CoE has ‘grave concerns’ over proportionality, human rights in Turkey’s terror fight

CoE has ‘grave concerns’ over proportionality, human rights in Turkey’s terror fight

Emine Kart - ANKARA
CoE has ‘grave concerns’ over proportionality, human rights in Turkey’s terror fight


Europe’s human rights commissioner has rung alarm bells over human rights abuses during Turkey’s ongoing counter-terrorism operations, particularly in the country’s southeast, while painting a gloomy picture of freedom of expression and judicial independence.

“Respect for human rights has deteriorated at an alarming speed in recent months in the context of Turkey’s fight against terrorism,” Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said on April 14 in remarks delivered at the end of a nine-day visit to Istanbul, Ankara and the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. 

Turkey has the right and duty to fight terrorism, he said, with the commissioner unequivocally condemning all terrorist actions and violence targeting Turkish citizens and the state, including by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

According to Muižnieks, the most striking feature of anti-terrorism operations since August 2015 has been the round-the-clock, open-ended and increasingly long curfews declared in entire neighborhoods or cities in Southeast Anatolia. 

“The building of barricades and trenches and the arming of children are completely unacceptable. But it is essential to uphold rule of law and human rights. I have grave concerns about the imbalance I have seen,” Muižnieks said in an interview with Hürriyet Daily News.

“I am deeply uneasy about the legal basis of the curfews, the legality of curfews. An administrative decision based on a law that does not even mention the word ‘curfew’ is a very weak basis on which to impose such drastic restrictions of basic human rights for a huge population and for months on end. I am concerned about the effects of the curfews on [the] civil population. In other words, curfews are usually imposed in the evenings or for a short period of time, whereas in Turkey, they have been around the clock, sometimes for weeks and sometimes for months at a time,” the commissioner said.

Question of proportionality

“This is a massive interference in the rights of the population. It may even constitute a form of detention. It affects freedom of movement, it affects the right to education, it affects the right to health and it affects other rights as well. I also have grave concerns about the proportionality of counterterrorist operations. In Sur, in Diyarbakır, I witnessed the destruction of one neighborhood which was literally flattened. According to the governor, 50 terrorists have been killed in Diyarbakır but more than 20,000 people have been displaced. This is a ratio of one terrorist for 400 persons displaced. The question of proportionality arises very seriously here. The countrywide figures which I received from the Interior Ministry are also quite striking: 2,500 neutralized, but 250,000 persons displaced. This is a ratio of one to one hundred. Again the issue of proportionality is very relevant here,” he said.

“There is a very large discrepancy in the figures of the civilian deaths provided by the Interior Ministry and by NGOs. The Interior Ministry gave me a figure of 37 civilian deaths. NGOs have compiled a list of 310 persons, they claim are civilians. I urge the Interior Ministry [to] engage in dialogue with NGOs to try to narrow the gap between these numbers and address concerns over civilian deaths.”

Racism on part of security services 

“The counter-terrorism operations are perceived by many in the region that I talked to as a form of collective punishment. This perception is only reinforced if there are racist slogans, racist speech and racist behaviors on the part of security services. The Interior Ministry acknowledged the allegations, [and] said that a civilian inspector is investigating them and that he is committed to sending a very strong message about the unacceptability of racism in these operations. The right to life has a procedural component: The need for effective investigations of each death whether it be of a security officer, a civilian or a terrorist. The Interior Ministry noted that nine security officials are being punished for various forms of misconduct including spreading photos of naked bodies of terrorists. I urged the minister to investigate seriously all allegations of human rights violations and to publicize [the] results of those investigations as a form of deterrence for similar violations,” said Muižnieks.