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Turkey: “Significant progress in securing the right to life, a long way to go on accountability” – UN expert

ANKARA (30 November 2012) – “Turkey has made significant strides in securing the right to life in recent years, and continues to take further positive measures in this regard,” said United Nations independent expert Christof Heyns at the end of his official visit to the country today. “However, impunity remains the main outstanding challenge that needs to be addressed urgently and in order to consolidate the progress.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions conducted an official visit to Turkey with the aim of examining the current level of unlawful killings and death threats, as well as efforts to prevent them and ensure accountability in such cases.

“Since the last visit by my predecessor in 2001, institutional and legal changes have been made – and are still being made – which, if fully implemented, have the potential to address many of the remaining concerns related to the right to life. There is wide recognition that the main obstacle to a higher level of protection for the right to life is impunity for perpetrators,” he stressed.

Mr. Heyns noted that members of the security forces are often protected from conviction by ineffective investigations and slow legal processes. “Many people interviewed during the visit question the extent to which the political will exists to bring perpetrators to book,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Likewise, while some commendable initiatives are being taken, domestic violence against women, for example in the form of so-called honour killings, is also not curbed effectively by prosecution or other measures.”

“This situation persists against a background where there has been little accountability for the large number of killings that took place during the 1990s,” he said. “Where prosecutions take place, it is largely for offences against the State, rather than for violations of the right to life.”

The Special Rapporteur observed that violations of the right to life by security forces continue in the context of counter terrorism measures and during arrests and demonstrations. In his view, responsibility for the Uludere incident at the end of last year, when 34 civilians were killed by Government fighter planes, remains unresolved and raises serious concern. While recognizing the administrative and judicial processes underway, the Special Rapporteur notes that they are not transparent.

At the end of his five-day visit, Mr. Heyns conveyed a series of preliminary recommendations to address the challenge of impunity in Turkey. He also stressed the potential role that the growing number of domestic institutions may have in addressing and investigating human rights violations, including of the right to life. Among them, he drew attention to the current process to establish the Turkish Human Rights Institution. “The next steps in ensuring the independent and effective functioning of such structures will be crucial for the consolidation of human rights protection in Turkey,” he highlighted.

During the course of the week, the Special Rapporteur visited Ankara and Diyarbakir. He also held informal meetings with civil society in Istanbul prior to the start of the official visit.

Mr. Heyns will present his report on the visit to Turkey at the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Mr. Heyns’ research interests include international human rights law and human rights law in Africa. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12850&LangID=E

UN Human Rights Country Page – Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TRIndex.aspx

Read the 2001 report on Turkey: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G01/163/37/PDF/G0116337.pdf?OpenElement

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Geneva: UN Human Rights (+41 22 917 9158 / eje@ohchr.org)
In Ankara: Ahmet Parla, UNIC Ankara (Tel + 90 312 454 1051 / Cell + 90 533 500 1497 / ahmet.parla@unic.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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