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Human rights violations in Diyarbakir

the report by the European lawyers

The mothers on hunger strike to retrieve their children’s bodies in Sur

The mothers on hunger strike to retrieve their children’s bodies in Sur

"We find it hard to believe that what we heard and personally saw could be true. It seems impossible and one would almost refuse to believe that fundamental rights may be trampled and for such a long time. It seemed to us that what is called and treated as a "police operation" should be considered a "state of war", albeit a war against a part of the Turkish citizens.”

These are the final comments expressed by Ezio Menzione and Nicola Canestrini, the Italian lawyers who took part to the delegation of eleven lawyers from all over Europe, who from 22 to 24 January 2016 went to Diyarbakir to detect possible violations of human rights, and first of all the right to defense in the city, which is considered the unofficial capital of the Kurdish region in south-eastern Turkey.

The delegation, representing the Union of Italian Penal Chambers (Unione Camere Penali Italiane - UCPI) and on behalf of the AED (European Democratic Lawyers) and LTI (Legal Team Italy), released the report "The right to defense and the other violated fundamental rights. Report by the UCPI monitors on the situation in Diyarbakir," presented in Milan by the authors along with Serkan Akbas, a Diyarbakir lawyer who was part of the defense team of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and, like other Kurdish lawyers, has suffered in the past arrest and two years in prison, Gilberto Pagani, president of Legal Team Italy, and Antonio Ferrari, a columnist for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

The report (released in Italian) describes the devastating effects of the measures taken by the Turkish government to suppress the Kurdish autonomist movement: about 200,000 people forced to flee their homes, at least 264 civilians killed, including 38 women and 54 minors, between 20 July 2015 and 10 January 2016, according to preliminary estimates because of the difficulty or impossibility to enter the neighborhoods under siege, shelled and ruined. Cities and villages deprived of the basic services, with schools closed, hospitals occupied by the army and doctors prevented from assisting the wounded due to the 57 curfew measures imposed in seven cities for nearly 300 days, from 16 August 2015 to mid-January 2016, affecting 1.3 million people.

"It seems that here we are facing acts of war passed off for police operations. By terrorizing and dispersing the citizens in order to change their political belief and unity, they want an entire community to pay for the political and military confrontation with an organization defined as ‘outlawed’,” Menzione and Canestrini wrote, feeling the duty to report the facts they assisted and the data they had access to "so to break down the wall of silence that covers what the Turkish government is making against the Kurdish people."

The paper tells how in Diyarbakir and in particular in the Sur district, the historic part of the town, the rights to defense, to education, health and food, to housing, to move freely, to life and dignity are violated, and notices the violence against public places, especially those representing community or identity related centers of the Kurdish people: mosques, Islamic schools and also Christian churches. Even the right to a proper burial is not guaranteed because the mothers had to go on a hunger strike to retrieve the bodies of their children died in the curfews, the lawyers wrote after the meeting with the mothers of 39 children or teenagers, whose corpses were not returned or have been given back with delay.

All these facts represent an inhuman and degrading treatment for more than 100,000 citizens, who suffer a state of siege motivated by the government with the struggle, though legitimate, to a number of terrorists, who in the case of Sur are estimated to be 100 -150, the report said, adding some proposals, such as to verify whether the Turkish government's behavior has violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, prohibiting torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, and to launch an appeal for signatures by intellectuals and environmentalists on the damage to historical monuments.

During the presentation of the report, sponsored by the Penal Chamber of Milan, Mr. Akbas reported on the current situation in Diyarbakir, where life continues to be difficult even after the lifting of the curfew on the eve of the Newroz celebrations (the Kurdish New Year on 21 March) because of ongoing strict security measures, and commented on the part of the report dedicated to Tahir Elci, a Kurdish lawyer and chairman of Diyarbakir Bar Association, killed on 28 November 2015 by a gunshot in the head during a firefight between two alleged terrorists and some police officers, while he was speaking to reporters at the ancient "Four-legged Minaret" of Sheikh Matar mosque, denouncing the damages caused to the historic buildings by the fighting between the PKK and the state forces. "We do no longer want weapons, fights and (police) operations in this neighborhood," Elci said shortly before his death.

The " Diyarbakir colleague", as he is mentioned in the report, had distinguished himself as a human rights activist, defending those detained, tortured and victims of enforced disappearances, cooperating with international organizations and taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights. He had also been among the founding members of Amnesty International in Turkey. The investigation of his murder has not yet led to the identification of the perpetrators and Diyarbakir Bar Association continues to urge an effective and independent investigation with a gathering repeated every Friday in front of Diyarbakir Municipality, the report of the UCPI monitors says.

The travel to Turkey had been organized by IADL (International Association of Democratic Lawyers), AED-EDL (European Democratic Lawyers) and ELDH (European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights) in order to verify compliance with fundamental rights of individuals undergoing a curfew.

by Viviana Vestrucci

26 April 2016

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