Human Rights Developments

Strong human rights statements by some government officials, the release of scores of political prisoners, the reform of an abusive law, and a reduction in the sheer numbers of political killings brought some improvement to the human rights situation in Turkey in 1995. Problems still remained. Free expression was still punished with arrests and imprisonment, torture was still employed as a routine instrument of police investigation, an abusive counterinsurgency campaign continued to empty Kurdish villages, and there were continued reports of disappearances. The most notable change was the October 27 amendment to the 1991 Anti-Terror Law. Under this and other laws an estimated 170 writers, intellectuals, and journalists were imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression. As of this writing eighty-two had been ordered to be released from prison, and all others convicted under that article are to have their sentences reviewed.

A multiplicity of factors influenced the drop in reported abuses. In its desire to achieve a customs union with the European Union, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's coalition government—especially her junior partner, the Republican People's Party (CHP)—pushed for a democratization package and paid more attention to human rights concerns. Her efforts came to a standstill on September 21, however, when the CHP left its four year union with Ciller's ruling True Path Party (DYP). The same coalition was patched back together at the end of October and is expected to take the country to early elections on December 24.

There were some welcome positive statements by government officials, such as former Justice Minister Mehmet Mogultay's (CHP) April acknowledgment that extrajudicial executions do take place in Turkey and former Minister of Human Rights Algan Hacaloglu's (CHP) criticism of a deadly house raid. At the end of October Ciller suggested ending emergency rule in the ten provinces in southeastern Turkey, and in March, she ordered the Interior Ministry to guarantee due process to detainees, register prisoners in pre-trial detention to prevent disappearances, and remove "any equipment allowing ill-treatment (if there is any)." There was speculation, however, that Ciller issued the order to prevent publication of a report by the European Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) based on its October 1994 investigation. Nevertheless, these orders, if properly executed, would go far to reduce torture. The changed nature of the armed conflict with the PKK was an equally important reason for the drop in reported violations. After four straight years of serious abuses (1991-94), however, it was still too early to assess the long-term impact of this year's improvements.

Serious problems still remain. The armed conflict between the PKK, the outlawed Workers Party of Kurdistan, and government forces in the mostly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, where most recent abuses have occurred, entered its eleventh year. The PKK, an armed group that has regularly violated international humanitarian law, certainly presented Turkey with a legitimate security concern, but the government's attempts to address that threat have habitually violated the basic rights of Turkish citizens. Security forces continued to depopulate villages forcibly in their counterinsurgency struggle against the PKK. Torture remained routine in most political cases, although the number of deaths in detention dropped. Reports of disappearances while in police detention or under suspicious circumstances increased. Death squad-style killings also remained a problem, albeit at a reduced level. For its part, the PKK continued to attack "village-guard villages" in which numerous civilians believed to be loyal to the Turkish government were killed or summarily executed, although also at a lower level than in 1994.

In January, Prime Minister Ciller vowed to bring Turkey in line with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, among other things by amending article 14 of the constitution, which broadly limits rights and freedoms that aim to violate the "indivisible unity of the state." In an April visit to the United States, she vowed to enact a "democratization package" that had stalled in 1994 in parliament and specifically mentioned changing article 8, a notorious provision of the Anti-Terror Law that punishes free speech and has sent scores of Turkish writers to jail. After weeks of debate, in July, several amendments to its restrictive, coup-era 1982 constitution were passed, the first time a civilian government—and not the military—has changed Turkey's fundamental law.

But the amendments that were passed, while increasing some freedoms, such as allowing academics and students to join political parties and permitting trade unions to collaborate with political parties (article 52), did little to address chronic human rights violations. The code of criminal procedure (CMUK), continued to allow political suspects to be held in incommunicado detention up to fifteen days in western Turkey and up to thirty days in emergency rule areas in southeastern Turkey, and is believed to encourage torture.

