Monday, June 6, 2011

No Progress on the Human Rights Front . . .

Police beating a group of women assembling during Newroz festivities in Van in 2008.  PHOTO by Anonymous

As Prime Minister Erdogan spent his time this weekend denouncing The Economist's recent endorsement of the CHP, TESEV researcher and Radikal columnist Dilek Kurban writes (in Turkish) about the deterioration of human rights that has taken place since 2005 when Turkey's EU accession negotiations slowed down to a snail's speed.

Writing specifically on the issue of police brutality, torture, and the abuse of detained suspects, Kurban joins thousands of other liberal observers in drawing the conclusion that 2005 marked a turning point not only in Turkey's progress toward EU accession, but also its development toward a healthy, functioning liberal democracy. Kurban mentions two key legal changes that were pushed through with little domestic criticism but that nonetheless set back the significant progress Turkey had made in curtailing the power of the police.

In June 2006, Turkey joined many countries in the world in the wake of 9-11 to pass comprehensive anti-terror legislation. Under Turkey's revamped Anti-Terrorism Law (TMYK),  suspects in terrorism-related cases were allowed to be detained up to 24 hours without access to their attorney. The law also led soon to a rapid increase in the number of journalists, activists, and politicians facing jail time for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda.

In June 2007, amendments to the Police Duties and Authority Law (PVSK) have police the power to conduct searches without warrants and inspect the IDs of people on the streets. Police were also given the authority to open fire on citizens who refused to abide by police orders. The effect of the police law was to essentially reinforce a culture of already existing impunity in regard to human rights violations committed by police and other security officials.

Since both these laws went into force, Turkey has seen a drastic increase in police-related violence, a phenomenon well-documented by Human Rights Watch's end of 2008 report on the issue (for my reflections on the issue at the time, see Dec. 9, 2008 post). The past two years have seen little progress on the issue. In fact, despite a supposed "zero tolerance" policy on torture, Turkey is still grappling with the problem. According to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT), Turkish citizens still suffer from "numerous, ongoing, and consistent allegations concerning the use of torture, particularly in unofficial places of detention."

Kurban concurs with the UNCAT, and noting an increase in the number of torture cases, also points attention to the promotions of police officials with questionable human rights records.

Kurban highlights that a year before The Economist endorsed the AKP in the country's troubled 2007 parliamentary elections, which took place in a period of intense political pressure and interference from the Turkish Armed forces, the AKP had already begun to lose its liberal credentials. However, at the time, there was no mainline party with anything better to offer. The CHP was still holding true to the strong nationalist posture it had taken since re-emerging as the chief opposition party in the early 2000s, and the hopes for a more liberal, more human rights-oriented government justifiably rested with the AKP.

Now, as The Economist duly recognizes, times have changed. The lack of progress, and in some cases, outright regression, is no longer acceptable. Not only has the AKP failed to take advantage of critical opportunities to move the country further afield in terms of human rights, a course which it did a terrific job of steering from 2002 to 2005, the past six years of inaction if now endangering Turkey's progress toward accession. Most unacceptably, the party has done little in recent years, and in stark contrast in earlier efforts, to ensure that Turkish citizens are secure in their personal rights and liberties.

For more on the practice of detention under the Anti-Terrorism Law, which has spiked in recent months given the violence in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast, see this post from earlier last month.

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