İHD’s Answer to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu

18 February 2021


A Compulsory Response to the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu’s Statements Targeting İHD


On 15 February 2021, İHD held a press conference about the death of 13 captive soldiers, police officers and civilians, which devastated and profoundly saddened us all, and shared with the public the initiatives taken by the association during this process. (“İHD Statement on the Death of Captive Soldiers and Officers.” <https://ihd.org.tr/en/ihd-statement-on-the-death-of-captive-soldiers-and-officers/>)

A day later, on 16 February 2021, The Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, addressed the members of the parliament at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey’s plenary to inform them about the incident as a representative of the government. Minister Soylu falsely accused İHD with trumped-up charges as part of his address, targeted İHD and its executives, and used the phrase “canı çıkasıca” for İHD [a curse commonly used wishing great evil, misery and death befall on someone] in a way that can never be accepted in a state governed by rule of law.

İHD is glad to observe that the public did not approve of the minister’s words and attitude. The minister not only is obliged to apologize to the İHD family but also to the entire society because of his statements. İHD, therefore, has to issue the following statement in response to the minister’s accusations.

The issue that made Minister Soylu to use the words “canını çıkartma” [to take the life out of someone in Turkish] İHD is the allegation that İHD kept silent about the civilian massacres for which he said he was disclosing the figures for the first time. This allegation is entirely misleading and unfounded as is proven below.

İHD is a human rights organization and one of its primary goals is to protect human life. İHD, within this framework, issues its statements based on international human rights law, humanitarian law, and universal humanitarian values. For İHD, the criteria that set forth the legal and ethical responsibilities of non-state actors are not based on the minister’s political expectations and objectives but on these international rules and principles. It goes without saying that the criteria designating whether a human rights organization acts in the right or the wrong are not dependent on the personal choices of a political figure but on international human rights rules.

In the light of these principles, İHD has always condemned and opposed attacks against civilians regardless of who the perpetrators may be. İHD’s press statements on the issue only since 2015 can be found at the association’s official website and the links to some are presented below:

Other than the above-mentioned selected statements, İHD publishes annual human rights violations reports with balance sheets and these incorporate sections like “those attacked” and “attacks by illegal organizations.” These sections particularly cover the cases of individuals who were killed and wounded in attacks by illegal armed organizations.

All these pieces of information should have been known to the interior minister and the bureaucrats of the ministry.  Ignorance of the language, statements, and position of İHD, which is one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, falls on the minister himself and his bureaucrats.

İHD has not confined itself to merely complying with human rights and humanitarian law but also taken on responsibility in numerous cases to protect human life to date. The public knows of İHD’s previous experience in the release of persons held captive and the persons that the association has rescued safe and sound which are proven by the statements released by the association.

When the armed conflict broke out again in 2015, the organization restarted to hold numerous individuals captive. When 20 customs officers serving at the border crossings in Hakkari were abducted in July and August 2015, İHD and labor-professional organizations issued a joint call for the release of these officers who were then received and delivered to state officials in Turkey on 8 September 2015 particularly due to İHD’s efforts to this end.

Yet İHD’s numerous calls and efforts for the release of soldiers and police officers held captive have failed. The significant calls by the association are presented in the following links:

