Examination of Witnesses (Questions 133
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
Chairman: May I welcome our two witnesses from
Amnesty International, Dr Heidi Wedel, who is a Researcher in
the International Secretariat, and Mr Tim Hancock, who is a Parliamentary
Officer. You know that Turkey is our main area of concern and
human rights is very much central to the point at the moment.
May I ask Mr Hamilton to begin the questioning.
133. I want to start off on the human rights
issues and that is something which obviously your submission to
us mentions a lot about. Can I ask you first whether you think
that there are signs that the Turkish authorities are genuinely
committed to human rights improvements on the ground rather than
simply the gloss that they want to put on in order join the European
(Dr Wedel) Genuinely committed, I do
not know. There is some commitment and some steps have been taken,
but we have just, for example, done a comprehensive assessment
of the situation on torture in the country. The more you look
at the details the more you see that there is no genuine commitment.
Steps are taken but none of them is really sufficient in order
to assure us that torture will happen no more in Turkey. Each
legal step that has been taken has included positive steps but
some of them also included negative steps, so it is some progress
but not a speedy progress and not a very committed one.
134. Do you think human rights abuses in Turkey
are part of a deliberate and structured policy or simply things
that happen without any proper control?
(Dr Wedel) Neither of them. I do not think we have
the evidence to say that this is a deliberate violation of human
rights, and when we used the phrase "systematic torture"
in our last report on torture in Turkey we stressed that we used
in the meaning of a pervasive practice without making any judgements
on whether these human rights violations are approved or not by
the Turkish authorities.
135. Who do Amnesty International regard as
the progressive forces in Turkey, those that will stop these abuses
happening and ensure that commitment to human rights is the same
as in any European country?
(Dr Wedel) I think that these progressive people are
throughout both civil society and the government authorities,
so we have quite a strong human rights movement in Turkey with
several major human rights organisations. We have human rights
commissions, for example, within the bar associations and within
the medical associations, but also we have people very committed
to human rights both in parliament and in the government and also
in some of the local authorities, but we also find people who
do not seem to have a strong commitment to human rights or who
do not seem to have understood the meaning of human rights.
136. What do you think is the role of the military
in human rights violations or when upholding human rights in Turkey?
(Dr Wedel) I cannot speak about the role of the military
in general but at least one of the four wings of the military,
the gendarmerie, is actively involved in human rights violations.
Torture is being practised in gendarmerie stations because the
gendarmerie is a kind of police in the rural areas so here is
a direct involvement. The gendarmerie has also been involved in
cases of extra-judicial executions and "disappearance"
in custody, so parts of the military are directly involved.
137. Is there any evidence that the political
establishment and the political leadership is trying to curb those
human rights violations and the torture and executions that go
on within the gendarmerie?
(Dr Wedel) Yes, of course. There are the legal steps
that I have mentioned. Last week a law was passed which has reduced
the length of police and gendarmerie custody and, if implemented,
will then also reduce the risk of torture or at least the length
138. That is the period during which a person
is not able to have any links with lawyers; is that right?
(Dr Wedel) We differentiate between the length of
police and gendarmerie custody in itself and incommunicado detention.
So according to the most recent law which has not yet entered
into force people can be held in custody for up to four days until
they are brought before a judge. In an area under a state of emergency
they can be held for up to seven days. Up until this law was passed,
under the law there was no right to access to a lawyer for those
suspected of crimes under the jurisdiction of state security courts
for four days. With the new law passed last week this period of
incommunicado detention has been reduced to 48 hours. If implemented,
if then detainees are effectively given access to a lawyer, which
they have not been given before, this would be again a step towards
decreasing the risk of torture. On the other hand, not only Amnesty
but also the CPT has repeatedly said that detainees should have
the right of access to a lawyer from the outset and we know that
the worst torture happens immediately upon arrest, within the
first 24 hours, so from this point of view 48 hours is still too
long, but it is a step.
139. Could I just pursue that because you were
reluctant to give a framework against which these human rights
abuses happen. I just want to draw an analogy with all European
countries in the last 30 years. Greece under the generals had
nothing to be proud of. I remember in the 1970s and 1980s Britain
being severely criticised on the treatment in terms of Northern
Ireland. Let us just take what happened in the 1980s. As a result
of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four the Police and Criminal
Evidence Act was passed in 1984 which provided an extremely strict
framework which was welcomed by the police, telling them what
the standards were which were expected from them. It is no good
simply coming back with a whole list of incidences. You must have
some sense as to where progress can be made. Where do we move
from here? The biggest task is having a framework with recognition
of what human rights are all about. Is it that those at the top
are supportive but that as you work your way down the people on
the ground do not know what is expected of them, which is what
happened with PACE in the United Kingdom? Is it just primarily
a response to regional conflict? You must have some framework
within your own reporting as to where the most fundamental weaknesses
in the observation of human rights are in Turkey.
(Dr Wedel) We do not think that there is one single
factor. We think that it is an interplay of different factors.
It is unsatisfactory law. It is bad practices. It is also the
attitude. We have shown that quite clearly I think in our report
on torture, how all these factors come together and contribute
to the persistence of torture.