Freedom of expression in Turkey suffered notable setbacks in 1995, though the amendment of article 8 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law may reverse this trend. The unamended article 8 punished writing as so-called separatist propaganda "regardless of method, aim, and intent." Although the mainstream press and television were often a lively forum for debate, some efforts by journalists, authors, and intellectuals to discuss the Kurdish issue, human rights abuses by security forces, or the armed conflict in southeastern Turkey were met with severe repression, including censorship, imprisonment and torture of journalists and writers, and the banning of newspapers.

Even Turkey's most famous writer, Yasar Kemal, was charged in January under article 8 for an article, "Campaign of Lies," that first appeared in the German weekly Der Spiegel and was subsequently published in the Turkish press. Other mainstream press figures also faced legal actions. In October, journalist-writer Ahmet Altan was found guilty under article 312 and given a suspended sentence for an article, "Atakurt," which posits the existence of a land called "Kurdiye," where Turks must demand their rights. By mid-1995, approximately 2,000 cases awaited trial under article 8 in State Security Courts. In August, the prosecutor in a case against ninety-nine leading intellectuals charged under article 8 for publication of Freedom of Thought and Turkey accepted the defendants' arguments that article 8 contradicted international conventions and appealed the constitutionality of the law to the Constitutional Court.

On October 27, the Turkish parliament passed amendments to article 8. Most importantly, the state must prove intent, a change from the old text. Sentences will also be reduced under the new amendment. Although not an amnesty, all cases were to be reviewed within a month; as of early November, at least eighty-two people convicted under article 8 were ordered to be released.

Both main pro-Kurdish dailies, Ozgur Ulke (Free Land), and its successor, Yeni Politika (New Policy), faced attacks and government censorship and restrictions. Journalists were detained, threatened, jailed and tortured under article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law or article 312 of the penal code. In at least one instance, on August 22, a Yeni Politika reporter, Sayfettin Tepe, died under suspicious circumstances in police custody. On December 3, 1994, bomb blasts struck Ozgur Ulke offices in Istanbul and Ankara, killing one and causing great damage. In February, authorities closed Ozgur Ulke under Turkey's press law. In August, Yeni Politika was shut down under the same statute; of the 126 issues that were published, 117 were confiscated and censored during its brief, four-month existence. Other radical, Kurdish, or left-wing publications, as well as the publishers of such material, faced similar obstacles.

Repression against Kurdish politicians also continued, although some of the imprisoned DEP parliamentarians were released. On December 8, 1994, seven deputies from the banned Democracy Party (DEP) and one independent were found guilty on a variety of charges such as "participating in armed gangs," "knowingly giving comfort to armed gangs," and making "separatist" propaganda. Two, independent Mahmut Alinak and Sirri Sakik, were released for time served in pre-trial detention, while six others were given prison sentences of between seven and fifteen years. In October, Ahmet Turk and Sedat Yurtdas were released by the Turkish Supreme Court (Yargitay) with the ruling that they be tried again in State Security Court along with Alinak and Sakik. The court, however, ratified the fifteen year sentences of Hatip Dicle, Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak.

Party administrators and members of the People's Democracy Party (HADEP), the successor party to DEP, were arrested and put on trial for alleged links with the PKK and in some cases tortured. Five HADEP members were murdered in death squad-style killings during the first eight months of 1995, bringing to twelve the number of members murdered since its founding in May 1994. In June, legal proceedings were launched to close another pro-Kurdish party, the Democracy and Change Party, headed by the former head of the People's Labor Party (HEP), the party that preceded DEP, because the party "demand[ed] cultural rights for Kurds," which the prosecutor's office perceived as separatist. The chairman of the Democracy and Change Party, Ibrahim Aksoy, was arrested on his return to Turkey because of charges against him under article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law in October.

Death squad-style assassinations (so-called actor unknown murders) continued in 1995, albeit at a lower level then in the previous three years when a total of 1,242 individuals fell victim to such attacks. (In 1994, 423 people were killed.) As of September, there had been an estimated ninety-eight death squad murders. Targets included PKK members and sympathizers, HADEP party members and journalists, especially of radical or Kurdish papers.

During the past four years, substantial evidence has accumulated pointing toward collusion between perpetrators of death squad attacks, such as Hezbullah, a radical Islamic group, and security forces, especially in southeastern Turkey. Government efforts to bring the guilty to justice have been lax at best, with convictions in only a minority of the more than 1,000 murders. In 1994 and 1995, however, security forces arrested seventy-four Hezbullah members and charged them in at least seventy-one murders, including five of HADEP members committed in 1995. While these arrests were welcome, they have done little to refute credible allegations of police involvement in such killings or too explain the failure promptly and fully to investigate all killings. This spring, for example, a draft of a report prepared by a Turkish parliamentary commission on death squad killings and leaked to the press contained information alleging a connection between death squad killings and security forces.

The decrease in death squad killings is most likely attributable to the changed nature of the conflict, though the arrests mentioned above were also clearly a factor. After three years of almost non-stop armed conflict in southeastern Turkey, the political and actual landscape of the area where most abuses occur has changed radically. Pro-PKK villages in rural southeastern Turkey that were home to rebel sympathizers, one of the death squads' prime targets, have been forcibly depopulated. Active political life in the region, both legal and illegal, has also been curtailed, and many activists for pro-Kurdish parties like the banned DEP or guerrilla militants have either left the area, been killed, imprisoned, or gone underground.

Disappearances while in police custody or after being detained by unidentified individuals or those identifying themselves as police also continued. According to the Human Rights Foundation, in 1994 there were forty-nine such disappearances confirmed. The Human Rights Association of Turkey received 158 reports of disappearances in the first nine months of 1995. In August, the Interior Ministry announced that a network of centers would be set up to allow family members to locate detainees, but it is too early to assess the impact of this announcement, with some reports indicating that the centers do not have access to information from Anti-Terror police units.

There were also six deaths in police custody under suspicious circumstances in the first seven months of 1995. According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, thirty-four people died in police custody in 1994. Police officials often claimed that an individual committed "suicide," though autopsy reports usually indicated severe torture. Past trials against abusive police have been slow to start, lasted years, and ended in light sentences or acquittal. In at least one case in 1995, however, the Elazig Public Prosecution office in August charged eight police with torturing Sinan Demirbas to death on July 20. The trial is presently underway.

Police in Turkey continued to use excessive force in performing their duties in violation of both Turkish and international law. In mid-March, police in Istanbul fired into crowds of Alevi demonstrators, killing twenty-one. Although agitators from extreme left-wing organizations were active in the demonstration, and rocks, bottles, and molotov cocktails were thrown, the police response was not proportional to the threat faced. Alevis, members of a liberal off-shoot of Shia Islam and an estimated 30 percent of Turkey's population, were protesting a March 12 armed attack by extreme right-wing groups against coffee houses frequented by Alevis and leftists that left two dead and scores wounded. The district police chief was removed from his post shortly after the shootings, and in July the trial of twenty police officers alleged to have used firearms during the demonstration "exceeding the limits of defense and obligation" began in Istanbul.

There were also several incidents in both southeastern and other areas of Turkey where police, the army, or the gendarmerie fired at vehicles at roadblocks or at individuals near military bases, alleging that they had not obeyed orders to halt. Several were killed. In one incident in early July in Tunceli province, so-called police special team (Ozel Tim) members fired wildly at civilians and civilian structures, causing damage and wounding at least one individual. After the incident many were reassigned, and it was announced that team members would receive human rights training. This was a welcome development, especially because special team members have routinely abused civilians with impunity since the units were organized in 1993.

Police also continued to kill suspects under suspicious circumstances in house raids. While in some instances police and suspects exchanged fire and both suffered dead and wounded, in other cases it appeared that all suspects were killed even though no armed resistance was reported. After a house raid on April 12 in Ankara left three suspected Dev-Sol (Revolutionary Left) members dead, the former Turkish Minister for Human Rights, Algan Hacaloglu, stated, "this is an extrajudicial killing."

