On the 20th of September started the first session of the Turkey Tribunal in Geneva. As recalled by Tulkens during the introduction, the Turkey Tribunal is an opinion tribunal. In other words, it does not fall within the judicial order of a state or from a court set up by an International Organization. The tribunal is an extraordinary court born of the determination of civil society. Even if its decisions are not binding, it is an instrument and a platform to give recognition, visibility, and a voice to people alleging violations of their fundamental rights. The tribunal is independent, respects the principle of a fair trial, and uses a judicial method to release decisions. The fundamental objective of the Turkey tribunal is to alert public opinion and policymakers and to contribute to the advancement of international and national law.
The tribunal will hear six rapporteurs about torture, abductions, press freedom, impunity, access to justice and judicial independence, and crimes against humanity in Turkey. 15 witnesses will also be heard, and the Turkish government received an invitation to attend the judgment and copies of the report but is not present.
In the end, the tribunal will formulate an opinion on the conformity of Turkey’s actions with International Human Rights law and International Humanitarian Law. The tribunal does not have investigative powers and will not engage in criminal or civil liability. The decision, although not binding, has a high moral authority and gives legal tools for victims, lawyers, or NGOs who want to take action afterward.
First rapporteur on torture:
The main legal text which enshrined the right not to be tortured is the Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. The rapporteur recalled that those conventions establish the minimum that national laws should include in the criminal code and that the criminalization of torture by imprisonment sanctions is an obligation. In other words, an act that fulfills the criteria of torture according to the CAT cannot be considered a minor crime, such as ill-treatment for instance. The prohibition of torture is absolute, which means that no exception or derogation can justify the use of torture (terrorism). The responsibility of the state can be engaged if it failed to protect citizens from acts of torture perpetrated by private actors, and for failure to investigate and to prosecute. The burden of proof is on the victims, but if there is a reasonable suspicion of torture while they were deprived of their liberty, the government will have to provide evidence to the contrary.
The rapporteur relied on statistics released by the Turkish government. However, he pointed out discrepancies between figures provided by NGOs and by the government. The rapporteur alleged therefore that all allegations have not been investigated by the government. For instance, 2063 cases of people denunciated to the NGO Human rights in Turkey between 2000 and 2015. The rapporteur noted that the number of cases opened declined of 50% between 2013 and 2015. However, the indicators demonstrate that the number of cases increased and did not drop. The explanation would be the decrease of the will of the government to punish torture. The acts of torture documented in Turkey are mainly the excessive use of force in detention, beatings, humiliations, sexual assault, electrics chocs.
Torture has been a spreading practice in Turkey for decades, especially after the coup d’Etat in 1980. In the 2000s, zero-tolerance towards torture has been applied, which lead to some improvements. However, over the last 10 years, a resurgence of torture can be noted, in almost total impunity. Currently, 441 cases before the ECtHR for violations of art3 are examined, which represent more cases than those investigated by Turkey.
The targeted groups are members of the Kurdish movement, of the Gulen movement, juvenile, and ordinary criminals. In addition, The way they are repressed depends on the necessity of the police to turn them into informants. Members of the PKK, extreme left wings organization, or Gulen movement are more likely to be abducted, and wives of the suspicious men detained.
The Rapporteur concluded that the use of torture is systematic and organized, without investigations, punishment, and due diligence. In response to that, the Turkish government argued that victims do not provide any medical proof, they are political opponents, and that the convictions rate for acts of torture is very low.
Witness 1: Mehmet Alp
The first witness is a chemistry teacher and an administrator in a school in a Turkish region in southeastern turkey. On the 18th of April 2018, he was forcibly abducted after taking his child to school. A car arrived behind him, and the men got him into the car. They told that they were policemen, and that one of his students was set to have joined the PKK, and that other students were attending meetings of the Gulen movements and joined the PKK as well. They finally released him and on the 20th of April, they came to his house and took his wife under custody for 4 days. This abduction can be explained by the end of the peace process between the PKK and the government and the beginning of armed conflict had begun again, They tried to warn the authorities, but nothing was done about it.
One month before the coup, he was arrested again and asked about the Gulen movement. In total, he was detained in 4 jails and 17 cells. For 2 months, they were not able to eat fruits or vegetables, neither to see a doctor. He started having internal problems such as internal bleeding. However, the guardians were told not to take care of him because he was considered a terrorist belonging to the Gulen movement. After those 2 months, he was finally brought to the hospital and detected intestinal cancer. In November, he was transferred again. On the 28th of May 2017, two people uncuffed him and brought him 200km away. They kept asking questions about the functions he fulfilled during the coup of the 15th of July. He answered that he did not participate in the coup, he had nothing to do with the Gullen group. He refused to sign the documents. He had a bag over his head, and he was in a dark room, underneath the prison. They beat him over his head and body with metallic things. He fainted, was bleeding from his nose. He was placed in a van and finally got to the hospital. In this prison, he met an academician tortured with electricity.
He managed to write down everything he has gone through thanks to toilet papers. He was not allowed to see his lawyer or his wife.
