İHD IS 36 YEARS OLD
17 July 2022
The Human Rights Association (İHD) was founded on 17 July 1986 with the signatures of 98 human rights defenders. The founding objective of the association was formulated as “to promote activity concerned with human rights and freedoms” and this statement was also included in the İHD charter. Among the founders were mothers and relatives of prisoners, intellectuals, writers, journalists, publishers, academics, lawyers, physicians, architects, engineers, teachers. We commemorate our founders who have passed away with love, respect, and gratitude.
Since its foundation on 17 July 1986, İHD has been stating that Turkey has a democracy and human rights problem and has been persistently, adamantly, and hopefully continuing its struggle to contribute to the elimination of this problem. İHD’s struggle has made and continues to make significant contributions to the formation of a culture and awareness of human rights in Turkey. For this reason, we say that we are glad that we have İHD.
One of the most important goals of our struggle for human rights and democracy is to contribute to the making of a new and democratic constitution through the rejection of the 1982 Constitution, which was drafted by the generals who carried out the military coup in 1980 and imposed on the people under martial law (military rule). However, since Turkey has not been able to solve its fundamental human rights and democracy problems, it has shifted to an even more anti-democratic constitutional regime instead of democratization. In 2017, a referendum was held under the state of emergency regime and the most obvious characteristic of this system, which is based on one-person rule, is that it is anti-democratic. This regime is constantly rebuilding itself with authoritarian practices.
The failure to resolve the Kurdish issue, which we consider to be Turkey’s most important problem, continues to cause heavy damage due to its unresolved nature. The armed conflict and war with an expansion of its geographical area continues with all its intensity in northern Syria and Iraq as well as in Turkey. Grave violations of the right to life are taking place. It is also clear that the severe economic crisis is linked to the consequences of the protracted armed conflict. According to a report by DPI, the direct cost of the conflict over the last 40 years is about 300 billion US dollars and the indirect cost is about 4.5 trillion US dollars. It is clear that such devastating economic cost cannot be sustained. Further, the removal of elected Kurdish co-mayors from their posts under the state of emergency regime in 2016-2017, and then after the 2019 local elections under the laws of the extended state of emergency regime, their detention, arrest and unfair sentences, and the appointment of trustees to replace them, amounts to the usurpation of the will of the electorate and the denial of democracy. As if all these antidemocratic practices were not enough, a dissolution case brought against the HDP, the 3rd largest party in Turkey, has dealt a heavy blow to the faith in the peaceful resolution of problems. Physical attacks and hate speech against HDP MPs and Kurdish politicians are absolutely unacceptable. İHD has always defended and will continue to defend the right to peace. We would like to remind once again, as always, that it is imperative for Turkey to solve the Kurdish problem through democratic and peaceful means in order to democratize Turkey.
There is much that can be said about the dramatic setback in democracy and human rights in Turkey. However, in our 36th year of uninterrupted struggle for human rights, democracy and peace, we would like to make some important recommendations and demands. In fact, we have been updating and repeating our recommendations in this regard every year.
- In order for Turkey to become a democratic country, it must solve its democracy and human rights problems through a genuine conflict resolution process and confront its past. The Kurdish issue is at the heart of these problems. Turkey needs a new peace process that recognizes and resolves the Kurdish issue. In addition, a new political will is needed to recognize the human rights demands of all marginalized groups in the society, especially the demands of Alevis for equal citizenship rights.
- Turkey needs a genuine conflict resolution and a new and democratic constitution. Unless a new and democratic constitution is adopted, amendments to the 1982 Constitution, which was drafted by the generals who carried out the 1980 military coup, cannot bring about a solution. The obvious feature of the constitutional amendments called the Presidential Government Model, which was declared to have been adopted by a referendum held in 2017 under state of emergency conditions and put into practice in 2018, is that it is an anti-democratic one-person rule. While we support the proposal announced by six of the opposition parties for a constitutional democratic parliamentary system, we suggest that it should include concrete proposals such as the Kurdish issue, the demands of Alevis, gender equality, decentralized governance model, education in mother tongue and constitutional citizenship.
- There can be no democracy without freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is the foundation of democracy. Freedom of expression must be ensured in order to pave the way to democracy. It is essential to abolish the Anti-Terror Code due to the ambiguity of the definition of terrorism, to end the pressure and censorship of the Higher Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) on media outlets, to eliminate the judicial harassment against Kurdish and dissident press and media outlets, and to drop continuous attempts to smother social media. Without ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it is unlikely that the road to democracy will be paved. The situation will become even direr if the political power tables new legal regulations to the Turkish Grand National Assembly that will further limit freedom of expression.
- We would like to emphasize that it is extremely important to eliminate the violations caused by other forms of discrimination, especially violations in the field of gender equality, as well as policies and practices that lead to all forms of discrimination. Hate speech should be banned and hate crimes should be reregulated by adding ethnic origin, sexual identity, all kinds of beliefs or lack thereof to the bases of discrimination. The first important step to be taken in this area would be for members of the political power to give up hate speech. Social awareness must be raised against the open targeting of refugees/asylum seekers/migrants and their exposure to racist attacks. Our struggle against all forms of discrimination will continue uninterruptedly.