Armed conflict in southeastern Turkey between government forces and the PKK continued, where combined Turkish army and police forces conducted major military operations against the PKK. The Turkish military also continued its policy of forced evacuations of rural settlements within Turkey to deprive the PKK of its logistical base of support: by the end of 1994, official figures put the number of totally or partially depopulated villages and hamlets in southeastern Turkey at 2,664 since the conflict started eleven years ago. While some villagers left for economic reasons and some—especially village guard settlements—left the area due to PKK pressure, most of more than 2,000 villages were forcibly evacuated by security forces. Torture, disappearances, and detentions often accompanied evacuations. While the government stated that villagers were removed for their own protection, the majority of cases indicated that forced evacuation was meant as a punishment for refusing to enter the village guard system or for aiding the PKK. There were also allegations of food embargoes, especially against villages in Tunceli province, by which security forces limited the amount of food villagers could bring back to their homes. Some village guards, a civil defense force that reached 70,000 in number, have been implicated in various killings and illegal behavior. In August, the former Minister for Human Rights stated that in 1996 some villagers would be allowed to return to their homes and would receive two heads of livestock and aid in rebuilding homes.

In spite of the PKK's December 1994 claim that it would abide by the Geneva Conventions, in 1995 the group continued to kill civilians, especially in villages that chose to form village guard units, to execute so-called "state supporters," to plant bombs in non-military targets, and to kidnap journalists and tourists whom they later released unharmed. Through August 4, PKK militants had killed at least fifty-four civilians.

Illegal radical leftist and rightist groups continued their activities. Dev-Sol executed imprisoned members and others on charges of "collaboration" with the state. The Islamic Great East Raiders Front (IBDA-C) was responsible for several bombings this year, including one in mid-January that killed two individuals including Onat Kutlar, a well-respected writer and journalist, and another in August that took the life of a Romanian tourist.

The Right to Monitor

Severe repression in 1995 impeded the human rights monitoring of both domestic and international groups in Turkey. Several members of the Turkish Human Rights Associations (HRA), a decentralized, membership-based group legally registered and operating in most of Turkey's provinces, including the Diyarbikir branch's secretary, Mahmut Sakar, were arrested during the course of the year. Many of those arrested reported being tortured and treated inhumanely in custody. Other members reported receiving death threats. The human rights group Mazlum-Der reported interference in its efforts to distribute aid to the displaced from southeastern Turkey.

The leadership of both the HRA and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (THRF), which runs a documentation center and four torture treatment centers, faced prosecution primarily for their nonviolent expression. For example, in June, the former chairman of the Istanbul HRA, Eren Keskin, began serving a thirty-month sentence for an article she wrote calling for a cease-fire between the PKK and government forces; however she was released in November because of the amendment to article 8. In late 1994, the chairman of the THRF, Yavuz Onen, and research director, Fevzi Argun, were prosecuted for a book they published on torture in Turkey, and three members of the HRA, including its chairman, Akin Birdal, were prosecuted for publication of a book on Turkey's counterinsurgency campaign. Both trials ended with acquittals in January. In November, prosecutors opened another trial against Onen, HRF documentation chief Fevzi Argun, former Balikesir bureau chief Turgal Inal, and six others for insulting the laws of the republic and decisions of the parliament, under article 159/3 of the penal code, in connection with publishing and writing the book, A Present to Emil Galip Sandalci.

Police conducted raids on several HRA branch offices during the year, forcing several offices, including those in Diyarbikir, Mersin and Adana, to remain closed for extended periods of time.

In June, Amnesty International consultant Helmut Oberdiek was deported from Turkey while conducting research in Adana. In 1994, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher had been declared persona non grata by the Turkish government. Human Rights Watch was able to continue its monitoring in Turkey during 1995.

The Role of the International Community

The European Union

The European Union and its member states took a keen interest in events in Turkey in 1995. On March 6, Turkey signed a "customs union agreement" with the E.U., which represents the closest link to the E.U. aside from full membership. However, the European Parliament must ratify the treaty, and it has insisted on an improvement in Turkey's human rights record setting three main conditions: passage of a number of constitutional amendments; abolishment of article 8; and the release of all DEP deputies imprisoned in 1994. In April 1995, the European Parliament stated that human rights abuses in Turkey were too serious to allow ratification of the agreement. In early July, the European Commission, the executive body of the E.U., issued an interim report concluding that, "the current situation in Turkey with regard to the rule of law and the respect for human rights is unsatisfactory. Despite the imperfections . . . its institutions are essentially democratic, secular, and pluralistic." The E.U. welcomed the passage of numerous amendments to Turkey's constitution in late July as a step in the right direction, but urged further reform and democratization.

