U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Turkey
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Turkey, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7ac.html [accessed 7 October 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
TURKEYTurkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliament, the Grand National Assembly, which elects the President. It elected Suleyman Demirel as President in 1993. In June Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the Islamist Refah Party, resigned as Prime Minister after an intense private and public campaign against his Government led by the military, with significant support from other segments of civil society which view fundamentalism as a threat to the country's secular republic. In July Motherland Party (ANAP) leader Mesut Yilmaz became Prime Minister. He formed a coalition government with the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Democrat Turkey Party (DTP). The Government respects the Constitution's provisions for an independent judiciary. For over a decade, Turkey has engaged in armed conflict with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose goal is a separate state of Kurdistan in southeastern Turkey. A state of emergency, declared in 1987, continues in six southeastern provinces facing substantial PKK terrorist violence. Parliament voted in October to lift the state of emergency in Bingol, Batman, and Bitlis provinces. A regional governor for the state of emergency has authority over the ordinary governors in the six provinces, and six adjacent ones, for security matters. The state of emergency allows him to exercise certain quasi-martial law powers, including restrictions on the press and removal from the area of persons whose activities are deemed detrimental to public order. The state of emergency decree was renewed for 4 months for all provinces in November. The Turkish National Police (TNP) have primary responsibility for security in urban areas, while the Jandarma (gendarmerie) carry out this function in the countryside. The armed forces continued to combat the PKK in the state of emergency region, thereby taking on an internal security function. Although civilian and military authorities remain publicly committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights, some members of the security forces, particularly police special teams, Jandarma, village guards, and TNP personnel, committed serious human rights abuses. Turkey's primarily market-based economy is driven by an active private sector. The agricultural sector employs nearly one-half of the country's labor force but contributes only 15 percent of the gross national product (GNP) and total exports. A customs union with the European Union, in place since 1996, has boosted the trade deficit, but has the potential to increase the country's economic efficiency and prosperity over time. The principal industrial sectors--textiles, iron, and steel--provide the leading exports. Impressive economic growth over the past 15 years has translated into an improved standard of living and the creation of a growing middle class. Per capita GNP is approximately $3,000. Such positive developments, however, have been accompanied by substantial macroeconomic imbalances. Successive governments have had little success in implementing needed reforms to reduce the budget deficit and inflation. Populist economic measures pushed the budget deficit to approximately 8 percent of GNP and pushed inflation over 90 percent. Persistently high inflation over the past decade has exacerbated disparities in income distribution. The conflict in the southeast and maintenance of a large national defense establishment continue to be a significant drain on the economy. Corruption has taken an economic toll and has sapped popular faith in the Government. Despite some reforms and the Government's stated commitment to respect human rights, serious human rights abuses continued. Human rights nevertheless remained a priority public issue during the year. There is a general recognition that the country's human rights performance is inadequate and needs to be brought in line, not only with its international obligations and commitments, but also with popular aspirations and demands, and the Government's own policies. The situation in the southeast remains a serious concern. The Government has long denied the Kurdish population, located largely in the southeast, basic political, cultural, and linguistic rights. As part of its fight against the PKK, the Government forcibly displaced noncombatants, failed to resolve extrajudicial killings, tortured civilians, and abridged freedom of expression. The PKK committed widespread abuses, including the frequent murder of noncombatants, as part of its terrorism against the Government and civilians, mostly Kurds. Estimates of the total number of villagers forcibly evacuated from their homes since the conflict began vary widely from 330,000 to 2 million. A credible estimate given by a former Member of Parliament from the region is around 560,000. The Government's resettlement and compensation program for internally-displaced people remained. During the year, 61 villages and 7,608 persons were resettled, according to government figures. Human rights abuses were not limited to the southeast. Extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention, from the excessive use of force, mystery killings, and disappearances continued. The Government investigated some 185 reported disappearance cases: 40 persons were found and reunited with their families, 7 were believed to be abroad, 96 relocated to other parts of the country, and 42 were unaccounted for. Torture remained widespread: police and Jandarma antiterror personnel often abused detainees and employed torture during incommunicado detention and interrogation. The implementation of reforms to address these problems was uneven. Lengthy investigations and trials of officials suspected of abuses continued to be a problem. Important cases dating back to 1995 and 1996 continued without resolution, including: 48 police officers charged with the 1996 death of journalist Metin Goktepe; 10 police officers from Manisa, accused of torturing 15 people, mostly teenagers accused of ties to a leftist terrorist organization; and police and security personnel charged with beating to death 10 prisoners during a prison disturbance in Diyarbakir in 1996. The rarity of convictions of police or other security officials for killings and torture fosters a climate of impunity that probably remains the single largest obstacle to reducing human rights abuses. The lack of immediate access to an attorney by those detained for political crimes is also a major factor in torture by police and security forces. Prison conditions are poor. Numerous small-scale disturbances and hunger strikes erupted throughout the year. Prolonged pretrial detention and lengthy trials continued to be problems. Limits on freedom of speech and of the press remained another serious problem. For example, according to the Human Rights Foundation, at year's end approximately 60 journalists were under arrest or had been convicted; the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that 40 journalists were imprisoned at year's end. Authorities banned or confiscated numerous publications, and a government decree has led to self-censorship of reporting on