AI reports human rights failures during Kobanê protests in Turkey
Amnesty International has released a report on human rights failures during protests in Turkey and North Kurdistan in solidarity with Kobanê in October 2014 in response to the advance of ISIS gangs on the predominantly Kurdish city.
Amnesty International has released a report on human rights failures during protests in Turkey and North Kurdistan in solidarity with Kobanê in October 2014 in response to the advance of ISIS gangs on the predominantly Kurdish city on Syria’s border with Turkey.
AI recalled that demonstrators protested against the ISIS and those they claimed to be its supporters within Turkey and its government, who they alleged to be allowing the ISIS to advance.
A week of protests and linked large-scale violence, left more than 40 people dead, including Kobanê protestors, political opponents they accused of supporting ISIS, bystanders and three police officers. The clashes also brought scores of injuries and the destruction of public and private property across the majority Kurdish south-east of Turkey and beyond.
The report which was made public at a press briefing by Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International Researcher on Turkey, and Director Ruhat Sena Akşener, identifies failures by the authorities to prevent deaths and injuries during clashes between rival groups, the use of excessive force by police officers resulting in deaths and injuries and the inability of the judiciary to provide justice and reparations for the victims.
LACK OF PROTECTION OF INDIVIDUALS
Remarking that Turkey’s international human rights obligations to protect the right to life extend beyond the intentional and unlawful taking of life to taking appropriate steps to protect individuals from harm by third parties, Amnesty International voiced concerns over the frequent failure of the police to adequately intervene during the violent events in the context of protests to protect the life and health of both protestors and bystanders.
Numerous interviewees told Amnesty International that the police made no attempt to intervene in clashes between rival political groups in which protestors, counter protestors and bystanders were killed or injured.
It was also reported that in several cases where police were warned of specific situations of violence by protestors targeting individuals and property, police either failed or refused to attend the scene.
Interviewees also told Amnesty International that the police failed to intervene in cases where protestors were attacked by counter protestors/other civilians.
POLICE USE OF FORCE AND FIREARMS
According to the report, numerous interviewees told Amnesty International of instances where police officers used firearms in situations where there was no imminent threat to life or serious injury, in order to disperse hostile crowds or to protect public property.
AI said the circumstances that led to the use of firearms in many cases still remains unclear almost a year after the Kobanê protests due to the authorities’ failure to effectively investigate the cases of alleged abusive police use of force and firearms.
In a number of cases documented however, there is strong evidence that police used excessive or unnecessary force, the report noted.
Alleged arbitrary use of firearms by police described to Amnesty International include the use of live ammunition to disperse a peaceful assembly of 2000 people in the main square in Siirt on 8 October before a press statement could be made. Interviewees told Amnesty International that clashes with the police took place following the incident.
The Cizre municipality told Amnesty International that in January 2015 police fired arbitrarily at one of its earthmovers, (presumably because the driver was suspected of attempting to dig a trench to prevent police access to the neighbourhood) hitting the vehicle but not injuring the driver.
“The use of lethal force by police during some of the Kobanê protests raises serious concerns that the conduct of the police has violated international human rights law and standards, including the right to life.”
Amnesty International has also raised its concern over the law legal changes approved by the Parliament on 27 March expanding the authority of the police to use lethal force, citing the Kobanê protests as the main justification for their doing so.
The law, part of the “domestic security package”, contains provisions that grant explicit powers to the police to use firearms in situations where “individuals or groups attack or attempt to attack police or others, workplaces, homes, public buildings, schools, dormitories, places of worship, vehicles using Molotov cocktails, explosive, combustible, injurious… or similar weapons”.
INVESTIGATION OF DEATHS AND INJURIES
the report by Amnesty International highlighted that Turkey’s human rights obligations extend not only to preventing violations to the right to life, but also to effectively investigating any deaths that have occurred due to a use of force whether by state officials or third parties.
Amnesty International’s interviews with victims of violence, their family members and lawyers underlined the serious obstacles for accessing to justice. Decades of impunity for human rights abuses, by state and non-state actors alike, has left an almost universal belief that those responsible will go unpunished, the report noted.
According to the report, victims and their relatives were in many cases reluctant to engage with criminal investigations in which they saw no chance of success, while witnesses to the violence often declined to provide statements to prosecutors, fearful of further reprisals where giving statements could result in their own prosecution and/or make them vulnerable to attack from those accused.
Remarking that the Kobani protests and related violence presented the authorities with circumstances that any state would find challenging, the report said that the response of Turkey’s authorities in all of these areas, from the obligation to protect individuals and not engage in excessive force themselves, to the requirement to bring abuses to justice and provide accountability, were lacking.
AI emphasised that part of the reason for the scale of the abuses and the obstacles to providing accountability for them lies in the decades of impunity for human rights abuses in the region that has left few believing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice and allowed violence to continue unchecked.
The response from the authorities since the protests has been equally bad, with provisions within the “domestic security package” granting police extra authority to use firearms an invitation to apply arbitrary and abusive force, increasing the likelihood of abuses still further.
The report highlighted an urgent need to reverse the failings not just seen during the protests, but for decades in the region and to adopt policies.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE TURKISH AUTHORITIES
Regarding policing demonstrations, Amnesty International called on relevant Turkish authorities to;
- establish an independent, public inquiry into the Kobanê-related protests and clashes,
- ensure that law enforcement officials comply at all times with international human rights law and standards on policing,
- provide as necessary protection to political parties buildings, associations and other locations which may be the scene of conflict without discrimination.
The organization urged officials to repeal the provisions found within the “domestic security package” granting further powers to law enforcement officials to use firearms, and to ensure that all use of force and firearms complies strictly with international human rights standards, and are used only when strictly necessary and only to the extent required.
Amnesty International ended by calling on Turkish authorities to;
- ensure that effective investigations are held into all deaths which may have been caused by use of force and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice; to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all cases of unnecessary or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, and to bring criminal and disciplinary proceedings against those responsible;
- establish without delay an independent police complaints commission to investigate alleged abuses by law enforcement officials, and take effective steps to ensure that the close cooperation between the prosecution and the police on general criminal matters does not undermine its independence or impartiality in investigating and prosecuting such cases
- ensure that victims of human rights violations by law enforcement officials have access to an effective remedy and obtain adequate reparation, including compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition.