Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Amnesty International UK



  1.  This paper considers the human rights situation in Turkey only to the extent that it is relevant to the mandate of Amnesty International.

  2.  While Amnesty International promotes all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights with the emphasis on the universality and indivisibility of human rights, its main focus is:

    —  physical and mental integrity;

    —  freedom of conscience and expression;

    —  freedom from discrimination.


  3.  Amnesty International has continuing concerns about the failure of Turkey to conform to international standards of human rights.

  4.  Amnesty International takes no position on whether or not any candidate country, including Turkey, should join the European Union. The EU's decision to monitor the human rights situation in the candidate countries and to report regularly on any progress indicates a commitment to the achievement of an acceptable standard of human rights within the EU. Amnesty International understands that during the accession process Turkey, like others, will benefit from EU encouragement and support for its reforms.

  5.  In late 2000, the European Commission identified a number of short-term and medium-term priorities to guide Turkey towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession. These were formally adopted by the Council in March 2001. The human rights related priorities cover issues ranging from the composition of the National Security Council (NSC), to the abolition of the death penalty, and include the lifting of the ban on broadcasting in Kurdish and the introduction of equality of men and women. In response, Turkey adopted a National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis. Amnesty International welcomes some of the subsequent legislative steps taken by Turkey, including the Constitutional amendments passed on 3 October 2001.

  6.  However, the organisation is disappointed that amendments did not include significant guarantees for freedom of expression or safeguards against torture and fall short of meeting Turkey's international obligations. In addition, no concrete steps have been taken at grass roots level to effect real improvement in the human rights situation. Freedom of speech remains restricted, human rights defenders continue to be harassed, death sentences continue to be passed and many prisoners suffer isolation in the new F-Type prisons. Torture can be described as systematic, in the sense that it is a pervasive technique used by law enforcement agencies, regardless of the approval or disapproval of higher officials or of the government. Torturers are rarely brought to justice.

  7.  Improvement in human rights will only result from limiting restrictions on individual freedoms to the narrow margins of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and from a comprehensive reform of law and practice, including the introduction and implementation of effective steps to eradicate torture.

  8.  In the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Human Rights Annual Report 2001 (Cm 5211), a short assessment of the human rights situation in Turkey (on pages 9-10) expresses concern about

    the continuing incidence of torture by the security forces; the way in which force was used to break up prison riots in December 2000; the disappearance in January 2001 of two HADEP (pro-Kurdish political party) administrators, last seen in a police station in south east Turkey; the regular closures of branches of the foremost Turkish NGO, Human Rights Association; and the criminal charges brought against 19 individuals accused of insulting the Turkish state by attending a conference on the occurrence of rape in custody.

  It is encouraging that this analysis reflects many of the concerns set out below by Amnesty International.

  9.  However, the report's description of the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis as "a clear programme of major administrative, institutional and legal reform" needs to be treated with a degree of care. Some aspects of the programme were formulated in general terms. Furthermore, to effect a positive change in Turkey's human rights situation, constitutional and legal amendments, and indeed existing laws, must be translated into practice. For example, the prohibition of torture must be rigorously enforced.

  10.  It is therefore incumbent on the United Kingdom, other EU member states and the EU institutions to comprehensively monitor the human rights situation. Monitoring must refer not only to legal amendments and political rhetoric but also to the reality on the ground. The UK and EU must raise human rights concerns and draw attention to recommended remedial action at every opportunity.



  11.  During four separate visits between November 1999 and June 2001, Amnesty International delegates found no signs of serious and effective measures to combat torture. The geographic spread, the range of potential victims and the number of testimonies received indicated that almost anybody could be tortured. Victims could include people suspected of pro-Kurdish, Islamist or Leftist activities, people suspected of involvement in protests against the new F-Type prisons, others suspected of corruption or criminal offences, major and petty. They included women and children.

  12.  It can take the form of heavy beating, being stripped naked, sexual abuse, death or rape threats, other psychological torture, deprivation of sleep, food, drink or use of the toilet. Other methods include electric shocks, especially to the genitals, suspension by the arms, hosing with pressurised icy water, and falaka, beating on the soles of the feet. If it is likely that the detainee will be released, methods that do not leave marks will sometimes be used, except in rural areas where victims have little access to human rights defenders or medical examination.

  13.  Torture mainly occurs in police or gendarmerie custody during the first days of detention. Several factors contribute towards it: incommunicado detention; unacknowledged detention; prolonged detention.

