Turkish domestic law is also to exercise the function of the National Preventive Mechanism foreseen in OPCAT, currently cannot assume its decisive preventative role of carrying out regular, independent and objective inspections of all places of detention in Turkey.
For certain phases of detention, we also received numerous allegations of torture and other ill-treatment following the patterns outlined below. The forensic expert who accompanied me throughout the visit, conducted a number of medical examinations of inmates, some of which confirmed physical injuries consistent with the testimonies we received.

3. Post-Coup Arrests.

After the state of emergency was declared in the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, mass arrests of individuals suspected to be associated with the Gulenist movement (labelled by the Government as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, FETÖ) were conducted.

Testimonies received from inmates and their lawyers suggest that, in the days and weeks following the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread, particularly at the time of the arrest by police and gendarmerie officials or military forces and subsequent detention in police or gendarmerie lock-ups as well as in unofficial detention locations.

Many of my interlocutors reported that law enforcement officials felt free to harass, intimidate and insult anyone perceived as opposing the Government or its authority, in all impunity. After this initial phase marked by arbitrariness, however, the ill-treatment appears to have ceased. Apart from occasional verbal threats, my team received no allegations and collected no evidence of currently ongoing torture or ill-treatment with respect to those inmates, male or female, who were arrested for reasons related to the attempted coup.

The majority of those reporting previously to have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment said that they did not file complaints to the authorities for fear of retaliation against them or their families and because of a deep distrust in the independence of the prosecution and the judiciary and, consequently, in their willingness or ability to adequately investigate and adjudicate their claims. Upon my request, the Turkish authorities agreed to provide statistical data on individual complaints filed for alleged torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

While I have not yet received and analysed all the data requested, preliminary information gathered seems to suggest that the small number of investigations carried out by the authorities so far is grossly disproportionate to the alleged frequency of violations.

As noted above, the dismissals, the related arrests and other sweeping security measures taken by the Government in response to the failed coup of 15 July seem to have resulted in a general sense of intimidation and distrust in many if not most segments of the population, discouraging not only inmates and their families, but also civil society, lawyers, and medical doctors from initiating or participating in any procedure that may be perceived – rightly or wrongly - as opposing or criticizing the Government and its officials.

As a result, allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment related to the failed coup have not been effectively investigated. Read the full report here.

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