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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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New report published on the F-type prison crisis in Turkey and the repression of human rights defenders

Exactly one year after the start of hunger strikes held in protest against F-type prisons in Turkey, the Kurdish Human Rights Project (UK), the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (Denmark), and the World Organisation Against Torture (Switzerland) have issued a new report on the prison crisis which strongly condemns the lack of effective political solutions applied by the Turkish authorities and the ongoing impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners during the military raids into Turkish prisons in December 2000.

In the early hours of 19 December 2000, over 10,000 members of the Turkish security forces launched simultaneous raids in twenty prisons across Turkey. The aim of "Operation Return to Life", as this planned military intervention was called, was the forced transferral of over a thousand prisoners to Turkey’s newly-constructed "F-type" prisons and the halting of the widespread hunger strikes and "death fasts" by political prisoners protesting against the introduction of F-type prisons since 19 October 2000. By the time this operation was over, the bodies of 30 prisoners lay dead alongside those of two prison officers.

Since the 19 December operation, a total of 40 death fasters – all of them young prisoners and family members of prisoners between the ages of 19 and 45 – have also died, bringing the current total death toll of the Turkish prison crisis to 72 dead with many others seriously wounded, victim to torture or left with devastating mental and physical damage due to prolonged hunger striking.

Given the increasing numbers of deaths and the severe and potentially permanent physical and mental damage being wreaked on those undergoing death fasts and hunger strikes, the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP), together with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), sent an observer mission to Ankara and Istanbul in May 2001 to investigate the extent of the crisis and to explore ways in which this crisis could be effectively mediated and resolved as quickly as possible.

Despite pleas from concerned human rights groups and medical associations around the world as well as from international monitoring bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), it appears that a solution to the growing death toll in this crisis is still remote.

Recent events and the climate prevailing in Turkish prisons since last December attest to the urgency of the implementation without delay of reforms needed to improve the prison and judicial systems. In January 2001, the European Parliament stated that prison reform was an indispensable requirement for consideration of Turkey’s candidature for membership of the European Union.

Perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment in Turkey continue to enjoy impunity. The current situation and the failure of the international community to hold Turkey accountable for its human rights violations poses a serious threat to the whole human rights system. As a priority, KHRP, EMHRN and OMCT urge Turkey to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations of all allegations of torture, in accordance with the Istanbul Rules annexed to CHR resolution 2000/43, as reflected in the “Guidelines to EU Policy towards Third Countries on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment”.

Many prisoners have filed formal claims against the excessive and disproportionate use of force and the ill-treatment they have been subjected to in the course of the prison intervention and their transfer to F-type establishments. The Turkish authorities indicated that they would provide an update on the investigations being carried out by public prosecutors in relation to the prison interventions of December 2000. However, rather than initiating investigations into the actions of the security forces, the Turkish State has instead commenced investigations against the prisoners themselves.

In light of this failure, the repeated excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Turkish authorities against prisoners since 1995 calls for a firm reaction on the part of all international and European organisations, and perhaps most importantly by the European Union which is in a position to urge Turkey to take the necessary measures to put a stop to this ongoing state of impunity.

Turkish detention centres continue to be dangerously closed to the outside world. Torture in custody will continue unless Turkish law is changed to ensure that the right of access to lawyers is guaranteed for all detainees. To be truly transparent and just, the supervision of prisons by local governors and prosecutors must be accompanied by monitoring via independent bodies unconnected with the State.

In this respect, KHRP, EMHRN and the OMCT recall that Turkey has failed to submit its third periodic report to the UN Committee Against Torture, in full compliance with the CAT provisions. This report has been overdue since 31 August 1997.

In their new report, KHRP, EMHRN and the OMCT provide a detailed list of the observer mission's urgent recommendations in the F-type prison crisis - a crisis which has already claimed so many young lives, and looks set on a course to claim many more in the months ahead, unless the Turkish Government agrees to sit down and negotiate with protesting prisoners.

KHRP, EMHRN and the OMCT strongly urge the European Union to clearly monitor necessary penal and prison reforms in compliance with international standards, in particular the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, as outlined in this new report.