Incommunicado detention

  The abolition of incommunicado detention is neither among the constitutional amendments nor among the short-term measures promised in the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis but might be implied in Turkey's mid-term measures, which are formulated in very general terms. Although detainees may benefit from legal counsel at any stage and level of the investigation under Article 136 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code (TCPC) amended in 1992, people held under the jurisdiction of the State Security Courts, including children, can still be held incommunicado for up to four days.[1]

Unacknowledged detention

  15.  The Turkish Regulation on Apprehension provides clear guidelines for the registration of people taken into custody and their right to inform relatives. These guidelines are often ignored. Apart from the distress caused to relatives, the failure to register detainees properly and promptly creates conditions of increased risk of torture, "disappearance" or death in custody.[2]

Prolonged detention

  16.  Torture mainly occurs in Turkey in police and gendarmerie detention before detainees are presented to a prosecutor or judge. The European Court of Human Rights has established in numerous applications from Turkey that, in violation of Article 5(3) of the ECHR, detainees had not been brought promptly before a judge. As a short-term priority, the EU has asked Turkey to "further align legal procedures concerning pre-trial detention with the provisions of the European Court of Human Rights and with recommendations of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture".

  17.  The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has also urged that

    the legislation should be amended to ensure that no one is held without prompt access to a lawyer of his and her choice as required under the law applicable to ordinary crimes or, when compelling reasons dictate, access to another independent lawyer. (b) The legislation should be amended to ensure that any extensions of police custody are ordered by a judge, before whom the detainee should be brought in person: such extensions should not exceed a total of four days from the moment of arrest or, in a genuine emergency, seven days, provided that the safeguards referred to in the previous recommendations are in place.[3]

  18.  These rights are frequently violated in Turkey for people detained on suspicion of crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the State Security Courts. Until the amendment of the Constitution, police custody for these detainees, before being seen by a judge, could be increased to seven days—or to ten days in the four provinces under a State of Emergency (Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Sirnak and Tunceli).

  19.  The amendment of the Constitution's Article 19 on "Personal Liberty and Security" appears to reduce the maximum period for police detention to four days but the wording allows for different interpretations as it also says these periods may be extended under state of emergency, martial law or in times of war. Since current law foresees maximum periods for detention of up to seven days for offences in the jurisdiction of State Security Laws and up to ten days in a region under a state of emergency, the constitutional amendment will therefore have to be translated into law.

Extraction of "confessions"

  20.  The amendment of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code in 1992 prohibited the use of torture and ill-treatment as interrogation methods. This ban has now been given constitutional status with an amendment of Article 38 of the Constitution. According to lawyers, human rights defenders and some prosecutors in Turkey, one of the main reasons for the persistence of torture is that confessions play a major role in the investigation of crimes. Most victims allege in their reports to Amnesty International that they were made to sign statements "confessing" their guilt or blaming others for the offence. Detainees are frequently remanded to prison on the basis of such statements, which are read out in court and placed on file.[4] In most cases, Turkish officials fail to investigate related torture allegations, so not only do torturers go unpunished but victims often receive an unfair trial.

Sexual torture

  21.  Rape and sexual assault by members of the security forces continue to be reported. Both men and women are subjected to sexual torture, including beating and electric shocks on the genitals and breasts, squeezing of the testicles and rape.[5] The consequences have been particularly far-reaching for women and girls, involving risk of pregnancy and dishonour in their community, and there was previously a reluctance to report it. However a legal aid project for women abused and raped in custody, founded in Istanbul in 1997, has encouraged more reporting. Between mid-1997 and October 2001, 146 women sought help. The alleged perpetrators are mainly police officers but include gendarmes, soldiers and village guards, and in one case prison guards. They have rarely been brought to justice.

  22.  In several cases "virginity tests" have been performed on young women without their consent, justified by authorities on the grounds of establishing sexual assault. Such a test which involves examination of the hymen does not prove rape, as rape can occur without breach of the hymen. A decree by the Ministry of Justice in 1999 prohibits forcible tests when there is no allegation of sexual assault.

  23.  In July 2001 the Health Minister reinstated "virginity tests" on high school students in certain circumstances and authorised schools to dismiss those girls proven not to be virgins.

  24.  Amnesty International believes that the forcible subjection of detainees to these tests is a form of gender-based violence and that tests on high school students are discriminatory, can cause severe pain or suffering, are inflicted intentionally by state officials. This can, therefore, amount to torture or ill-treatment.