- The fact that the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention, which is a crucial achievement in preventing violence against women and recognizes gender equality, was first opened to discussion and then withdrawn from based on various religious references has been an unlawful and anti-democratic practice. Although the presidency does not have the authority to withdraw from international conventions adopted in accordance with Article 90 of the Constitution, the fact that this happened is an important indicator of this new type of arbitrary and uncertain regime. Our struggle for the reinstatement of the İstanbul Convention will continue.
- We would like to remind the EU and the government once again that we are against the so-called “Ankara Criteria” that replaced the EU’s Copenhagen political criteria of democracy, rule of law, human rights and minority rights with authoritarianism, and that we support Turkey’s bid for the EU as a democratization process.
- The 2019 local elections in Turkey revealed that there is a strong political and social dissidence in favor of democracy, human rights and peace. The democratization of Turkey can be achieved with the united struggle of the political and social dissidence on the principle of democracy and human rights at the broadest base. The collaboration of six opposition parties has been positive, but the avoidance of close cooperation with the democratic alliance, of which HDP is at the center, has prevented the formation of a strong opposition movement. Turkey’s current severe political and economic problems can only be solved through the cooperation of the political and social dissidence and a new government. The amendments introduced by the political power in the electoral laws requires cooperation. As human rights defenders, we are in this struggle as part of the social dissidence in the struggle for democracy.
- The importance of the principle of separation of powers manifests itself in an independent and impartial judiciary. It is not possible for justice to be served without a judiciary structured in accordance with the rule of law. Regulations were introduced in the opposite direction of the judicial reform strategy announced by the political power in 2019, amendments were introduced to the Enforcement Law to the detriment of political prisoners under the pretext of the COVID-19 outbreak, and a legislative amendment was introduced to create pro-government multiple bar associations by interfering with the election method. The use of the Anti-Terror Code and the special judicial system for crimes within this scope continues to increase its influence all over Turkey. These developments show that the political power wants to take the judiciary completely under its influence. The judiciary, on the other hand, is acting in accordance with this orientation of the political power, gradually moving away from the standards set out in international conventions and protocols, delivering rulings in contradiction to Article 90 of the Constitution, and taking decisions contrary to the judgments and case law of the ECtHR (e.g. Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala judgments). So much so that people all over Turkey are seeking justice with “Justice Vigils.” Examples include the justice vigils of Emine Şenyaşar and her son Ferit Şenyaşar, and the vigils for the release of activists unfairly detained in the Gezi trial. The CoE Committee of Ministers initiated a violation procedure due to Turkey’s non-compliance with ECtHR judgments, and the ECtHR once again found that Turkey did not comply with the ECHR in its Osman Kavala judgment of 11 July 2022. Without a new and democratic constitution and an end to the unity of powers; fair trials, the rule of law, an impartial and independent judiciary are impossible.
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war show that gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law are taking place. The UN Rome Statute, which regulates the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, must be ratified and implemented immediately by all countries, including Turkey. Justice is vital to fight impunity.
- One of the most important problems in Turkey is that the mob structures within the state have not been liquidated. After the reality of the counter-guerrilla, the presence of the Fethullah Gülen organization within the state until the attempted military coup demonstrated the magnitude of the danger that the country was facing. Democratic governance, however, is essential to prevent the emergence of new illegal structures to replace the purged ones. Nonetheless, it is obvious that some of the members of the de facto ruling bloc that emerged after the coup attempt have been on trial for crimes committed in the past years due to illegal structures within the state. The disclosures of a person named Sedat Peker over the last year show how grave the situation is. These disclosures reveal that there are multiple new parallel structures within the state. This situation seriously concerns us human rights defenders. In addition, the policy and culture of impunity must be ended, the protection of state officials who commit crimes must be abandoned, and special laws enacted during the state of emergency must be revoked.
- With rising authoritarianism, the decline in economic and social rights continues to deteriorate. Unemployment and poverty have further increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to deny workers and laborers their rights, authorities cling to authoritarianism, manipulating basic economic statistics and causing severe loss of rights. While it is clear that the economic crisis will only worsen, we need to work more for economic and social rights.
- It is documented in our rights violations reports that there has been a significant increase in practices violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, especially after the declaration of the state of emergency. Similarly, cases of enforced disappearances have started to occur again. Moreover, there has been an increase in the number of complaints of people being forcibly detained for short periods of time, threatened and subjected to torture and ill-treatment in this way. Various procedural rules introduced and enacted by emergency decree laws lead to impunity. Particularly the continuation of the 12-day detention period through Law No. 7145 after the state of emergency has created a very serious situation. In addition, the policy of impunity is an obstacle to inquiries into these violations. The case file of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in İstanbul, was closed and sent to Saudi Arabia, which is very serious and constitutes a typical example of impunity. The acquittal of the perpetrators of the cases filed for the gross human rights violations committed in the 90s shows that impunity is consolidated and maintained as a state policy. The policy of impunity must be ended and effective, comprehensive and independent administrative and judicial investigations must be carried out.