the southeast. One of the Yilmaz Government's first steps was to acknowledge the problem as a priority for resolution, when, 3 weeks after assuming office, he received a delegation from the CPJ, and subsequently won passage of legislation that provided conditional amnesty for several imprisoned editors. Nonetheless, the basic laws under which the editors were arrested did not change, and all were subject to reimposition of their former sentences if tried and convicted for similar offenses. The Government continued to use the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, with its broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism, to detain both alleged terrorists and others on the charge that their acts, words, or ideas constituted dissemination of separatist propaganda. Prosecutors also used Article 312 of the Criminal Code (incitement to racial or ethnic enmity), Article 159 (insulting the Parliament, army, republic, or judiciary), the law to protect Ataturk (no. 5816), and Article 16 of the Press Law to limit freedom of expression. Kurdish-language broadcasts remained illegal (but not printed material in Kurdish). The Sanliurfa branch of the Mesopotamian Cultural Center, a corporation established to promote the Kurdish language and culture, was banned in October by the Provincial Governor. In Istanbul the Governor's office refused the Kurdish Culture and Research Foundation permission to offer Kurdish language classes. The translator and publisher of a Human Rights Watch report on the conflict in the southeast were convicted under Article 159 of the Penal Code (defaming the military). The translator received a suspended sentence; both were assessed small fines of approximately $12 dollars. They appealed the verdict and are free pending its outcome. Private channel television programs and print media continued to debate human rights and other issues of freedom of speech and the press. The Government imposes limits on freedom of assembly and association. In September the police detained and beat Turkish and foreign participants in the Musa Anter peace train demonstration, named after a well-known Kurdish writer. The group was blocked from entering Diyarbakir, where its members had intended to demonstrate for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the southeast. Foreign participants were deported, and legal proceedings were brought against some of the local organizers. Members of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) were sometimes the object of arbitrary arrests and mystery killings and often were harassed in the southeast for their legal political activities. HADEP, sympathetic to the PKK, is under threat of investigation for alleged anticonstitutional activities and, depending upon the outcome, faces closure (two of its predecessors, HEP and DEP, were closed down). In June the Refah/True Path Party (DYP) coalition, the country's first Islamist government, resigned after an intense private and public campaign of pressure led by the military with support from several segments of society who viewed fundamentalism to be a threat to the secular republic. In May before the Refah/DYP coalition broke up, the chief state prosecutor, in an attempt to close down Refah, charged the Party and five of its leaders, including former Prime Minster Erbakan, with attempting to undermine the secular nature of the state as defined by the Constitution based in part on public statements made by Refah leaders. In January 1998 the court ordered the party closed and banned several of its leaders, including former Prime Minister Erbakan, from political activity for 5 years. The Democratic Mass Party (DKP), a moderate Kurdish party, faces the threat of closure in a case before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that its charter questions the indivisibility of the country and advocates support for a minority, namely the Kurds. In November the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found unanimously that the Government had violated Article 5-3 (excessive detention of 12 to 14 days) of the European convention on human rights in the case of several pro-Kurdish former Democracy Party (DEP) Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) and ordered the Government to pay the M.P.s' compensation and court costs. The ECHR did not rule on the M.P.s' appeal of their convictions on charges of separatism and membership in an armed gang. In June the Ankara State Security Court found 32 members of HADEP, including party chairman Murat Bozlak, guilty on a variety of charges of proscribed political activity. Government officials continued to harass, intimidate, indict, and imprison human rights monitors, journalists, and lawyers for ideas that they expressed in public forums. Seven regional offices of the Human Rights Association were shut down during the year; three remain closed. In May Dr. Tufan Kose, a representative of the Adana branch of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a respected nongovernmental organization (NGO), was convicted and fined for not turning over to the authorities the names of torture victims treated by the HRF's torture treatment center. He is free on appeal. The president of the Human Rights Association (HRA), along with other HRA organizers, faces charges of promoting separatism or inciting ethnic hatred based on speeches. The president of the HRF, the HRA president, and the leaders of two small political parties were charged with holding an unauthorized demonstration. A prominent Malatya defense attorney, who often defended alleged terrorists, was himself held and charged with assisting terrorist groups. After incarceration for 3 months, he was freed pending the outcome of his case. The Government imposed some restrictions on religious minorities and Parliament passed legislation extending compulsory education from 5 to 8 years. This law will lead to the closure of grades six to eight of the Islamist imam-Hatip religious schools, along with other private schools. Spousal abuse, some abuse of children, and child labor remain serious problems. Discrimination against women persists. In July Prime Minister Yilmaz appointed an activist State Minister for Human Rights, who also is coordinator for the High Council for Human Rights. The Council, comprised of undersecretaries from the Justice, Interior, Education, Health, and Foreign Affairs Ministries (along with representatives of the security forces), meets weekly to review aspects of the human rights situation and advise the Government on steps for improvement. The Minister and the Council have invited an active dialogue with the increasingly important NGO's that work for human rights reforms both in the capital and in the southeast. The Government provides human rights training for the police and military. The military continued to emphasize human rights training for its officers and noncommissioned officers, which human rights NGO's reported led to a reduction in human rights violations. Human rights education in primary schools is mandatory; it is an elective in high schools. Senior military leaders met for the first time with international human rights NGO representatives. PKK terrorists murdered noncombatants, targeting village officials, village guards, teachers, and other perceived representatives of the State. They also committed random murders in their effort to intimidate the populace.