In prisons

  25.  There are some concerns about ill-treatment of prisoners during transfers to and from prisons, for example to another prison, to medical treatment or to court by gendarmes. These concerns have increased since the introduction of F-Type prisons with smaller one, two or three person cells. Amnesty International is concerned about the lack of opportunity to associate with other prisoners, as prolonged isolation amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. F-Type prisons and the new wings on existing prisons, built to eliminate the over-crowded dormitories, which were dominated by gangs or political groups, have been the cause of a hunger strike by political prisoners and their relatives since October 2000. At the time of writing, 46 people have died, in addition to the 30 prisoners and two guards who died in the operation to break the prison protest in December 2000.

  26.  Article 16 of the Anti-Terror Law, laying down a draconian regime of isolation, although rarely implemented before the F-Type prisons, was amended in May 2001 to allow communal activities and unobstructed visits. However, the wording suggests that provision of these rights is at the discretion of the prison authorities. When a European Parliament delegation visited in June, common areas were not in use.


  27.  Turkish law prohibits ill-treatment, torture and unregistered detention and prosecutors should investigate all allegations, whether made officially or through court, media or other public statements where there are reasonable grounds for an investigation.

  28.   The Law on the Prosecution of Civil Servants, 2 December 1999 (Law No. 4483), is inadequate, as it is only possible to open an investigation against a civil servant who commits a crime if the related superior officer gives permission. Pressure is frequently applied to victims to deter them from filing complaints. The decision of whether or not to prosecute should be taken by only by judges or prosecutors.[6]

  29.  Other significant factors contributing to the continuing impunity of torturers are routine blindfolding, which prevents identification, and both the complicity and the intimidation of doctors and other health professionals.

  30.  When perpetrators are eventually tried, they are rarely convicted, even in the face of strong evidence. Officers are not suspended and are often promoted during the investigation and trial, which may continue for years. Only 10 security officials were convicted out of 577 accused of torture between 1995 and 1999. 2,851 investigations of ill-treatment ended with 84 convictions. These figures also show that if cases are opened it is usually on charges of ill-treatment rather than torture.[7]


  31.  Amnesty international welcomes the amendment to abolish the death penalty for criminal acts. However it has been retained for war crimes (six articles) and "terror crimes" (six articles). Of the latter, the two most frequently used relate to separatist acts (Article 125) and attempts or incitement to overthrow or alter the Constitution or parliament (Article 146). Terror crimes are very broadly defined under the Anti-Terror Law.

  32.  There has been a de facto moratorium on executions since 1984, but death sentences have continued to be passed. As recently as the 7 January 2002, three men were sentenced to death for the murder of four prominent writers and academics in an alleged plan to establish an Islamic state in Turkey. As of October 2001, 61 files concerning 117 people were held at the parliament. 62 per cent of these were passed under Articles 125 and 146 and they could be carried out if confirmed and the law is not changed. In addition, the file on Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the armed opposition group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is being held at the Office of the Prime Minister and this prominent case is believed to be the main reason to retain the death penalty, in spite of repeated calls from international bodies for its abolition.


  33.  Several amended articles of the Constitution might have an impact on the right to freedom of expression. The amendment of Article 14 on the prohibition of rights abuse introduced a reference to "acts". Although this might have been meant to inhibit restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, the wording is too broad to be useful for this purpose, because it could be interpreted as including delivering a speech, writing or publishing an article or book.

  34.  The articles banning statements and publications "in a language prohibited by law", targeted at the Kurdish language without specific mention, has now been abolished. This is very welcome.

  35.  However, amended Article 26 introduced further restrictions to the right to freedom of expression "for the purposes of protecting national security, public order and public safety, the basic characteristics of the Republic and safeguarding the indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation". Such wording has been used in the past to penalise peaceful statements on the Kurdish issue or the role of Islam in politics and society.

  36.  Several articles in Turkish law, carrying long prison sentences, are mainly or solely used for any statements on the existence of Kurds or other ethnic groups in Turkey, or when rights are demanded for these groups. Article 8 of the Anti-Terror law, which criminalises peaceful "separatist propaganda", was used to sentence economics professor Dr Fikret Baskaya to 16 months imprisonment in June 2000 for an article he wrote in a pro-Kurdish newspaper on the trial of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Dr Baskaya was imprisoned in June 2001. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and is campaigning for his release.[8]

  37.  The organisation is calling for Article 8 to be amended to ensure that no one is sentenced for peacefully expressing their views. Other articles have been increasingly used to prosecute and convict human rights defenders, politicians, writers, journalists and many others who have referred to Kurds or Islam, for incitement to hatred based on religious or ethnic difference.[9]

  38.  Individuals who have denounced rape in custody, including some who are alleged rape victims, have been charged with insulting the security forces. Eren Keskin, a prominent human rights lawyer (see also paragraph 43) is on trial for having insulted the army after her description of the torture of the "Peace Mothers" in 2000 was published in a newspaper.[10]

  39.  Amnesty International considers that the legal and constitutional guarantees for the right to freedom of expression must be strengthened so that they are compatible with Article 10 of the ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights has interpreted restrictions to Article 10 very narrowly. Peaceful advocacy of reform, including in relation to matters affecting territorial integrity, may not be restricted even if there is concern about violent separatism. Amnesty International believes that any peaceful expression of views, even regarding the political structure of the state and possible secession should be permitted. A fundamental change of attitude by the Turkish government and the judiciary needs to take place, leading to revision of both law and practice, in order to ensure freedom of expression.