The European Parliament has conditioned a positive vote ratifying the customs union agreement on improvements in Turkey's human rights record. A vote on the accord was scheduled for the end of 1995. While some members of the European Parliament were not satisfied with human rights improvements and referred to recent legal reforms as "cosmetic," both the European Commission and the European Council of Ministers were pushing hard for approval. In October, E.U. External Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek declared that a rejection of the customs union by the European Parliament could result in "a severe backlash in Turkey," where he said only Muslim fundamentalists are against closer ties with western Europe and that "there is now every reason for the European Parliament to approve the accord."

U.S. Policy

In 1995, the Clinton administration consistently raised human rights concerns, but also reiterated that those concerns would not outweigh Turkey's important role as an ally and a "big emerging market." Government officials, including Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott publicly expressed concern about Turkey's human rights record. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 was forthright in its judgment of the human rights situation in Turkey: "Despite the Ciller Government's pledge in 1993 to end torture and to establish a state based on the respect for human rights, torture and excessive use of force by security personnel persisted throughout 1994." Pursuant to a congressional request, the State Department, in consultation with the Department of Defense, issued a report on the use of U.S. weapons in Turkey's counterinsurgency and forced village evacuation campaign. The U.S. government estimated that it had supplied 80 percent of Turkey's military inventory. While the report did not acknowledge that a Turkish state policy existed to depopulate villages, its discussion of the abusive use of U.S. supplied weapons against civilians was the most compelling and critical statement on Turkey's human rights record ever made by the U.S. government.

The Clinton administration used encouragement, rather than punitive actions, to bring about an improvement in Turkey's human rights record. In February, asked if U.S. military credits would be linked with Turkish human rights actions, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard Holbrooke bluntly stated, "I never said that. That is not something I am prepared to say." He added, "...I think it is extremely unproductive to leave the impression that human rights, while it is a major issue, is going to become something that would rupture the U.S.-Turkish relationship." In a June 1995 letter to Rep. Sonny Callahan, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Shalikashvili underscored Turkey's "strategic value to the United States" in an effort to head off congressional efforts to reduce military aid to Turkey based on human rights concerns. In an August 15, 1995, letter to Representative Lee Hamilton, (D- IN), Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated that, "Turkey's human rights record raises serious concerns, but we do not believe that it has engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations . . . of human rights." Consequently, Christopher stated that the U.S. would not invoke Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, which requires that the U.S. cut off military aid to states that grossly abuse human rights.

In fiscal year 1995, the administration proposed giving Turkey $405 million in military credits, but Congress slashed this to $364.5 million and then withheld 10 percent until the State Department presented the report on the use of U.S. weapons in Turkey mentioned above. Turkey refused to accept the 10 percent. For 1996, the administration proposed $450 million in military credits; in the foreign aid bill for fiscal year 1996, Congress slashed that to $321 million.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Our top priority during 1995 was to raise the profile of Turkey's human rights abuses and to insist that all available leverage be used to elicit human rights concessions from the Turkish government. In September, we testified before the Helsinki Commission of the U.S. Congress in hearings devoted to Turkey. In June, we sent a mission to Turkey to investigate PKK abuses and also the plight of Kurds forcibly evacuated from the southeast living in Adana, a city in western Turkey. We were forced to cancel the trip, however, after former Minister of the Interior Nahit Mentese turned what was to have been a private meeting into a press conference and made the continued work of the delegation impossible. In October, another mission was sent to Turkey to investigate torture and the process of application by Turkish citizens to the European Commission on Human Rights. Throughout the year, we followed cases of prisoners of conscience, victims of torture, and disappearances in police custody, issuing intervention letters and press releases, which were distributed to policymakers in Europe and the United States.

This report covers events of 1995

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