Constitutional amendments and revisions to the Anti-Terrorism Law represented a step towards upholding human rights, but fell short of the fundamental change required. Criminal prosecutions violating the right to freedom of expression continued. Proposed independent human rights mechanisms were not established. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment continued, and criminal investigations and prosecutions of law enforcement officials remained ineffective. Numerous unfair trials were held using anti-terrorism legislation. Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. The rights of conscientious objectors, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and refugees and asylum-seekers remained unsecured in law. Minimal progress was made in preventing violence against women.
Constitutional amendments were approved by Parliament in May and by referendum in September, with an approval rating of nearly 60 per cent. Amendments included changing the composition of the Constitutional Court and the powerful Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors, allowing military officials to be tried in civilian courts, the establishment of an Ombudsman office and positive measures to combat discrimination.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) renewed ceasefire declarations throughout the year but clashes with the Turkish armed forces continued. In November, talks were reported to have taken place between the state and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
In October, the trial began of 152 activists and elected officials in Diyarbakır accused of membership of the PKK-linked Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Of these defendants, 104 were in pre-trial detention. Concerns were raised that much of the evidence against the defendants was based on their attendance at meetings and demonstrations, and on press releases they had published.
The prosecution in connection with Ergenekon, an alleged ultra-nationalist network with links to state institutions, continued. Progress in investigating the link between the suspects and past human rights violations remained slow.
No progress was made in removing the legal barriers that prevent women wearing the headscarf in universities, although implementation of the ban relaxed during the year.
In May, the UN Human Rights Council considered Turkey’s human rights record under the UN Universal Periodic Review. The government committed to complying with many of the recommendations, but notably rejected those calling for the greater recognition of minority rights and those to amend or abolish articles of the Penal Code that limit freedom of expression.Top of page
There was more open debate regarding previously taboo issues. However, people were prosecuted under different articles of the Penal Code because they had criticized the armed forces, the position of Armenians and Kurds in Turkey, and ongoing criminal prosecutions. In addition, anti-terrorism laws, carrying higher prison sentences and resulting in pre-trial detention orders, were used to stifle legitimate free expression. Kurdish political activists, journalists and human rights defenders were among those most frequently prosecuted. Arbitrary restrictions continued to be imposed, blocking access to websites, and newspapers were issued with temporary closure orders. There were continued threats of violence against outspoken individuals.
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment persisted, especially outside places of detention, including during demonstrations, but also in police custody and during transfer to prison. In November, the UN Committee against Torture issued a series of recommendations to the authorities to combat “numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations of torture” for which the Committee expressed grave concern during their review of Turkey.
Investigations of alleged human rights abuses by state officials remained flawed and, when opened, criminal cases were routinely drawn out and ineffectual. The losing of evidence by state officials, and counter-charges being issued against those who alleged human rights abuses, contributed to the perpetuation of impunity. Independent human rights mechanisms proposed by the government were not established. For example, civil society was not effectively consulted over the draft law to establish the Human Rights Institution (a body proposed to protect human rights and prevent violations), which failed to provide the necessary guarantees of independence.
Allegations of ill-treatment in prisons persisted, especially of remand prisoners directly following transfer. Denial of effective access to medical treatment and arbitrary limitations applied to prisoners’ rights to associate with each other continued.
Unfair trials under anti-terrorism legislation continued. In such cases, excessive pre-trial detention without consideration of alternatives by the judicial authorities remained routine, and lawyers had no effective mechanism to challenge the lawfulness of the detention in practice.
In July, important legal amendments ended the prosecution of children under anti-terrorism laws solely for their participation in demonstrations. However, the amendments allowed adults to be prosecuted under the unfair laws and failed to address the vague and overly broad definition of terrorist crimes in law.
Bomb attacks resulted in the death and injury of civilians.
Long-standing demands by trade unions for Istanbul’s central Taksim Square to be opened for demonstrations on 1 May were granted for the first time in recent history, and the demonstrations passed peacefully in contrast to previous years. Constitutional amendments granted the right of collective bargaining for public sector employees but the right to strike was still denied to all civil servants. As a result, Turkey failed to comply with ILO conventions to which it is a party.Top of page
Following legislative amendments (see Unfair trials above) the vast majority of children prosecuted for their participation in demonstrations were released. However, flaws in the juvenile justice system, notably the absence of Children’s Courts in some provinces, were not addressed, nor were steps taken to rehabilitate children previously held in extended detention or to investigate the widespread claims of ill-treatment.Top of page
The right to conscientious objection to military service remained unrecognized in domestic law. Conscientious objectors were repeatedly prosecuted for their refusal to perform military service, and those who voiced their public support for this right were subjected to criminal prosecution and conviction.
Access to the temporary asylum procedure continued to be arbitrarily denied, resulting in people being forcibly returned to places where they may face persecution. Immigration detention regulations ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009 remained in force at the end of the year. Civil society organizations were consulted over three new laws relating to asylum but the drafts had not been published by the end of the year.Top of page
Constitutional amendments improving protections against discrimination failed to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination continued in law and practice.
The government’s National Action Plan 2007-10 to combat domestic violence failed to record significant progress, due in part to a lack of co-ordination, insufficient resource allocation and the lack of measurable goals. Critically, the number of shelters for women victims of domestic violence remained far below the number required in domestic law. According to official records, 57 existed in Turkey, an increase of eight over the previous year. In July, the CEDAW Committee issued a series of recommendations including the enactment of comprehensive legislation on violence against women.Top of page