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Ankara, 23 February 2006

The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism concluded a one-week visit to Turkey today.

The Special Rapporteur visited Ankara and Diyarbakir Province. The aim of the visit was two-fold: fact-finding and starting a process of cooperation with the Government of Turkey and other relevant actors.

The Special Rapporteur is mindful of the long-term history of violence and terrorist acts in Turkey, which in particular in the South-Eastern part of the country have resulted in or contributed to the loss of many lives, destruction of property, life-stock and entire villages, large-scale internal displacement and refugees, and the breakdown of social infrastructure. These tragic experiences highlight the fact that while terrorist acts are by definition destructive to the enjoyment of human rights, also certain counter-terrorism measures taken by the state may have consequences that are incompatible with human rights.

Human Rights and the fight against terrorism

The Special Rapporteur recalls that all Governments have to comply with international human rights standards at all times, also and in particular when fighting terrorism. He welcomes that the authorities openly discussed many sensitive issues raised during the meetings. At the centre of these discussions was the definition of terrorism as contained in art. 1 of the Anti-Terror Act of 1991, which defines terrorism based on its purpose or aims rather than referring to specific criminal acts. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur offered to engage in further dialogue concerning new draft legislation in advance or during its consideration at the Parliament

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur visited four different institutions for the detention of persons suspected of or convicted for terrorist crimes. The Special Rapporteur notes with great satisfaction that many efforts undertaken by the Government in the area of human rights, such as intensified human rights training, a zero-tolerance policy vis-à-vis torture, a significant improvement in physical conditions of places of detention, and the enactment of a Compensation Act have led to significant progress, which is widely recognized by civil society. However, he recommends Turkey to take further steps in strengthening available domestic and international procedures for the protection of human rights and for countering any remnants of impunity.

The Special Rapporteur commends the law on compensation of the victims of terrorism. He considers the existence of such a law and the fact that it extends to victims of acts as terrorism as well as to victims of counter-terrorism operations by the state an example of “best practice” to be followed by other states. However, also in this area the Special Rapporteur will convey to the Government a number of observations and recommendations.

Turkey stands at an important juncture of change and has shown remarkable commitment to reforms over the last years. However, further progress in reducing the tensions in Southeast Turkey needs to be accomplished in order to create an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for every individual in Turkish society. In the long run, full implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as investment in basic social infrastructure helps to eliminate conditions that may be conducive to individuals making the inexcusable decision of resorting to acts of terror.

The Special Rapporteur credits the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its cooperation and for ensuring that the visit proceeded smoothly. He would also like to thank all his interlocutors from governmental and non-governmental institutions for sharing their insights and ideas. The Special Rapporteur expresses his appreciation for the support of the UN Country Team in Turkey, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a preliminary written report on the visit to the UN Commission on Human Rights at its sixty-second session in 2006.

Mr. Scheinin accepted the appointment as first Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism on 8 August 2005. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. He previously served eight years as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He was the Committee’s Rapporteur in the drafting of General Comment No. 29 guiding countries on the application of states of emergency in a way that respects international human rights law. From 2001-2004 he served as the Committee’s Special Rapporteur on new communications, (complaints from individuals alleging violations of their rights). He is Professor of Constitutional Law and International Law and Director of the Human Rights Institute at Abo Akademi University in Finland.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit the website: http://www.ohchr.org