- İHD was founded 36 years ago with the efforts of mothers whose children were tortured and ill-treated in prisons. Today, a discriminatory and marginalizing enforcement of sentences regime has been established by using the Anti-Terror Code. The enforcement of sentences of political prisoners is carried out under conditions of isolation and all prisoners are subjected to forced standing roll-calls, handcuffed examinations, strip searches, camera surveillance of living spaces, forced transfer and exile, incarceration in prisons far away from their relatives, restrictions and prohibitions on communication, and subjection to conduct that amounts to torture and ill-treatment practices when prisoners object to certain practices and seek their rights. Strict isolation in İmralı Prison continues through unlawful disciplinary action. Isolation is also blocking the way for a new peace process. There has been an increase in cases of death under suspicious circumstances in prisons presented as suicide and hunger strikes have continued now and again. The number of sick prisoners in critical conditions has gradually increased and exceeded 650 as far as we have been able to identify. The fact that the Kurdish woman and politician Aysel Tuğluk was not released despite her critical condition reveals the extent of discrimination. The policy of “rotting” critically sick prisoners leads to their death, yet the political power does not recognize this situation as a grave violation of human rights.
- Despite the quenching of the coup attempt, the political government declared a state of emergency for 2 years and then virtually extended it for almost 3 years as of 31 July 2018 through Law No. 7145. The problems related to the right to work, right to health, right to freedom of movement, etc. faced by those who were dismissed from their posts by emergency decree laws during the state of emergency still continue. It has been seen that a commission established to inquire the state of emergency measures has not been effective in eliminating violations, and the Ankara administrative courts established to hear the cases filed against the decisions of this commission are not effective either. In order to erase the effects of the state of emergency, all unfair and unlawful practices, especially the state of emergency dismissals, should be reversed and the legislation should be revised, and normalization should begin. It should not be forgotten that it is only and only fundamental rights and freedoms and the people who use these freedoms suffer during the state of emergency. However, despite all objections, the political power has passed the bill to extend Law No. 7145 for another year at the GNAT commissions and forwarded it to the general assembly. The political power governs Turkey with a permanent state of emergency regime.
- Unfortunately, in the post-state of emergency period, bans on the rights to freedom of association and assembly and violations against those who want to exercise these rights continue to increase. These violations have been seen more prominently in the protests and activities by health care workers against violence and for their economic and professional rights, in the protests of public employees demanding their jobs back, in protests of dismissed employees seeking their rights, in the protests and demonstrations by women activists, in the protests and activities organized by the HDP, in the intervention by the law enforcement into to the peaceful vigil of the Saturday Mothers on their 900thweek, and in solidarity assemblies with arrested journalists. In addition, repressive policies and practices against the right of LGBTI+ to freedom of assembly and demonstration continue as a reflection of the government’s mentality.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in human rights violations in the world and in Turkey and has provided opportunities to authoritarian governments to restrict fundamental rights under the pretext of conflicting rights. For human rights defenders, it has been revealed that advocacy should be carried out with the awareness that notably economic and social rights along with the right to live in an ecological environment is as important as the right to life.
- In addition to the ecological destruction caused by the global climate crisis, the destruction of nature continues in Turkey due to unplanned urbanization, the opening of the natural environment to mining sites, the construction of hydroelectric power plants and dams, and forest fires that appear to be man-made. As İHD, we would like to emphasize once again that the protection of nature is a fundamental human right.
- The right of human rights defenders and İHD, which has made significant contributions to the development of human rights awareness and culture in Turkey, to defend human rights must be recognized. The policy of judicial harassment against human rights defenders must end. The Ministry of Interior’s control over the activities of associations must be ended, the military coup-era practices of blacklisting individuals through the amendment of the Law on Associations must be abandoned, and the practices of restricting the activities of associations and foundations under the name of prevention of financing of terrorism, placing them under full control and easy appointment of trustees must also be put to an end. These practices have revealed the political power’s intention to exert absolute control over civil society. National and international reactions to the Interior Minister’s targeting of İHD in his address at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the subsequent arrest of İHD’s co-chairperson showed the strong solidarity of the human rights movement. This process as a whole is intended to continue with the lawsuits filed against human rights defenders, specifically the co-chairs of İHD, but despite such state of affairs, national and international solidarity is growing.
The 36-year struggle of human rights defenders under the umbrella of İHD will continue with our rightful demand for freedom, equality, justice and peace based on human dignity and the struggle for Turkey to achieve a democratic regime based on human rights will continue.
On the 36th anniversary of İHD’s foundation, we say that we are happy that İHD exists against all odds.
HUMAN RIGHTS ASSOCIATION