Cablegate: Se Turkey Sees Some Human Rights Progress

Published: Fri 3 Sep 2004 07:44 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: Lawyers and human rights activists told DPO
in August 11-13 meetings in Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Bingol, Elazig
and Malatya that recent reforms have resulted in progress in
human rights practices in southeast Turkey, especially in the
areas of detention and pre-trial procedures, access to lawyers
(for all but terror-related suspects, they say), and even to a
limited extent, in the area of freedom of speech and
association. Contacts welcomed recent progress on Kurdish
language instruction and broadcasting but were skeptical that
actions taken to date come anywhere close to satisfying demands
for increased cultural rights for Turkey's Kurdish population.
Most observers qualify these relatively positive assessments of
the human rights situation by adding that the PKK/Kongra-Gel's
June 2004 abandonment of its ceasefire has increased tension in
the region, and that the human rights situation could be in for
a change. End Summary.
Turkey is on the right path, for now
2. (SBU) Lawyers and human rights activists across the board
told DPO in August 11-13 meetings in Diyarbakir, Tunceli,
Bingol, Elazig and Malatya that the past five years had brought
limited, but still important progress in human rights practices
in the Southeast of Turkey. A Tunceli lawyer went so far as to
state that "torture and mistreatment are at their lowest levels
in the history of Turkey." Others were less ebullient ("the
general trend is weak, but it is one of improvement") and all
stressed the inconsistency in application of improved practices.
Nevertheless, a consensus existed among contacts that Turkey
has been "on the right path."
3. (SBU) Positive developments most often cited by rights
activists are improved detention and pre-trial procedures,
enhanced access to lawyers (for all but terror-related
suspects), slightly greater freedom of speech and association,
and the extension of the statute of limitations for officials
involved in torture. NGOs were not alone in praising recent
reforms; Diyarbakir's acting public prosecutor said that the
clearer language and decreased ambiguity of new laws was a
welcome result of the EU harmonization process. [Note: He, as
well as his counterpart in Elazig, confessed that it is
challenging to keep up with the pace of change. Both said they
use the Turkish Parliament's internet site as their primary
method of keeping up to date with changes to the law. End note.]
Improved Public Education About Rights
4. (SBU) NGOs and lawyers gave police higher marks than the
Jandarma in the area of human rights, claiming they were more
"sensitive to the democratization issue." The demand side of
the human rights equation is improving as well, according to
contacts, as the public becomes more educated (and emboldened by
the EU process) about civil liberties. In the first six months
of 2004, requests for the Diyarbakir Bar's services surpassed
the entire number of requests in 2002-03. Lawyers attribute
this to a recent Bar education campaign. During a nine-day
security operation in Diyarbakir (reftel), for example, police
confronted protestors objecting to the operation on several
occasions. According to one lawyer, "We saw a greater awareness
of rights both on part of public and the police." A police
official reportedly asked one protestor a loaded question ("How
long have you been supporting the PKK?"), and the individual
responded that he wanted to use his right to remain silent. "In
the past they might have broken your hand for an answer like
that," said the Bar lawyers, noting that in this case the
individual did not suffer any ill effects from his response.
Uncommon Dialogue
5. (SBU) The Elazig Human Rights Association (HRA) branch
office also reports some small victories along the same lines,
from standing down a police request to get names of individuals
who were attending a local funeral, to getting a response (but
no information) to their "FOIA-like" request to the Governor for
information about a specific case. The most surprising news
from Elazig, given the views of many state officials about human
rights organizations, was about the dialogue that apparently
exists between the HRA and the government. The Elazig Governor
paid a courtesy call to the HRA office recently, according to
the group's president, and moreover, tried to coax the HRA
representative to attend meetings sponsored by the Interior
Ministry's local human rights representative. The Governor
reportedly told the HRA representative that he understood why
HRA did not want to attend, but he stressed that since the other
NGO's in attendance were "more statist than the state," the HRA
could contribute a different voice to the dialogue.
Broadcasting and instruction OK, but "we're not impressed"
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6. (SBU) Contacts did not have much praise for the recent
establishment of private Kurdish language instruction schools
and the broadcast of Kurdish language segments on state
television. While all interlocutors welcomed these first steps
toward meeting cultural rights, they consider them to be window
dressing, and inadequate in addressing the demand. One
Diyarbakir businessman acknowledged, however, that these two
developments have an important psychological impact: "If you
would have told me ten years ago that there would be
Kurdish-language broadcasts on our television, I would have
looked at you like you were from the moon," he said.
7. (SBU) Nevertheless, the substance of the changes leaves a
great deal to be desired, according to activists. Kurdish
broadcasts play for 30 minutes per week, they say, on a weekday
morning when very few can see it. As for instruction, many
complain that for-fee courses are not helpful, especially for
those with limited means; what the Kurdish community is seeking
are elective courses in schools and universities, they say. In
addition, in Diyarbakir one must be 16 in order to enroll in
courses, whereas most people would like to see younger children
learning and carrying on the language. Teachers, even the wife
of one contact whose Sorbonne degree is in "Kurdology", must
undergo a certification process by Turkish authorities which
observers found distasteful.
Still no shortage of violations
8. (SBU) While the overall situation had improved in recent
years, there are still numerous complaints of human rights
violations. The Bingol HRA leader has had 67 charges filed
against him for what he considers "thought crimes," for example,
and the Diyarbakir HRA leader 58. In connection with a May Day
demonstration in Diyarbakir, HRA claims that 168 union
supporters who had wanted to participate in a press release were
taken to the Security Directorate, detained for 10 hours in an
indoor gym, and then released without having been asked one
question. More recently, during Tunceli's July 31 Culture and
Nature Festival, police responded with what some observers
considered "excessive force" to a group from the Inmates Family
Association (families of suspected PKK militants), who wanted to
carry out a previously unauthorized demonstration during the
festival. Tunceli's DEHAP Mayor reported being pushed and
insulted by Tunceli's Security Director in the scuffle, an
account corroborated by a member of Tunceli's Bar Association.
(Note: The Mayor of Tunceli is a woman who appears to be in her
thirties, weighing no more than 120 pounds. End note.)
Twenty-six individuals were detained for resisting arrest and
carrying out an illegal demonstration. All but two were later
9. (SBU) Comment: Even the most skeptical observers give
Turkey relatively good marks in improving the human rights
environment in southeast Turkey during the past five years.
Even where implementation is incomplete or inconsistent, just
having new laws on the books is an advance, according to many
lawyers, as they give a concrete basis for accountability.
Human rights workers claim that the EU harmonization process had
been "comforting people psychologically in their daily life."
That sense of comfort, however, is in danger of being eroded by
the PKK's June 2004 abandonment of its ceasefire, according to
most observers (septel).
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