No Exceptional Circumstances Justify Torture
14 February 2023
Torture is absolutely prohibited! No exceptional circumstances, 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.
The wounds, individual and social destruction caused by the earthquakes that struck on 6 February 2023 in 11 provinces with a population of 13.5 million people are deepening with each passing day.
According to the official statements, in these 11 provinces (Adana, Adıyaman, Antep, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Hatay, Kilis, Malatya, Malatya, Maraş, Osmaniye and Urfa), where search and rescue operations are still ongoing, the number of people who lost their lives increased to 31,643 and the number of people injured to 80,278 as of 13 February 2023.
We would like to express once again that we feel the pain of those who lost their lives deeply and intensely in our hearts. We extend our condolences to the whole society, especially to the relatives of those who lost their lives, and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
We have mentioned in various statements made by our organizations the serious problems in search and rescue operations, health services and aid provided to survivors, and the lack of coordination proportionate with the gravity of the disaster and drew attention to human rights violations. We have particularly underlined that the heavy pain and destruction caused by the earthquake can only be overcome by upholding the principles and values of human rights and by increasing social solidarity.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we would like to emphasize that the human factor has a great impact on the destruction caused by earthquakes due to the failure to fulfill the scientific requirements of earthquake preparedness, serious mistakes, negligence and misconduct/corruption before and after the earthquake. Therefore, the consequence of the earthquake must be regarded as a grave violation of human rights in itself. Therefore, human rights perspective should be the guide not only for the political power but also for the society in dealing with all the problems caused by the earthquake.
Unfortunately, horrifying reports of human rights violations have been coming from the earthquake zone in the last few days. We have been watching with horror some of the images of violence and torture shared on social media, which are in need of confirmation. Especially after the political authority’s statements defending the declaration of the state of emergency on the grounds of preventing “alienators” and “looters,” the increase in such allegations and reports of such violations is quite thought-provoking.
In every society, there may be malevolent individuals and groups who seek to take advantage of the extraordinary circumstances that cause such chaos. These, indeed, must be combated and measures must be taken to minimize the damage they cause. However, the principles and values of human rights should be the guide for everyone when taking measures against such acts.
Yet, we observe with great concern that the security measures and sloppy rhetoric of criminalization are rapidly turning into discrimination, hate speech and violence, including torture and other acts of ill-treatment. These developments are directly destroying what we need most today: social solidarity, the only way to heal wounds. Despite all the ostentatious and assertive rhetoric, the delay in the support and relief efforts due to the insufficiency of public power, which has increased the number of those who lost their lives, and the justified anger that has arisen in society as a result of the this, has been misdirected at the wrong targets and hate crimes against asylum seekers and refugees who are also survivors of the earthquake, the declaration of some people as “looters” without concrete evidence and information, and the use of violence amounting to torture and other acts of ill-treatment without due application of law are not acceptable in any way.
Conduct that leave the administration of justice and order to the grudge of the streets and those that allow this grudge to emerge mean, first of all, the denial of the rule of law. It is the duty of public power not to let the anger of the people against injustice to turn into a practice of punishment. We would also like to point out that political actors and the media also have a responsibility not to serve the normalization of lynching and torture, but to protect human dignity.
As is well known, universal human rights law recognizes torture and other ill-treatment as crimes against humanity and absolutely prohibits them. In these days of grave human tragedy, normalizing such crime against humanity and by instrumentalizing pain, turning inflicting of pain on others into earthquake politics, is itself a crime against humanity and society.
We consider it our duty and responsibility to once again remind the authorities and the whole society of the universal approach in the face of all kinds of allegations and news, including the information that there has been a violation of the right to life as a result of torture and ill-treatment as of yesterday evening. We would also like to state that we will closely follow the process to ensure that the allegation of death due to torture is effectively investigated immediately and those responsible are brought to justice.
We would like to remind all that acts of torture and ill-treatment cannot be inflicted on anyone, no matter what they are accused of, and that this is strictly prohibited in international conventions and documents that Turkey is a party to.
The UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT), whose authority and oversight authority Turkey has recognized by signing the UN Convention against Torture, evaluated Turkey’s fourth periodic report last May and adopted “Concluding Observations” incorporating various caveats, recommendations, and suggestions. In its Concluding Observations, the UNCAT expressed its concern at the large number of credible reports it has recently received of law enforcement officials subjecting detainees to torture and ill-treatment, and urged Turkey to fulfill its obligations under Article 2, paragraph 2 of the Convention against Torture. It reminded Turkey of the absolute prohibition of torture in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention against Torture, which enshrines that “No exceptional circumstances, 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.” This warning of the Committee gains much more meaning and importance in the extraordinary circumstances we are going through today.
Persons who are alleged to have committed any crime must be subjected to all legal proceedings within the framework of the Constitution and laws, they must be tried fairly and must be sentenced in accordance with the law if found guilty. Moreover, no one can be subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment, which are absolutely prohibited by universal law, despite the gravity of the alleged crime.
Meanwhile, the detention periods for looting and theft crimes have been extended from four to seven days in places where a state of emergency has been declared with a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette dated 11 February 2023.
The seven-day detention period, which undoubtedly poses a great risk for violations of the prohibition of torture, is unacceptable regardless of the nature of the offense.
We call on the authorities to fulfill the obligations of universal law, which Turkey has accepted in the framework of the UNCAT’s warning and reminder, and to maintain respect for human rights.
- Authorities at all levels should abandon discourses that praise and encourage torture and torturers, and the political authority should immediately condemn acts of torture unequivocally before the public in line with the recommendations of international mechanisms at the highest level and provide assurances that such acts will not go unpunished.
- Documentation and reporting of torture should be done according to the principles of the “İstanbul Protocol”, a UN document.
- Allegations of torture must be investigated in a swift, effective and impartial manner by independent committees, and international ethical and legal rules must be followed at every stage of judicial proceedings.
- Procedural safeguards must be fully implemented in conditions of detention.
- The presidential decree of 11 February 2023, extending the detention period from four to seven days in places where a state of emergency has been declared, should immediately be withdrawn.
- The state of emergency must be lifted without delay.
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate that we will resolutely continue our active duty in the identification and documentation, reparation and legal processes of torture and other ill-treatment allegations, and we would like to remind that those who have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment may apply to our organizations.
Turkish Medical Association Human Rights Department
Human Rights Association
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey