News 29 Nov 2016
Turkey: Protect civil society as the first step to fighting torture

As a response to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s visit to Turkey this week, the IRCT and the Human Rights Foundation of Torture (HRFT) call on the international community to rigorously monitor the torture situation in Turkey. The IRCT and HRFT also urge the international community to provide resolute and sustainable support to Turkey’s civil society working tirelessly to support victims and hold perpetrators to account.

Turkey: Protect civil society as the first step to fighting torture

The IRCT and HRFT are alarmed that Turkey is starting to move down a very dangerous path where protection of basic human rights are eroded in the name of national unity and security; where torture and ill-treatment is portrayed to be a legitimate tool against certain groups; where torture is not investigated or sanctioned and victims' rights are largely ignored; and where those who work to support victims and uphold human rights are increasingly targeted and sanctioned for these legitimate actions. 

Twenty years ago, IRCT Founder and then Secretary-General Dr Inge Genefke, travelled to Turkey to observe the trials of health professionals from HRFT who were being prosecuted for their work in support of torture victims. The presence of the IRCT and the broader international community was intended to ensure that the judges would apply due process and human rights safeguards for HRFT staff.

On 8 November 2016, international solidarity action was again necessary when IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz joined a large delegation of representatives from international civil society and professional medical associations to observe the trial of HRFT President Sebnem Korur Fincanci.

“We travelled to Turkey to show our solidarity with HRFT during this difficult situation and to send a clear message to the Turkish Government and the international community that freedom of expression, protection of human rights defenders, and eradication of torture are interconnected rights that form an essential pillar of democratic societies. If you remove one of these rights, the whole basis for democratic discussion is jeopardised. Right now, Turkey is about to remove all three through its crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists and through the escalation of torture. Together with HRFT we will continue to urge Turkey to protect its democratic institutions and human rights and hopefully many others will join,” said IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz.

International human rights bodies express concern

These concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation are echoed in the unusually gloomy May 2016 assessment of Turkey by the UN Committee against Torture. The Committee strongly criticised the use of torture in the context of protests and anti-terrorism and security operations and the almost complete impunity that overshadows these incidents. It expressed serious concerns about numerous and consistent reports of intimidation and harassment of and violence against human rights defenders, journalists and medical doctors who provide assistance to victims of torture.

The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGED) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) share many of these concerns. The WGED found an “almost complete lack of accountability for cases of enforced disappearance” and a “palpable lack of interest in seriously investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating these cases.”

Harassment and reprisals against HRFT


In the absence of any serious action by the Government, HRFT provides rehabilitation services to torture victims and helps them with the forensic documentation of their cases in order to generate a reliable record of what they have been subjected to. Speaking out for torture victims has consequences for HRFT and its staff and board. In addition to the prosecution of Dr Korur Fincanci, Dr. Serdar Küni, the Cizre Representative of HRFT has recently been arrested for providing health services in Cizre; Dr Veysi Ulgen, from the HRFT regional office in Diyarbakira and a delegate at the IRCT's General Assembly, was dismissed from his public duties and had his passport withdrawn on the basis of the provisions of the State of Emergency Decree; Dr. Umit Bicer, member of the  HRFT board was also dismissed from his public duties as a forensic medicine specialist working at Kocaeli University. Finally in 2015, HRFT was issued with an administrative sanction composed of a fine of approximately 30.000 EUR in connection with their work to support torture victims from the Gezi Park protests.

This week, HRFT Secretary-General, Mr Metin Bakkalci, is participating in the annual EU NGO human rights forum, which, this year, focuses on torture. At the forum, Mr Bakkalci will share HRFT’s extensive experience on documentation and rehabilitation of torture victims and will discuss the situation currently unfolding in Turkey.

“Coming to Brussels is an excellent opportunity for HRFT to present the representatives of international human rights organisations with our evidence of what is going on in Turkey and how they can best collaborate with us to improve the situation. What I will be presenting is based on more than 25 years of experience that HRFT has supporting thousands of torture survivors in Turkey. It is my hope that our recommendations, based on the collective experience of all these survivors, will convince the international community to take action in support of civil society in Turkey so that we can continue to do our work to eradicate torture and support survivors”, said Mr Bakkalci.

“We travelled to Turkey to show our solidarity with HRFT during this difficult situation and to send a clear message to the Turkish Government and the international community that freedom of expression, protection of human rights defenders, and eradication of torture are interconnected rights that form an essential pillar of democratic societies. If you remove one of these rights, the whole basis for democratic discussion is jeopardised.”

IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz

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