Promised constitutional and other legal reforms did not occur. Instead, the right to freedom of expression was threatened and protesters faced increased police violence. Thousands of prosecutions brought under flawed anti-terrorism laws routinely failed fair trial standards. Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. No progress was made in recognizing the right to conscientious objection or in protecting the rights of children in the judicial system. The rights of refugees and asylum-seekers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remained unsecured in law. Preventive mechanisms to combat violence against women remained inadequate.
In June the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won parliamentary elections and were re-elected to government. Nine elected opposition candidates were unable to take up their seats in Parliament due to cases against them under anti-terrorism laws: eight were being prosecuted and remained in detention, and one was barred from holding office due to a conviction.
In July, the head of the armed forces and his three most senior generals resigned, demonstrating the continuing tensions between the government and the armed forces. The resignations followed a wave of arrests of serving and retired military officials accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
In September Turkey ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, paving the way for independent monitoring of places of detention. However, by the end of the year, it had not introduced legislation to establish the necessary domestic implementing mechanism, or other promised preventive mechanisms such as an independent police complaints procedure and an ombudsman’s office.
At the end of the year, the promised draft constitution had not been made available for discussion. Constitutional amendments adopted by a referendum during the previous parliament aimed at bringing trade union laws closer to international standards were not implemented.
Armed clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the armed forces increased. In October, a major military intervention was launched into northern Iraq, targeting PKK bases and displacing hundreds of civilians from their villages. In December, 35 civilians were killed, the majority of them children, when a Turkish warplane bombed a group of civilians in the district of Uludere near the border with Iraq.
In October earthquakes struck the eastern province of Van resulting in more than 600 deaths. The authorities were criticized for the slowness of the response to the crisis which left thousands homeless in freezing conditions.
Turkish authorities spoke out against human rights violations across the eastern Mediterranean. In September, the government announced it would challenge the legality of the naval blockade of Gaza at the International Court of Justice. A UN report into the May 2010 boarding of the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, had concluded that Israeli defence forces had used excessive force in the operation which resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals. In November, the Foreign Minister announced the imposition of sanctions against Syria due to the continued killings of peaceful protesters.Top of page
A large number of prosecutions were brought which threatened individuals’ right to freedom of expression. In particular, critical journalists, Kurdish political activists, and others risked unfair prosecution when speaking out on the situation of Kurds in Turkey, or criticizing the armed forces. In addition to prosecutions brought under various articles of the Penal Code, a vast number of cases threatening freedom of expression were brought under anti-terrorism legislation (see Unfair trials). Threats of violence against prominent outspoken individuals continued. In November new regulations came into force raising further concerns regarding the arbitrary restriction of websites.
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in and during transfer to police stations and prisons persisted. Police routinely used excessive force during demonstrations, notably during protests before and after the June elections. In many cases, demonstrations became violent following police intervention and the use of pepper gas, water cannon and plastic bullets. In many instances, media documented law enforcement officials beating demonstrators with batons.
Investigations into alleged human rights abuses by state officials remained ineffective. In cases where criminal cases were opened, the chances of bringing those responsible to justice remained remote. Counter charges continued to be used as a tactic against those who alleged the abuse.
Thousands of prosecutions were brought during the year under overly broad and vague anti-terrorism laws, the vast majority for membership of a terrorist organization, provisions which have led to additional abuses. Many of those prosecuted were political activists, among them students, journalists, writers, lawyers and academics. Prosecutors routinely interrogated suspects regarding conduct protected by the right to freedom of expression or other internationally guaranteed rights. Other flaws included the use of extended pre-trial detention, during which time defence lawyers were prevented from examining the evidence against their clients or effectively challenging the legality of their detention due to secrecy orders preventing their access to the file.
Prosecutions continued of children under anti-terrorism laws, including for participation in demonstrations, despite 2010 legislative amendments which were intended to prevent child demonstrators being prosecuted under these laws. While the number of children prosecuted had gone down, many were still held in adult police custody before transfer to the children’s department. Pre-charge detention periods of up to the maximum of four days were recorded and children continued to be held in extended pre-trial detention. The absence of Children’s Courts in many provinces was not addressed.
Attacks by armed groups caused civilian death and injury.
Forced evictions violated the rights of tenants to consultation, compensation and provision of alternative housing. Many of those affected in the context of urban regeneration projects were among the poorest and most at-risk groups, including people previously forcibly displaced from villages in south-eastern Turkey. In May, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published their concerns regarding such projects.
No progress was made in recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service in domestic law or to end the repeated prosecution of conscientious objectors for their refusal to perform military service. In November, the European Court of Human Rights found that Turkey’s refusal to grant a civilian alternative to military service violated the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the case of Erçep v. Turkey. People who publicly supported the right to conscientious objection continued to be prosecuted (see freedom of expression).
Access to the asylum procedure was arbitrarily denied, resulting in people being forcibly returned to places where they may face persecution. The authorities failed to introduce planned legislation guaranteeing basic rights for refugees and asylum-seekers. From May onwards, thousands of Syrian nationals fled to Turkey seeking protection from violence and human rights abuses in the country. Many of them were accommodated in camps but not provided with access to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, or to the asylum procedure. Their access to the outside world was severely restricted, including the ability to report on the human rights situation in Syria. There were reports of a number of Syrians being abducted from within Turkey and transferred to face persecution in Syria.Top of page
Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity was not addressed. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists continued to face harassment by the authorities. During 2011, LGBT rights groups recorded eight murders alleged to be on the grounds of the victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity.
Turkey ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, domestic preventive mechanisms remained woefully inadequate and the number of shelters was far below that required by domestic law.