On the 6th of June, he was supposed to go before the courts, and the guardians threatened him and his family if he said anything about being a victim of torture. He was declared guilty.
He was accused in the first place of falsification, and then of being a member of an armed association, and finally of involvement in the coup. After being released, he went to the authorities, but nothing happened because police, prosecutors, and court work together. He was only able to fight for his rights in free countries, in Turkey it is impossible.
Witness 2: Erhan Dogan
The second witness was a teacher of history in Ankara. When the coup happened, he was working at a school belonging to the Gulen group in Ankara. One week after, a lot of arrests starting to happen, and the schools closed to the Gulen group were pillaged, burned, destroyed. Ten days later, a teacher at his school called him because policemen were asking for him. He went to the school, and he saw people waiting for him. They held him from his collar and pushed him to the wall. They insulted him as a terrorist, beat him and they said that if he refused to obey their commands, his whole life will turn into misery, including his family. They asked Kim who he has had meetings with or discussed. They asked for ten names of the senior officials of the Gulen group. In addition, they wanted him to accept that he was a member of a terrorist organization and to sign the documents. The witness answered that he was not a terrorist so he was tortured for a while. An official policeman from Ankara came afterward, stole their computer, phone, and bring them to Ankara town, the anti-terrorist police station.
One there, he was escorted by 12 policemen who insulted them, called them dogs, and beat them up. He was separated from the others, and they told him that he could die and that a lot of people die here and nobody knows. They took him to a gym, with people in orange and cuffs. There was blood around him on the walls, which was proof that they tortured people here. He learned later that soldiers arrested after the coup were tortured here. He was given a small piece of bread, jam, a bottle of water. The other detainees were scholars. One had diabetics and all their demands for care were dismissed. He recalled several acts of torture, such as being undressed with cold water on him and beat with bludgeons or four officers who hit his head on the wall and kept asking questions about the Gulen group. One time, they tied him with his hands behind, and they left him up hanging from the selling one or two hours. After that, he recalled that he thought that all his buns were broken and he was not able to walk. They brought him to a person dressed up like a doctor, who asked him how he was. He answered that he had been tortured so the officials took him back and tortured him again. The second time he answered that he was fine, so he came back to the gym.
One of the most impactful events he went through was hearing the screams of women detainees in adjacent cells, who were begging the officials not to rape them. The officials threaten his wife and daughter, who might end up like those women. This event made him want to commit suicide during the toilet break, but because of religious beliefs he did not do it
When he was taken to court, the policeman who tortured him came with him, and the judge did not ask a question, because had been already heard when he got arrested. So the judge decided on his arrest and he was taken to the aggravated crime to prison. There, he suffered from the Palestinians’ anger, because they were presented as terrorist members.
They took them to a cell for 16 people, and they were about 50 people. Living conditions were very poor: they had to wait for 4o minutes to go to toilets, and they had hot water once a week for 30 minutes. In addition, the guardians constantly insulted them.
One day, they told them that a delegation from the European Human Rights Committee will come to inspect. They told them that if they said anything apart from the script they were given, they would not be able to see their family (who they can only see once every two months) or they will be sent to solitary confinement. The delegation finally came, but nobody said anything.
The witness recalled that they constantly heard the statement: “even if you go out your life will be hell”.
He was in total detained. 10months without any indictment. After he was released, he found that the grounds for his detention was he worked in a school belonging to the Gulen group, was a member of a trade union, had a bank account at bank Asia, and used the application called Bylock.
He went before court four times and was condemned for 7 years and 6 months of prison, without a fair trial. He presented a recourse before the administrative tribunal, and the highest course released him under judiciary control. The court finally confirmed the sentence and his case is currently reviewed by the cassation court. He escaped Turkey in the meantime. Given that his family saw him as a terrorist and the isolating pressure of the society because of the discourse of the government, he decided to flee Turkey. He crossed over from Turkey to Greece by the river, and he is located in Germany, where he is trying to rebuild his life with his family.
Witness 3: Eren Keskin, human rights lawyer
The lawyer recalled that not only police or soldiers are guilty, but prosecutors who do not lunch investing, judges who acquit the perpetrators, forensic doctors who do not document torture.
The witness pointed out that one of the main problems is the documentation of torture, because judges, only accept forensic reports as evidence for torture when the law does not establish an exhaustive list of acceptable proofs. However, forensic doctors are civil servants dependent on political authority and therefore linked to the government. They, therefore, do not release proof of acts of torture.
Turkey was already by the ECtHR in the Sukran Aydin case, because there was no report from an independent doctor or rehabilitation centers.
According to the witness, torture has always been a state policy, even if it is legally prohibited. Lawyers are kept outside of the system because they are defenders, and sometimes there are not allowed to visit their clients in prison. For instance, they release reports of people almost dead stating that they can remain in prison.
The witness has been sentenced as an armed terrorist, which is the first time after 30years of working as a lawyer. She expects to be detained every day, such as many politicians from HDP who are in jail only because of their thoughts.