Impunity in Turkey Today

Impunity has been a historic problem in Turkey. There were two periods when impunity in Turkey levels the 1980s and for a few years after the 2015 parliamentary elections. Impunity caught hold during the 2016 coup attempt.


In the 80s once martial law was declared and extended throughout the country and until 1983 and Turkey was governed under repressive military rule, leading to devastating consequences for human rights. As an illustration, more than half a million people were arbitrarily detained on political grounds and thousands were subjected to widespread torture and mistreatment. Additionally, more than two hundred extrajudicial killings and fifty court-ordered executions occurred during that era. Despite these massive numbers, in a provisional article the 1982 Turkish Constitution adopted under the military rule provided full immunity to the leaders of the military coup, as well all as military-public officials, from any form of prosecution.



In the 1980s and 1990s the reason for the impunity was because of the Turkish state security forces and the PKK engaged in violent confrontations, at times verging on full-scale warfare. A state of emergency was thus declared where the fighting between Turkish state forces and the PKK was most intense. Regional governors in each emergency province and in the adjacent provinces, with all private and public security forces under their command, were responsible for taking any and all necessary measures under the state of emergency regime. These ‘quasi-martial law’ exceptional powers included the authority to impose curfews, to prohibit persons whose activities were deemed detrimental to public order from entering the concerned region, and to evacuate villages. Against this backdrop, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) examined a large number of applications alleging grave human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that arose out ofstate officials’ activities in the 1990s in Turkey’s Kurdish southeastern region. The Court has repeatedly found Turkey violating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in over 175 cases concerning the right to life (Art. 2), the freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (Art. 3), the right to liberty and security (Art. 5), the right to a fair trial (Art.6), the right to an effective remedy (Art. 13) and the protection of property (Art. 1 of Protocol No.1).


The other phase of violent impunity was after the 2015 parliamentary elections. Since then the levels to which violent impunity has reached is alarming. After the 2016 coup an emergency was declared and that resulted in arbitrary actions that resulted in mass arrests, detentions, extracting forced confessions inside jails, filing of false complaints against dissidents, sudden and arbitrary raids on properties of accused individuals without permission, violent ill-treatment of political opponents / dissenters inside jails among other problems. In fact, the situation has been so bad that in November 2019 UN High commissioner noted that “the escalation of torture and violence against detainees while, at the same time, security personnel who may have committed crimes on behalf of the government, enjoyed immunity from prosecution both during and after the attempted coup”. The then high commissioner also suggested that “to tackle the numerous root causes of impunity” in the country. These have remained unaddressed and will need to be done.


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