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Torture: UN expert calls on the Turkish Government to live up to its “zero tolerance” policy

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ANKARA (2 December 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Nils Melzer has appealed today to the Turkish Government “to live up to Turkey’s policy of zero tolerance on torture.”

At the end of his first official visit* to Turkey, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment welcomed the authorities’ commitment to fight and prevent torture, but warned about “a disconnect between policy and reality conducive to impunity,” particularly in the immediate aftermath of the failed military coup in July 2016.
 
“Emergency decrees extending initial custody without judicial review to 30 days, and denying access to a lawyer for up to five days, are very worrying,” Mr. Melzer stressed.

“Although I fully recognize the imperative of Turkey to protect its citizens and institutions and its right to take extraordinary measures in times of emergency, experience shows that it is precisely in the first hours and days after arrest that the risk of abuse is highest,” he noted.

The human rights expert stressed that expedient access to lawyers and judicial review are crucial tools to avoid creating an environment conducive to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”

“Torture and other forms of ill-treatment seem to have been widespread in the days and weeks following the failed coup, particularly at the time of the apprehension and during initial detention in police or gendarmerie lock-ups as well as in unofficial detention locations,” the expert said, referring to numerous testimonies from inmates, their lawyers and civil society organizations.

The Special Rapporteur has also received credible reports pointing to the inadequacy of the judicial response to such allegations, with many interlocutors reporting that complaints submitted to the authorities were not effectively followed up.

“Furthermore, a climate of intimidation and distrust in the judicial system discouraged victims, lawyers, doctors and human rights groups from filing complaints,” he said. “I therefore urge the Turkish authorities to undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture”.  

At the end of his six-day fact-finding mission, during which he conducted visits to places of detention in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Sanliurfa and Istanbul, the expert noted that overall conditions of detention were satisfactory.

“The detention centres are purpose-built and generally well-equipped,” he noted. “However, most facilities visited were overcrowded, with occupancy ranging from 125 to more than 200 percent of the actual capacity.”

“This has negative implications on access to medical care, recreational activities, as well as on work, training activities and the frequency of family visits,” Mr. Melzer added.

The expert further found that conditions in police lock ups are not adequate, noting that “holding cells, currently keeping individuals for up 30 days without any access to fresh air, are not suitable to detain anyone for more than 48 hours”.

“I firmly believe that there is no better deterrent to torture than a strong national will to investigate, prosecute and punish such abuse. The Turkish authorities have the ability to prevent torture: they have proven so in the last decade - now is the time to stop impunity”.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

(*) Check the expert’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20976&LangID=E

Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs 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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx 

For more information and media requests please contact Alia El Khatib (aelkhatib@ohchr.org) or Ahmet Parla, UNIC Ankara, (+ 90 533 500 1497 / unic.ankara@unic.org )

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