Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 133 - 139)



  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.

Mr Hamilton

  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 Union?

  (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 of torture.


  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.

Ms Stuart

  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.

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