ARRESTS IN HALFETİ:
COUNCIL OF EUROPE İSTANBUL CONVENTION AND THE İSTANBUL PROTOCOL
An armed conflict broke out on 18 May 2019 about 2 am at a residence located in Dergili Neighborhood of Halfeti District in Şanlıurfa leading to the deaths of a special ops police officer and two other persons claimed to be PKK members, while 2 police officers were injured. 51 individuals were arrested following the incident.
The public learnt that the arrested were subjected to torture in sheer violation of the ban on torture through disclosed photographs which caused public outrage.
The Human Rights Committee of Şanlıurfa Bar Association drafted a detailed report after the fact and confirmed that allegations of torture were indeed accurate.
The Human Rights Association’s Central Women’s Committee left for Şanlıurfa upon reports stating that all the arrested women were subjected to sexual torture in order to follow up on these reports within the scope of the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence and the United Nations “Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” commonly known as the İstanbul Protocol.
One should firstly remember that Article 90 of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic ensures that international agreements, duly put into effect, concerning fundamental rights and freedoms shall prevail domestic law.
The Republic of Turkey signed the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention in 2011, which is a very significant convention regarding violence against women, and is the first signatory state to this convention. The Convention was ratified in 2012 and went into force in 2014 in Turkey.
Article 2 of the İstanbul Convention prescribes that the convention shall apply to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, which affects women disproportionately.
Article 3 of the Convention puts forth that “‘violence against women’ is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Article 4 of the Convention holds State Parties liable to take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and private spheres.
Article 5 of the Convention also holds State Parties liable to refrain from engaging in any act of violence against women and ensure that State authorities, officials, agents, institutions, and other actors acting on behalf of the State act in conformity with this obligation.
Within the scope of the above-mentioned Convention, the following information about the Halfeti incident was collected through the accounts of two women who were arrested and then detained and a 16-year-old girl who was arrested and released afterwards.
G. A. stated the following during the conference on 11 June 2019 in Şanlıurfa T-Type Prison:
“I am 50 years old and I have four kids. I heard the sounds of a gun fight on 18 May 2019 around 2 am. After a while there was a knock on our door and many police officers came in. They started beating us blindfolded and arms tied, including our kids. They threatened to rape me. We were taken to the Counter-Terrorism Department and were kept there for 11 days. They blindfolded me and put a sack over my head. My hands were rear-cuffed for most of the time. I was taken to torture sessions time and again. They electrocuted my breasts and genitalia by laying cables beneath my pajamas. When I blacked out because of the high voltage, they took those cables off and this time started electrocuting my arms and legs. The police officer who was electrocuting me was constantly saying things like ‘I will f**k you, has anyone f**ked you other than your husband?’ I was crying and begging the police saying ‘I am as old as your mothers’.”
T. A., who was one of the women we conferred with in the prison, stated the following: “I am 39 years old with 4 children. On the day of the incident we were not in Halfeti, we had been staying with my husband’s sister in Urfa for the last three days. Many police officers came into our house on 18 May 2019 towards the morning when we were at the house of my husband’s sister. They hit my husband’s head on the walls, his head was wounded. Then they threatened my 16-year-old daughter at gun point. After we were taken to the Counter-Terrorism Department, a female police officer, whose name was ‘Güler’ as far as I could remember, took me from the holding cell, as I was blindfolded, to a room with two male police officers. One of the male officers took me by my hair and walked me from wall to wall in the room. He sexually harassed me saying in the mean time ‘You are not clean; you must definitely have a bit on the side. You have 4 kids; wouldn’t you want to have a fifth one with me?’”
16-year-old F. A. who we met before the prison gates told us the following: “When we were at my aunt’s house the police raided the place. They heavily beat my father. They were trying to smash his head while his head was all covered in blood. They threatened me saying ‘talk’ with a gun on my back. They took my two younger brothers and I to the Children’s Department. We were kept at the Children’s Department for four days, then they released us. But we are still terrified. We cannot sleep at nights.”
When rendered in the light of the Council of Europe’s İstanbul Convention, all the above-mentioned provisions of the Convention, which were guaranteed having been ratified by the Republic of Turkey, were violated. State officers openly implemented methods of violence and sexual violence against women in complete contradiction to the Convention.
Methods of torture used in Halfeti and documentation of torture have also been evaluated within the framework of the İstanbul Protocol as well. The İstanbul Protocol is not a convention but is a part of international law. Moreover, it has become a United Nations document.
The İstanbul Protocol prescribes the responsibility of physicians at health-care boards where torture victims are brought before, especially after arrest. According to this protocol, physicians are responsible for acknowledging individuals brought before them from custody as “patients” and documenting their health conditions accurately. Physicians should listen to all complaints of torture by applicants in a free environment and act in compliance with international law and medical ethics.
When faced with a regulation or order in contradiction with the İstanbul Protocol, the Protocol should be prioritized.
In spite of these facts, all the victimized women, who were arrested within the scope of the Halfeti incident and whom we met, told us that police officers accompanied medical doctors when they were taken to the hospital. G. A. even said “They took us all together to the doctor’s office. While the doctor was dressing my son’s wound, the police continued to hit my son.”
One of the victims, F. A., stated that when they were in the holding cell a physician came in wearing scrubs and asked them whether “they were fine” in front of all the police officers.
These practices have also been reported in detail in the comprehensive report drafted by the Human Rights Committee of the Şanlıurfa Bar Association.
Consequently, the women who were arrested following the incident in Halfeti on 18 May 2019 were subjected to torture and sexual torture in violation of both the domestic laws of the Republic of Turkey and the Council of Europe’s İstanbul Convention and the İstanbul Protocol, a United Nations document, which the state undertook to comply with and the practices of torture were not documented.
Human Rights Association
Central Women’s Committee