Friday, June 27, 2008

Are We All Torturers Now?

A recent opinion poll by measures popular support for torture in Turkey to be among the highest in the world. According to WorldPublicOpinion:
Turks now show majority support for making exceptions for using torture in cases of terrorism, a dramatic shift from the majority that endorsed clear rules against torture in 2006. Turks also have the largest minority (along with China) among the publics polled that favor allowing governments to use torture in general.

In Turkey, a slight majority (51%) believe that governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture for exceptions such as terrorists, including 18% that feel governments should be allowed to use torture in general. A significant number (36%), though one of the smallest, says that unequivocal rules against torture should be maintained.

Support for making exceptions to use torture in the case of terrorists has risen dramatically from 2006 and is now a majority (51%, up from 24%), while those endorsing clear rules against using torture in any circumstance have decreased just as significantly (36%, down from 62%).
Torture is historical in Turkey and I have met numerous people who have talked of relatives being tortured by the state and even joked about it. Most of these memories are of events that occurred under the military government that took power in the 1980 coup. However, torture is still quite commonplace, especially in the southeast. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented an increase in the number of cases and one local human rights group. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey documents that there has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of cases from 2006 to 2007. According to HRFT's statistics, in 2005, 193 people said they were subjected to violence or mistreatment in the same year, while the figure rose to 222 in 2006 and 310 in 2007. In the first five months of this year, the figure has been 112. The number was 1,023 in 2000.

From today's Turkish Daily News:
A meeting was held yesterday in Ankara's Sincan Prison to discuss the elimination of torture and mistreatment by the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey and the Justice Ministry. Among the attendees were Ulrike Hauer, undersecretary of the European Commission delegation to Turkey; Hasan Fendoğlu, president of the Prime Ministry Human Rights Presidency; İlyas Pehlivan of the Justice Ministry; Metin Bakkalcı of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, or HRFT; Emel Kurma of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly; and Hakan Gündüz of the Social and Legal Studies Foundation. After the meeting journalists were taken on a tour of the prison.

Torture cases continue

Speaking at the event, Hauer said the fight against torture was a key priority of the European Union.

“The comprehensive legislative reform based on the policy of zero tolerance toward torture that Turkey launched in 2003 and the legislative measures introduced to limit the de facto impunity of the perpetrators of torture have had positive effects. The reported cases of torture and ill-treatment showed a decrease,” said Hauer.

“However, cases of torture and ill-treatment are still being reported, especially during arrest, outside places of official detention and during demonstrations,” Hauer said.

She said the trend was further exacerbated by the passing of a new police law in 2007which grants officers wide-ranging powers to stop and search, and that the fight against impunity of perpetrators remains among the areas of concern. The lack of prompt, impartial and independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations by members of security forces as well as delayed judicial proceedings were the main reasons for this concern, according to her.

The commission has so far supported projects aiming to improve human rights in Turkey with 4.8 million euros.

Judicial system needs reform

Fendoğlu said the number of sentenced and imprisoned people was around 96,000 in Turkey as of December 2007 and that 61 percent of these were not sentenced. Only 40 percent of the defendants were considered guilty by the courts, which means that most of them were kept in prison needlessly.

“The high number of imprisoned and sentenced itself reveals that there should be a judicial reform in the country,” he said, adding, “The people also complain about the long judicial proceedings.”

He also said Turkey ranked third in number of cases taken to the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, which didn't paint a good picture of the country.
The contention that most torture occurs before arrest or during unofficial detention has been affirmed by numerous watch groups, including HRW and AI. It was also something I was told twice during my trip to Diyarbakır.

1 comment:

Gordon Taylor said...

I am just writing to express my appreciation. You have a lot of good solid stuff in here, and it is well-presented. I will link to you, if you don't mind, and I'll continue to check your posts for more information.

[One minor glitch. In your "Welcome," you wrote "my principle motivation"--or something like that. It should be "my principal motivation."]

I might also suggest, with regard to the Kurdish problem, that you occasionally check out such sources as,, and They are obviously pro-PKK, but they also have a lot of human-interest stories that give a much different perspective on events in the Southeast. My knowledge of Turkish is very poor, but someone with your abilities could probably glean a lot more from them.

g. taylor