A World without Torture is Possible
Today is 26 June. It is a special and significant day for human rights defenders both at home and abroad as the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in 1997 with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) which was adopted on 26 June 1987.
The UNCAT, which Turkey has also signed in 1988, absolutely prohibits torture to protect the inherent dignity and value of the human person. Such an absolute prohibition, which is a common achievement of the human family and constitutes one of the most fundamental rules of modern human rights law, is jus cogens as per hierarchy of norms, in other words, it qualifies as a peremptory norm. There can, therefore, be no exceptions to this rule. Thus Article 2 § 2 of the UNCAT prescribes: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Yet torture is still being committed in many countries in the world by states against societies as an instrument of inhuman punishment and intimidation.
Turkey ratified the UNCAT in 1988 and prohibited torture in its Constitution and the Turkish Penal Code (TPC). Torture, however, has sustained its existence as a systematic state practice not only during periods of military coup d’états but throughout the history of the republic. Moreover, today the whole country has virtually become a site of torture because of the current political power’s mode of governance based on repression and control having rendered all the issues of the country ranging from economics to public health a security problem. The appended data reveal the fact that torture remains the most prominent human rights problem in Turkey in spite of its absolute prohibition and qualification as a crime against humanity.
There is a significant increase in the number of torture and ill-treatment cases in official custodial places, in proportion to the increasing authoritarianism of the political power, brought about by the violation of procedural guarantees, long-term custody periods, dysfunctional monitoring and prevention mechanisms or the sheer absence of independent monitoring and prevention mechanisms and the like through such reasons as law, rule and norm control evasion; arbitrariness and willful negligence that have become quite common at various levels of the state.
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the streets, outdoors during the intervention of the law enforcement into peaceful assemblies and protests or at spaces like houses and offices, in other words, in non-official custodial and extra-custodial places, have also reached unprecedented levels. Such violence by the law enforcement is against the rules, not controlled, not punished, ignored and even encouraged by the political power and it goes way beyond the right to use force defined in universal law and domestic laws while becoming a part of everyday life. We have recently been witnessing the most striking instances of such conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous citizens have been subjected to violence by the law enforcement that amounted to torture and other forms of ill-treatment on the grounds that they violated the measures taken in response to the pandemic. Similarly inhuman and disgraceful violence by the law enforcement against HDP members and heads of bar associations, who marched exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and protest that forms the basis of a democratic society and guaranteed by the Constitution itself, constitutes the most current instances of this situation.
The recurrent increase in enforced disappearance/abduction cases following 2016 when the state of emergency was declared, which is one of the most disgraceful human rights violations of our recent history qualifying as a crime against humanity, is extremely alarming as well.
Prisons, where acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment are being committed intensively in every aspect, have become the riskiest spaces against human life with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This alarming reality, which becomes visible with the appended data, has also been reflected in reports drawn up by international prevention mechanisms and human rights bodies. Yet the political power unwilling to limit itself with any rule and norm, particularly by the Constitution, has not been heeding international mechanisms along with their criticism and warnings and failed to take steps to prevent torture. It, on the contrary, has been attempting to “guarantee” impunity by introducing regulations and amendments in legislation that are against the absolute nature of prohibition of torture and hoping to curb the struggle against torture by threats against human rights defenders who have been striving to render these violations visible.
It is, nevertheless, possible to stop torture because it is committed at the hands of humans despite such bleak truth.
The obligation to prevent/stop torture falls firstly on states. We, therefore, remind the political power of the following minimum demands once again that we have been patiently and persistently voicing for years as part of our duty as human rights defenders and ask them to be put in effect without delay:
- The main reason why acts of torture are committed at such a high level in our country is the presence of a very serious culture of impunity that is in non-compliance with the absolute prohibition of torture. Policies of impunity that the authorities attempt to turn into mundane rules, above all, should be put to an end.
- Authorities at all levels should renounce discourse praising and encouraging torture and torturers; acts of torture should be condemned publicly in a crystal clear manner in line with recommendations by international mechanisms.
- Procedural guarantees for custody conditions should be implemented without any reserve.
- Custody periods should be shortened.
- The current Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey should be abolished and a thoroughly independent national prevention mechanism should be established in compliance with the provisions of the OPCAT and Paris Principles.
- Documentation and reporting of torture should be conducted in accordance with the principles set forth in the İstanbul Protocol which is a UN document.
- Torture allegations should be investigated in a rapid, effective and independent way; they should be inquired by independent boards; international ethical and legal rules should be observed at each stage of legal jurisdiction processes.
We, however, would like to remind all that protecting human dignity and preventing torture is at the same time the responsibility of the whole society. In order to be a human being and a citizen, to protect the common bond that makes us a society we have to see the misery torture brings about and we have to enhance solidarity.
İHD and HRFT, whose raison d’être is to create a country and a world without torture, are 34 and 30 years old respectively.
İHD and HRFT, as sister organizations, will continue standing with survivors of torture under all circumstances to make their voices heard despite all cover up, intimidation and silencing attempts; continue documenting and reporting acts of torture they were subjected to, supporting their physical and psychological healing processes, assisting them in accessing justice, fighting impunity in order to make sure they will not suffer ever again.
We do see, we do speak up, we do fight…
Human dignity will triumph over torture…
A world without torture is possible!
Human Rights Association
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
Click to read the full 2019 report in English: İHD-HRFT 2019 Torture Report