  40.  The amendment of Article 33 on freedom of association introduced the same restrictions as for freedom of expression but also retained further restrictions. It is used in combination with the Law on Associations to seriously impede the activities of associations in Turkey, including human rights organisations.

  41.  Amnesty International applied for registration in Turkey in May 2001. There are four Amnesty International groups in Turkey, 75 members altogether. In line with the organisation's policy, members only work on specific cases in countries other than their own, although they are allowed to lobby their own government regarding its policies. Registration is essential for any organisation to exist and function openly in Turkey and requires signatures of all members of the Council of Ministers. Some ministers failed to sign and the application was rejected.

  42.  The Diyarbakr office of the Human Rights Foundation (TIHV), one of five treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture victims, where the extent of torture is documented, was raided in September 2001. All patient files, computers and doctors' details were confiscated and kept for a month, in violation of doctor-patient confidentiality. The search warrant described treatment as an "illegal activity".

  43.  Eren Keskin, head of the Istanbul branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD), received an increase in death threats after the governor of Sirnak reportedly said that she had "stirred things up", when investigating the "disappearance" of representatives of the main Kurdish political party, HADEP. Representatives of human rights organisations, political parties and trade unions who criticised the F-Type prisons have been charged with, and some convicted of, support for illegal organisations. Some branches of IHD have been temporarily or indefinitely closed, others raided and some members detained.


  44.  Amnesty International welcomes some aspects of the constitutional reforms but urges the Turkish authorities to follow up these with further constitutional amendments and the necessary law reforms to fully comply with international human rights standards.

End torture, "disappearance", extra-judicial executions and the impunity of those responsible

  45.  Incommunicado detention: Incommunicado detention should be abolished and clear guidelines should be introduced to ensure that, in practice, all detainees have immediate access to legal counsel.

  46.  Unacknowledged detention: Detention records should be kept scrupulously in a standardised pattern of registration form provided for in the Regulation on Apprehension in a bound ledger with numbered pages. These records should be available for scrutiny by relatives and lawyers.

  47.  Shorten periods of custody: All people deprived of their liberty should be brought promptly before a judge. Prosecutors and judges should only extend the custody period after having seen the detainees in person and making sure that they are not being tortured or ill-treated.

  48.  Define torture in line with international standards: The definition of torture in Turkish law should at a minimum incorporate the definition in the Convention against Torture.

  49.  Investigation of complaints: Turkish authorities should ensure that complaints and reports of torture or ill-treatment, "disappearance" and extra-judicial execution are promptly and effectively investigated. Even in the absence of an express complaint, an investigation should be undertaken whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that torture or ill-treatment might have occurred. The investigators should be competent, impartial and independent of the suspected perpetrators and the agency they serve. They should have access to, or be empowered to commission investigations by impartial and independent medical or other experts. The methods used to carry out such investigations should meet the highest standards, and the findings made public.

  50.  Medical reports: Detainees should have immediate access to independent, impartial and competent medical experts. Independent medical or psychiatric reports should be admissible to the investigation. Appropriate equipment for the medical investigation of different forms of torture and ill-treatment should be provided. Medical examinations should be conducted in private under the control of the medical expert and outside the presence of security or other government officials. In the case of rape and other forms of sexual abuse, the examining health personnel should be of the same sex as the victim unless otherwise requested by the victim.

  51.  Witness protection: Alleged victims, witnesses, those conducting the investigation and their families should be protected from violence, threats of violence or other form of intimidation that might arise pursuant to the investigation. Those potentially implicated in human rights violations should be removed from any position of control or power, whether direct or indirect, over complainants, witnesses and their families, as well as those conducting the investigation.

  52.  Prosecution: Those responsible for human rights violations, including those who order it, should be brought to justice. As recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture after his visit to Turkey, "prosecutors and judiciary should speed up the trials and appeals of public officials indicted for torture and ill-treatment. Sentences should be commensurate with the gravity of the crime".

  53.  Suspension of officers suspected of torture: Police officers or gendarmes under investigation or trial for ill treatment, torture, "disappearance" or extra-judicial executions should be suspended from active duty and if convicted they should be dismissed from the force.

  54.  Independent decisions on whether to prosecute: The Law on Prosecution of Civil Servants and similar laws should be amended in order to ensure that any decision as to whether or not to prosecute a government officer for ill-treatment, torture, "disappearance" or extra-judicial execution, or for abuses of authority which might lead to such human rights violations, is taken exclusively by prosecutors and judges.

  55.  Statements elicited under torture: Article 15 of the UN Convention against Torture obliges state parties to "ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture should not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made". A body should be established to review previous convictions based on evidence alleged to have been extracted under torture and, where appropriate, to arrange for prompt retrial.

  56.  Prison conditions: To bring prisons in line with international standards, Turkey should ensure that prisoners be allowed eight hours daily association as called for by the CPT. Prisons should be open to the scrutiny of human rights defenders to ensure they are run according to Turkish law and international standards. An independent inquiry should be established to examine the deaths and torture allegations during the December 2000 prison operation.

Death penalty and executions

  57.  The existing moratorium on executions should be continued and the death penalty should be fully abolished from all laws. Turkey should sign and ratify Protocol No.6 to the European Convention of Human Rights

Ensure freedom of expression

  58.  All prisoners of conscience should be immediately and unconditionally released and their civil and political rights reinstated.

  59.  Article 312 and Article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 8 of the Anti-Terror law should be amended or repealed as soon as possible in order to prevent them being used to restrict freedom of expression.

  60.  A thorough review of Turkish law and the Constitution should be conducted in order to lift any restrictions on the right to peacefully express opinions, form associations and assemble in public and in order to prevent the law being interpreted in such a way as to extend such restrictions.

End repression against human rights defenders

  61.  Human rights defenders should be allowed to pursue unhindered their lawful role of monitoring and reporting human rights matters as set out in the UN Human Rights Defenders Resolution of the 9 December 1998.

  62.  Charges against human rights defenders for peacefully expressing their views or for carrying out their role of monitoring and reporting human rights violations should be dropped. Branches of human rights organisations that have been legally closed should be allowed to reopen immediately.

  63.  Effective action should be taken to ensure all public servants, including the security forces, recognise the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and abstain from making unsubstantiated allegations against human rights defenders. Statements of this nature must be publicly countered and appropriate measures applied to sanction those responsible.

  64.  Integrated programmes should be adopted for the protection of human rights defenders. These should include thorough criminal investigations into attacks and threats against human rights defenders, preventative measures, such as education for security force agents and security measures to assist with immediate safety issues. Such programmes should ensure that all measures to protect human rights defenders are taken in consultation with members of human rights organisations

Ratify human rights standards

  65.  Turkey should ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with its Optional Protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Statute of the International Criminal Court and lift any restrictions to conventions to which she is a state party.

UK Government and the EU

  66.  The United Kingdom, other EU member states and the EU institutions must comprehensively monitor the human rights situation. Monitoring must refer not only to legal amendments and political rhetoric but also to the reality on the ground. The UK and EU must raise human rights concerns and draw attention to recommended remedial action at every opportunity.

Amnesty International UK

January 2002

1   See the case of Abdulselam Bayram in Amnesty International Turkey: An end to torture and impunity is overdue! October 2001, AI Index EUR 44/072/2001 pp 9-10. Report available at Back

2   See the case of Alpaslan Yelden and "disappearance" of Tanis and Denniz in Amnesty International, An end to torture and impunity is overdue! pp11-12. Back

3   UN Doc. E/CN.4/1999/61/ Add 1, para.113, 27 Januaray 1999. Back

4   See Amnesty International, An end to torture and impunity is overdue! p 14. Back

5   N.C.S., 16 year old, and Fatma Deniz Polattas in An end to torture and impunity is overdue! p 16. Back

6   See Amnesty International, An end to torture and impunity is overdue! p 24-27. Back

7   See Amnesty International, An end to torture and impunity is overdue! p 36. Back

8   See Amnesty International, Turkey: Appeal Cases - Dr Fikret Baskaya: Prisoner of Conscience for the second time, 16 July 2001, AI Index 44/042/2001. Back

9   See, for example, Amnesty International News Release "Turkey: Akin Birdal adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International", 3 June 1999, AI Index EUR 44/037/1999. Back

10   Amnesty International, Turkey: An end to torture and impunity is overdue pp 38-39. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 30 April 2002