Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Güvenç Case Settled at ECHR

From Bianet:
Oktay Güveç was under fifteen years old when he was arrested for alleged PKK membership and tried in a State Security Court. He was kept in prison with adults for more than five years and tried with the threat of the death penalty for 18months.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decreed that Turkey violated the ban on torture, his right to freedom and security and his right to a fair trial. It has sentenced Turkey to paying Güveç 45,000 Euros compensation and 4,150 Euros legal costs. The court said that the time in prison damaged Güveç psychologically.

Referring to international agreements, the ECHR said that children should only be detained as a last resort and that their trial should be resolved in the shortest time possible. The fact that Güveç was tried in a State Security Court rather than a children’s court, so the ECHR, represented a violation of the right to a fair trial.

This is by no means the only case in Turkey. Currently children accused of “membership in an illegal organisation” after taking part in protests in Diyarbakır, Adana and other provinces are being tried in Special Authority Heavy Penal Courts (set up after the State Security Courts were dissolved) instead of children’s courts.

Changes in the Law on Terrorism in 2006 have made it possible to try children aged 15-18 in these courts.

Recently, two children were sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in Adana after taking part in pro-Kurdish Newroz events in Gaziantep.
Güvenç was arrested in September 1995, and put on trial the next year. For a press release and a link to the judgement issued by the ECHR, click here. His case has been in Turkish courts for over a decade. Since this time, Turkey has eliminated the death penalty. However, torture continues, as do questionable detentions and a number of other abuses by security forces.

Güvnç's arrest is also a violation of his rights as a child. Despite significant progress made since 1995, children's rights continue to be violated largely thanks to Turkey's 2006 amendments to its Anti-Terrorism Law. Turkey is a state-party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which its continued prosecution of children contravenes. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which applies to everyone under 18, states should aim to establish laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children accused of infringing the penal law. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules"), adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1985, stipulate in particular that proceedings for children should be conducive to the best interests of the child and shall be conducted in an atmosphere of understanding allowing them to participate and to express themselves freely, and that the well-being of the child should be the guiding factor in the consideration of the case. In a high-profile case earlier last year, choir children were tried as adults in Diyarbakir province for singing Kurdish anthems at a concert in California. The case is a good illustration of just how the Anti-Terrorism law is used.

For more information, see the Child Information Network in Turkey.

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