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“High time for Turkey to come to terms with past enforced disappearances” – UN expert group

ANKARA / GENEVA (18 March 2016) – “Turkey needs to come to terms with past disappearances, and it needs to do so in a comprehensive manner,” today said a delegation of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances at the end of an official five-day visit* to the country.

“This comprehensive approach should be the result of a clear State policy fully recognizing the past enforced disappearances and dealing with all aspects related to them, namely truth, justice, reparation, memory and guarantees of non-repetition,” noted Houria Es-Slami, who currently Chairs the expert group, Vice-Chair Bernard Duhaime and Henrikas Mickevicius. 

The human rights experts underscored that enforced disappearance cannot be considered as an issue of the past: “It is a continuous crime until the fate and whereabouts of every disappeared person is clarified.”

“There is still the need to bring truth to the families of the disappeared, who keep searching for their loved ones, including by thoroughly investigating all burial sites, as already recommended by a number of international human rights bodies,” they said.
 
The experts also drew attention to the lack of judicial accountability: “The absence of a specific crime of enforced disappearances, the application of the statute of limitations for crimes under which cases of enforced disappearances are prosecuted - combined with a palpable lack of interest to seriously investigating and adjudicating these cases - make a conviction for acts of enforced disappearances almost impossible.”

“We were informed by the authorities that the cases in which the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights - including those relating to enforced disappearances that ended with an acquittal - can be reopened,” they said. “We welcome this possibility and look forward to seeing the results of the new investigations and trials.”

The expert group recommended the adoption of a comprehensive and effective reparation program which includes social, psychological and economic support. “The support for the relatives of the disappeared should not depend on the result of any related civil or criminal judicial proceeding,” they stressed. 

“Equally important to address truth, justice and reparation for past disappearances is to create an adequate legal and institutional framework to prevent enforced disappearances to occur again in the future, and ensure its adequate implementation,” they added. 

Among some of the steps that can be taken promptly in this regard, the human rights experts called on the Turkish authorities to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to introduce an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance in domestic criminal law.

“While the Working Group fully acknowledges the serious security challenges that Turkey is currently facing, it is at the same time concerned at the increasingly worrisome situation in the South-East of the country and its impact on human rights,” the Group’s delegation highlighted.

“We were encouraged by the firm resolve expressed by some authorities met during the visit that human rights and the rule of law must be upheld even more strongly under these circumstances,” they said.

“At the same time, we heard a number of troubling testimonies, including of families not being able to have access to the bodies of their killed loved ones or of bodies being disposed of. These and other allegations of human rights violations in the context of the current security operations in the South East need to be thoroughly and independently investigated”, emphasized the experts.

From 14 to 18 March 2016, the Working Group visited Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir. The expert body met with a number of State officials, both at the central and provincial levels, judicial authorities as well as with relatives of disappeared people and representatives of civil society organisations.

A final report on the visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=18476&LangID=E

The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Ms. Houria Es-Slami (Morocco) and the Vice-Chair is Mr. Bernard Duhaime (Canada); other members are Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Republic of Korea), Mr. Ariel Dulitzky (Argentina) and Mr. Henrikas Mickevicius (Lithuania).

The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. In view of the Working Group’s humanitarian mandate, clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person are clearly established. It continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/DisappearancesIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TRIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ugo Cedrangolo (+41 79 752 0485 / ucedrangolo@ohchr.org), Ihsane el Amrani  (+41 79-444 3781 / ielamranichavrier@ohchr.org), or Ahmet Parla (+ 90 312 454 1052 / +90 533 500 1497 / parla@un.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
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