Turkey assigns a torturer to UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan

Turkish police chief Yasin Demir (second from the right) poses here along the Nile River.

A police chief who was accused of running torture chambers for suspects in police custody in Turkey was selected to be part of UN police in  the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

Yasin Demir, the head of anti-terror section (TEM) at the police department in Turkey’s central province Kırıkkale, — identified as one of the torturers during the trial hearings in February, 2017 and now faces criminal investigation – will be part of the UN mission in South Sudan with the assignment approved by Turkey’s Interior Ministry.

Yasin Demir whose signature appeared in the probe against Gülen movement in Kırıkkale, subjected victims to torture and abuse in police detentions.

The assignment, made on April 21, 2017, is seen as rewarding torturers in Turkey according to sources who are familiar with the procedures and regulations in Turkish police force. The assignment also violates the UN rules and regulations. Torture and abuse is rampant in Turkey’s detention centers and prisons as documented by so many international governmental and non-governmental organizations. The court documents revealed Demir is one of the leading police chiefs in Kırıkkale province, authorizing the torture of victims in violation of Turkish laws.

In a resolution adopted on April 25, 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted that “the credible reports produced by NGOs, and the restricted access of detainees to their lawyers, their families or international delegations is another source of concern. The adoption of the 2016 law on the legal protection of security forces involved in fights against terrorist organisations, which the Assembly opposed in its Resolution 2121 (2016), is also a worrying development and could encourage impunity of law-enforcement agents carrying out security operations: in case of alleged wrongdoing, the opening of a prosecution would require authorization by the Minister of Justice.”

The UN relies on governments in vetting out candidates selected for the deployment in UN missions and in Demir’s case, Turkish government must be held accountable for nominating a known torturer to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMIS). In several cases where the UN came under severe criticisms for recruiting human rights abusers in its missions, the UN either ended or suspended deployments from some countries. For example, in 2016, the UN ended Congo’s role in the mission in the Central African Republic, after finding that incoming troops failed to meet UN standards for vetting, training and equipment. The UN also terminated deployments of three officers from Burundi last year when it found out that they were involved in torture, abuse and human rights violations.

The serious accusations leveled against police chief Demir were made during the trial hearings that were held by Kırıkkale High Criminal Court between Feb.15 and Feb.17, 2017. Testifying before the panel of judges for the first time, seven defendants, who faced dubious charges of terror, revealed how they were subjected to severe torture including beatings, spraying with ice cold water, crushing testicles, shoving police baton into anus during the custody at the police TEM detention center.

On February 21, the court filed a criminal complaint against officers including Demir who were identified by victims as torturers and the public prosecutor Osman Şişmanoğlu launched a criminal probe against police officer with a case No.2017/2045 and the investigation is still pending. The torture is applied at the police station in a mass scale under the orders from Hasan Onar, the head of provincial police department in Kırıkkale and his successor Mehmet Çorumlu. It was claimed that the chief public prosecutor Kasım Tüten turned a blind eye to torture allegations in the province until victims came forward with shocking revelations during the trial hearings.

A school teacher identified with initial R.Ç, said in the court that his testicles had been crushed and that a hard object was inserted into his anus while in police custody.

“I was kept naked in the cold. I was beaten. Pressure was applied to my genital area. The pain didn’t stop for months. I am single right now. I may not be able to have children in the future, if I get married.” The victim told about the torturer after requesting that his mother be removed from the courtroom so that she would not hear about terrible ordeal he went.

Another victim, S.Ö., also have similar accounts, explaining to the court how he was subjected to the torture. He also identified the police officer who tortured him as sitting in the back of the court room, at which point a plainclothes police officer rushed out of the court room but left his bag behind. The judge examine the bag, identified the police officer.

S.Ö. said “The police officer who was torturing me was sitting at the back seat in this very courtroom. He put a cap over my head than took me to the bathroom by dragging me throughout the hallways. He asked me to take off my clothes.”

Another victim, identified as E.A, said he was dragged half-naked to the bathroom in police custody to face torture. “I was stripped naked and they folded my eyes with my undershirt. They washed me with a garden hose with ice cold water while they were laughing at me,” he said adding to that “When I thought that they would not go any further after washing me with ice cold water they asked liquid soap and baton than started to sexually harass me, then they shoved a police baton into my anus.”

