Thursday, December 11, 2008

All Talk and Little Hat on Human Rights Day

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan espoused the Turkish government's great admiration for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, stating that the government will maintain its efforts to promote human rights inside Turkey. However, as The Guardian revealed earlier this week, Kenneth Roth, executive diretor of Human Rights Watch (HRW), got a look at what lies beneath the veneer. From Bianet:

[Roth] described Cemil Çiçek, minister in charge of the issues related to human rights, with whom he met about their reports about the police violence in Turkey and not punishing those responsible for it, as sarcastic and too defensive.

Roth met with three ministers about the report: Cemil Çiçek, State Minister in charge of the issues related to human rights, Beşir Atalay, Minister of Interior, Mehmet Ali Şahin, Minister of Justice.

“Çiçek denies even the existence of the problem”

According to Roth, Çiçek denies even the existence of the problem and when reminded of the police violence cases, describes this as an outcome of the psychology of the police officer up against terrorism.

“He offered excuses about everything”

Emphasizing that Çiçek offered excuses about every matter they brought up in regards to the human rights violations, Roth said, “When we mentioned the Constitutional Reform, the freedom of expression and the police violence he brought up the constitutional process in the European Union (EU), the EU’s attitude towards Turkey and the violence used by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), respectively.”

“It is ironic that Çiçek is the minister in charge of the human rights. It made me think that if Çiçek was a minister for improving the human rights or one for violating them. Let alone the implementation of the recommendations in the report, he did not even want to discuss the matter.

“It is obvious that the government is divided”

Roth said Atalay, Interior of Minister, was more constructive, more open to the problem, willing to look for a solution, in agreement with the recommendations and said they were trying to implement some of them.

Roth added that Atalay was especially in agreement with keeping the police officers and the units accused of violations out of the investigations about them, stopping the counter suits by the police against the victims and discontinuing with the practice of making statements to protect the suspected police officers. However, he also said that the main problem was if Atalay had the power to implement these changes or would be prevented by people like Çiçek.

“We know that the problem of Iraq, the PKK, the closure case against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the EU’s changing attitude towards Turkey have been affecting the reform process negatively. But these reforms should not be done for someone else, but the people of Turkey. It is obvious that the government is divided. The real question is if Erdoğan’s government is loyal to the reforms in spite of all the negative factors.”

“The problem is not only the implementation”

Roth noted that Minister Şahin also agreed that the problem was not with the law about the police violence, but its implementation; however, especially the arrangement regarding using deadly force is open to all kinds of violations.

Roth also pointed out to the disappointment they had with Şahin’s giving permission to 58 article 301 investigations since May, saying it was problematic that the minister sees criticizing the government as a call to violence sometimes and as an insult some other times.

Roth added that the HRW was going to continue watching and reporting the police violence. (TK/TB)

For more on HRW's report and police violence in Turkey, click here.

Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin should also be held to task for doing little to address the issue of torture before arrest. Although measures have been taken to curb torture by police occuring after arrest, torture now frequently takes place in a period of detention prior to any formal charging.

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