Thursday, September 4, 2008

Coming to Terms with Torture (Or Not)

Despite the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy AKP had declared to come into accord with the EU's Copenhagen Criteria, torture appears to be on the rise.

From BIA-Net:
Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Şahin claimed that in Turkey, 4719 individuals, among whom 471 children, had faced “torture”, “excessive torture” and “excessive violence” just in 2006 and 2007.

Replying to the motion of question by Batman deputy Ayla Akad Ata for the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Şahin gave information about the investigation and prosecution statistics for the security and gendarmerie officials in accordance with articles of 94, 95 and 256 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) that regulate the excessive torture and use of disproportionate force by the public officials.

According to the information supplied, 3866 cases were filed, 9716 police officers, 616 gendarmerie officials and 554 other type of officials were accused. Adding the 796 files taken over from 2005, 2654 cases with 6397 officials resulted in “no need for prosecution” verdict. On the other hand, 1423 suspects in 614 investigations ended up facing criminal charges.

There were many applications to the human rights organizations for torture in 2007: to the Human Rights Association (İHD) 687, to the Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed People (MAZLUMDER) 163, to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) 452. There were 67 applications to MAZLUMDER and 112 to TİHV in the first five months of 2008.

Tolerance to torture in “open space”…

While these numbers contradict the “Zero Tolerance to Torture” motto of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the fact that the numbers given by Minister Şahin are much higher shows that there is actually no zero tolerance at all. This confirms the arguments by the human rights defenders and organizations that torture still goes unpunished. On the other hand, Şahin does not talk at all about the “deaths under custody” and “torture in open space”.

In 2007, there were 2 deaths under custody according to the records of the MAZLUMDER and 6 according to the TİHV.

According to the TİHV report, 54 people applying to the treatment centers stated that they had been tortured either out on the street or in open space, in a house or a vehicle, or in some other place. İHD’s 2006 records state that the number for “Torture and Bad Treatment in Places Other Than the Official Custody Places” was 261.

Moreover, why is the information about the identity of the officials who are punished and the type of the punishment they received not made public immediately?
As this BIA-Net report goes onto further note, Turkey has not ratified the UN’s Optional Protocol Against Torture nor the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (see Aug 24 post). In addition to more law regulating torture, many human rights activists are advocating for a multi-pronged approach to the problem. From Today's Zaman:
Hüsnü Öndül, the chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), told Today's Zaman that he believes the number of people subjected to torture in 2006 and 2007 is much higher than the number provided by the Justice Ministry.

"The Justice Ministry figures just cover the number of individuals who applied to judicial bodies complaining they were subjected to torture. However there are many others who don't apply to judicial bodies out of fear that they may be punished for a second time. For this reason, we estimate that the number of people subjected to torture is at least three or four times larger than the figures stated by the ministry," he said.

Öndül stressed that the government's zero tolerance policy on torture and maltreatment ended in a fiasco, adding that the declared policy cannot be considered effective until real steps are taken to address the persisting issue of failure to punish officials who violate the policy on torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Öndül categorized the needed measures to eliminate torture at the hands of security officials into four groups: judicial, legal, administrative and educational measures.

"Torture doesn't distinguish between women, men, the elderly or children. Those who are implicated in burglary and theft and whose ideological affiliations are not appreciated by security officials are subjected to torture the most. What we should do for an effective fight against torture is to change the people's point of view toward it," he said.
Activists such as Öndul are concerned with widespread public support for torture in Turkey, which is even higher than it is in the United States (see my June 26 post). In terms of its EU bid, it is critical that Turkey eradicate this toleration of torture, especially when continued evidence of torture continues to makes its way to the European Court of Human Rights and into the reports of numerous human rights monitoring groups.

The government statistics, which are indeed likely under-counted, evidence a rise in torture that is consistent with monitoring reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The HRW report chronicles only 2007 abuses. The number in recent months has by most accounts increased. Click here for a statement made earlier this month by İstanbul's Human Rights Association (İHD).

One last and important note about the use of torture in Turkey pertains to the concern about "open torture," or rather, torture usually conducted in open spaces before the detainee is taken into custody. As Amnesty International noted in its report released in May, there is considerable concern that the zero-tolerance policy against torture is leading many officials to torture detainees before formally entering their custody. This was the case with 15-year old Cüneyt Ertuş (see April 12 post). Ertuş' arm was broken in front of television cameras during the governments' harsh crackdown on Newroz celebrations last March. Chilling footage of the child's dangling arm played not just on PKK-sponsored television stations like Roj, but also made its way into mainstream European media and prompted continued reports of concern for the child's welfare from groups like Amnesty International.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Torture is not acceptable against anybody.this is an action inhuman.unfortunately we occasionally experienced at some demonstrations with this and l hope that democracy prevails soon and we learn to live properly in the world.