A delegation of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has voiced concern over what it described as the “increasingly worrisome situation” in southeast Turkey and its impact on human rights.
“While the working group fully acknowledges the serious security challenges that Turkey is currently facing, it is at the same time concerned at the increasingly worrisome situation in the southeast of the country and its impact on human rights” the group's delegation underlined on March 18, at the end of an official five-day visit to the country.
“We were encouraged by the firm resolve expressed by some authorities met during the visit that human rights and the rule of law must be upheld even more strongly under these circumstances” they said.
“At the same time, we heard a number of troubling testimonies, including of families not being able to have access to the bodies of their killed loved ones or of bodies being disposed of. These and other allegations of human rights violations in the context of the current security operations in the southeast need to be thoroughly and independently investigated” emphasized the experts.
The group traveled to Ankara, Istanbul and the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and met with state officials as well as relatives of missing people and representatives of civil society organizations. A final report on the trip examining issues related to truth, justice and reparations for the victims is expected to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.
The same group's most recent visit to Turkey took place almost two decades ago, in 1998.
The working group's upcoming visit comes at a time of rising tension in the southeast, which has been hit by the worst violence in years, shattering a fragile peace process after a two-and-a-half-year de facto cease-fire in July 2015.
“Turkey needs to come to terms with past disappearances and it needs to do so in a comprehensive manner” said the delegation.
“This comprehensive approach should be the result of a clear state policy fully recognizing the past enforced disappearances and dealing with all aspects related to them, namely truth, justice, reparation, memory and guarantees of non-repetition,” noted the delegation, which included Houria Es-Slami, who currently chairs the expert group, vice-chair Bernard Duhaime and Henrikas Mickevicius.
The human rights experts underscored that enforced disappearances cannot be considered an issue of the past. “It is a continuous crime until the fate and whereabouts of every disappeared person is clarified” they said.
“There is still the need to bring truth to the families of the disappeared, who keep searching for their loved ones, including by thoroughly investigating all burial sites, as already recommended by a number of international human rights bodies” they said.
The experts also drew attention to a lack of judicial accountability. “The absence of a specific crime of enforced disappearances, the application of the statute of limitations for crimes under which cases of enforced disappearances are prosecuted - combined with a palpable lack of interest to seriously investigate and adjudicate these cases - make a conviction for acts of enforced disappearances almost impossible” they said.
“We were informed by the authorities that the cases in which the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights - including those relating to enforced disappearances that ended with an acquittal - can be reopened” they said. “We welcome this possibility and look forward to seeing the results of the new investigations and trials.”
The expert group recommended the adoption of a comprehensive and effective reparation program which included social, psychological and economic support. “The support for the relatives of the disappeared should not depend on the result of any related civil or criminal judicial proceeding” they stressed.
“Equally important to address truth, justice and reparation for past disappearances is to create an adequate legal and institutional framework to prevent enforced disappearances from occurring again in the future, and ensure its adequate implementation” they added.
Among some of the steps that can be taken promptly in this regard, the human rights experts called on the Turkish authorities to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to introduce an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance in domestic criminal law.