  • On 29 May 2019, İHD issued its latest call with the families of the captives for their release. This call was issued following the delivery of letters written by the captive soldiers and police officers to their families: “Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler Serbest Bırakılsın.” 29 May 2019. [Release the Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive] <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-serbest-birakilsin/>
  • On 14 June 2018, İHD issued a call at the association’s Diyarbakır Branch with the families before the general elections: “Alıkonulan Asker ve Polislerin Serbest Bırakılması için Hükümete ve Siyasi Partilere Çağrı Yapıyoruz.” [We Call on the Government and Political Parties for the Release of Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive] 14 June 2018. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-serbest-birakilsin/>
  • On 2 October 2017, İHD issued a call with the families and Deputy Chairperson of CHP, Veli Ağbaba, for the release of the captives at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey’s (GNAT) Press Conference Hall. 2 October 2017. “Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler için İHD, Aileler ve CHP Tarafından TBMM’de Gerçekleştirilen Ortak Basın Açıklaması.” [Joint Press Release by İHD, Families and CHP at the GNAT for the Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive] <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-icin-ihd-aileler-ve-chp-tarafindan-tbmmde-gerceklestirilen-ortak-basin-aciklamasi/>
  • On 29 September 2017, İHD, the families and the former chairperson of Mazlum-Der A. Faruk Ünsal visited CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu at the party’s headquarters to discuss the matter and held a press conference with a call for the release of the captives. “Alıkonulan Asker ve Polislerin Durumu.” [The Situation of Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive] 29 September 2017. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-asker-ve-polislerin-durumu/>
  • On 23 December 2016, İHD, Mazlum-Der and the families visited all political parties with a group at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to discuss the matter and held a press conference with a call for the release of the captives at CHP and HDP’s group meeting halls. “Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler Hakkında.” [Regarding the Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive] 26 December 2016. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-hakkinda/>
  • On 1 September 2016, İHD held a press conference with the families and CHP’s Ankara Deputy Şenal Sarıhan on the occasion of World Peace Day at its central office with a call for the release of the captives. “PKK/HPG Tarafından Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler Serbest Bırakılmalıdır.” [Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive by the PKK/HPG Should be Released] <https://www.ihd.org.tr/pkkhpg-tarafindan-alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-serbest-birakilmalidir/>
  • On 26 November 2015, İHD, Mazlum-Der, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the families along with CHP’s Ankara deputies Şenal Sarıhan and Murat Emir held a press conference for the release of the captives. “PKK Tarafından Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler Serbest Bırakılsın.” [Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive by the PKK Should be Released] 26 November 2015. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/pkk-tarafindan-alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-serbest-birakilsin-2/>
  • On 30 September 2015, İHD, Mazlum-Der and the families held a press conference calling for the release of the captives. “PKK Tarafından Alıkonulan Asker ve Polisler Serbest Bırakılsın.” [Release the the Soldiers and Police Officers Held Captive by the PKK] 30 September 2015. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/pkk-tarafindan-alikonulan-asker-ve-polisler-serbest-birakilsin/>
  • On 8 September 2015, a delegation from İHD received 20 customs officers in Iraq’s Duhok city and delivered them to officials at the Habur Border Gate. The İHD delegation also expressed İHD’s call for the release of soldiers and police officers held captive during the receiving of customs officers. “Alıkonulan 20 Gümrük Memuru Serbest Bırakıldı, İHD Heyeti Habur Yolunda.” [20 Customs Officers Held Captive Are Released: İHD Delegation Is on Its Way to Habur] 8 September 2015. <https://www.ihd.org.tr/alikonulan-20-gumruk-memuru-serbest-birakildi-ihd-heyeti-habur-yolunda/>

Successful initiatives taken thus far by İHD and other human rights organizations for the release of public officials have for the first time failed and 13 persons hors de combat have lost their lives. However those responsible for such a failure are neither the İHD nor another rights organization. İHD believes that the most important reason for the failure to rescue these persons this time is the state’s security policies and its anti-terrorism discourse. As has been repeatedly expressed by İHD’s co-chairperson, the organization’s claim for the government/state/ruling party to directly or indirectly address a call to it has brought the problem to an impasse. During this process state officials, most notably the president himself, have facilitated İHD’s initiatives about this matter. The necessary guarantees were granted to take all kinds of security measures at the release stage of those held captive but the organization could not be persuaded in spite of these.

The interior minister was upset with İHD because the association indicated that it held both the organization and the state responsible for the failed recovery operation during which 13 persons lost their lives. Yet the fact that the intervention to the right to life did not directly stem from the state itself does not mean that the state would not bear any responsibilities. As İHD indicated in its statement of 15 February 2021 on the “Death of Captive Soldiers and Officers,” the state should certainly be held responsible for the consequences of such a risky operation and an effective investigation into the operation would reveal this. Human rights law does not let states to resort to violence as they please under the name of combatting crime or anti-terrorism. As per international law, states have a positive duty to protect persons hors de combat during armed operations they launch. One of the elemental duties of human rights organizations is to question whether the states abide by human rights law in such operations. The fact that the ministers, who launched the operation, put the blame on everyone else but themselves before any investigation was finalized is against the natural order of things. Thus the competent chief public prosecutor’s office should take the matters in hand and conduct an impartial investigation. Indeed, this point made by İHD was clarified with a statement by the president himself talking after the cabinet meeting on 17 February 2021. The president acknowledged that the responsibility for the operation fell upon  the state.

Moreover, the issue of responsibilities and duties of the state is also about its failure to engage in a backdoor diplomacy to rescue its citizens. For instance, the method used in the recovery of 15 Turkish seamen who had been abducted by pirates on 23 January 2021 from the ship Mozart 180 miles off  Lagos, Nigeria could have very well been employed for this case as well.

The duty of the interior minister is certainly not only to guarantee that operations by the law enforcement are conducted in line with human rights law. But the interior minister is also obliged to guarantee the safety of life and property of İHD and its members like everyone else living in this country. Whereas Minister Soylu targeted İHD and by doing so endangered the safety of life and property of İHD’s executives and staff in order to cover up his own responsibility intentionally and in bad faith while addressing the parliament when the matter was not even about İHD. The fact that the minister, with the kind of language and wording he used, targeted human rights defenders in an attempt to cover up his own mistakes can never be accepted. Indeed following the minister’s address, İHD began receiving threats through emails and the social media. İHD will immediately inform domestic and international human rights mechanisms of how dangerous minister’s statements against İHD are and how they risk our lives.

Should the interior minister have accepted İHD’s appointment requests, we could have discussed these matters face-to-face and understood one another better. Now İHD would like to take this occasion to invite Minister Soylu to apologize from the association and open the doors for dialogue.

İHD respectfully brings to the consideration of the public.


Human Rights Association