Victim E.A. went on saying that “at that moment, I told them I would accept whatever they want me to accept and they stopped torturing me. If I did not accept it, I would probably have to come here today with medical diapers.” Bursting into tears at some point of his testimony, E.A. said he could only go to the toilet once within two days to not feel the pain while drinking olive oil to treat his wounds.

He said he was ashamed of what was done to him, did not want anybody know about it. He noted that he was also threatened with a bodily harm to his wife and that was the reason why he did not bring up torture incidents before. “I could endure torture, but they threatened me with my wife and my child. They told me that they might take my wife and arrest her. At that time my wife was pregnant. If my wife miscarries the baby, who would be accountable? I would not take this risk. Once I accept to give statement with their instruction they started to behave well.”

Victim named H.Ö. also testified to the court on how he had endured torture in police custody. “They sprayed cold water on my body while I was naked and my eyes were still covered. They hydro blasted especially to my groin area… they brought something closer to the back as I understood that was a police baton. They did not shove the baton into my anus but they harassed me, then someone started to squeeze my testicles. So hard that I thought I would die in darkness.”

The torture allegations in Turkey in the aftermath of failed coup bid have been well documented by international organizations as well as non-governmental groups. In December 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer said during a press conference in Ankara that the environment in Turkey following the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016 was conducive to torture.

“Some recently passed legislation and statutory decrees created an environment conducive to torture,” Melzer told reporters amid growing complaints and reports about the existence of systematic torture in Turkey’s prisons.

On Oct. 27, in a 43-page report titled “A Blank Check: Turkey’s Post-Coup Suspension of Safeguards Against Torture,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 13 specific abuse incidents concerning Turkey’s post-coup detainees. The alleged abuse cases ranged from the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation to severe beatings, sexual abuse and the threat of rape.

HRW said it had interviewed more than 40 lawyers, human rights activists, former detainees, medical personnel and forensic specialists before preparing the report. The watchdog said Turkey’s post-coup emergency decrees facilitated torture as they removed safeguards against ill treatment.

Human rights group Amnesty International reported on July 24, 2016 that it had received credible evidence of detainees in Turkey being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, since a failed coup on July 15.

In September, the Turkish government postponed the scheduled visit of Juan E. Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, to the country, which has been beset by allegations of torture, maltreatment and rape against detainees in the aftermath of the failed coup.

The postponement came just weeks after Turkey’s National Police Department was accused of having removed evidence of torture and ill treatment of post-coup detainees prior to the official visit of a delegation from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

In a classified letter widely circulated in media outlets, the acting deputy head of the Turkish National Police warned all officers about the visit and ordered them to avoid using sports facilities as detention centers during the delegation’s stay in the country.

The CPT carried out an ad hoc visit to Turkey from 29 August to 6 September 2016 to examine the treatment and conditions of detention of persons who were detained in connection with the recent attempted military coup. The report was submitted to the authorities in November 2016. But Turkey blocked the publication of the CPT report. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged Turkey this week to remove the block on the publication.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the coup “a great gift of God” and pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Gülen strongly denied any involvement in the coup and asked for an international inquiry for which Turkish government did not respond. Turkish government has so far failed to present any direct evidence linking the movement to the coup other than testimonials that were apparently taken under severe torture and beatings.

According to Turkish police regulations, no one can be assigned to international missions unless they are cleared of all the accusations leveled against them. Yet, Demir was assigned to the UN mission by the order of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. According to the UN Mission’s Summary as of March 31, 2017, Turkey maintains 19 men and one woman as police officers in UNMISS mission and 148 in all UN missions.

Turkey has been contributing UN missions worldwide since 1996. Police peacekeeping missions of Turkish National Police (TNP) began in 1996 with International Police Task Force (IPFT) in Bosnia Herzegovina. Over the years, TNP has increased its contribution to multinational police operations. In 2006, the TNP was among the top five police agencies to contribute the highest number of police officers to UN peacekeeping missions.

Almost all of 2000 police officers with previous UN mission experiences were either purged or jailed in massive witch-hunt persecution launched in Turkey by President Erdoğan. 10,732 police officers have been jailed since July 15, 2016, according to a statement from Turkey’s Interior Minister Soylu on April 2, 2017. Soylu said that a total of 113,260 people have been detained as part of investigations into the Gülen movement in the last eight months alone, while 47,155 were put into pre-trial detention.

April 28, 2017

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