UN investigators found some 2,000 people were killed in 18 months of fighting, and accuse Turkish forces of serious human rights violations. The killings, disappearances and instances of torture documented in the report took place during a surge in violence after the ceasefire between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down in July 2015. As well as thousands killed or detained, the UN says between 350,000 and 500,000 people were displaced by the fighting between July 2015 and December 2016.
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on Friday published a report detailing allegations of massive destruction, killings and numerous other serious human rights violations committed between July 2015 and December 2016 in southeast Turkey. Turkish governments security operations that have affected more than 30 towns and neighborhoods.
The report describes the extent of the destruction in the town of Nusaybin, in Mardin Province, where 1,786 buildings appear to have been destroyed or damaged, and the Sur district of Diyarbakır, where the local government estimates that 70 percent of the buildings in the eastern part of the district were systematically destroyed by shelling.
The destruction apparently continued even after the security operations ended, reaching a peak during the month of August 2016. Before-and-after satellite images from Nusaybin and Sur show entire neighborhoods razed to the ground.
The UN Human Rights Office is “particularly alarmed about the results of satellite imagery analysis, which indicate an enormous scale of destruction of the housing stock by heavy weaponry,” the report states.
Heavy damage is also reported from a number of other towns, including Cizre, in Şırnak Province, where witnesses and family members of victims “painted an apocalyptic picture of the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods” where, in early 2016, up to 189 men, women and children were trapped for weeks in basements without water, food, medical attention and power before being killed by fire, induced by shelling.
“The subsequent demolition of the buildings destroyed evidence and has therefore largely prevented the basic identification and tracing of mortal remains,” the report continues.
The report added that “Moreover, instead of opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the reported excessive use of force, recourse to heavy weapons and the resulting deaths, the local authorities accused the people killed of participating in terrorist organizations and took repressive measures affecting members of their families.”
The report describes how one woman’s family “was invited by the public prosecutor to collect her remains, which consisted of three small pieces of charred flesh, identified by means of a DNA match. The family did not receive an explanation as to how she was killed nor a forensic report. The victim’s sister, who called for accountability of those responsible for her death and attempted to pursue a legal process, was charged with terrorist offences.”
The report also cited information received from the Turkish government indicating that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the Government considers a terrorist organization, “had conducted a number of violent attacks that caused deaths and injuries among Turkish security forces and other individuals. The PKK has also been involved in kidnappings, including of children; digging trenches and placing roadblocks in cities and towns; and preventing medical services from delivering emergency health services.”
The UN Human Rights Office says it has been seeking access to the affected parts of southeast Turkey for almost a year, to independently investigate allegations of serious human rights violations. In the absence of meaningful access, the report – the first in a series – was produced through remote monitoring, using both public and confidential sources, satellite imagery and interviews to gather information about the conduct and impact of the security operations in the southeast of the country.
The report also documents accounts of torture, enforced disappearances, incitement to hatred, prevention of access to emergency medical care, food, water and livelihoods, and violence against women, as well as expressing concern “about the post-security operation policies of expropriation,” citing a number of examples including the Council of Ministers’ March 2016 decision, which reportedly resulted in the expropriation of up to 100 per cent of all land plots in Sur.
Measures taken under the state of emergency following the attempted coup of July 2016, including the dismissal of more than 100,000 people from public or private sector jobs during the reporting period, have also deeply affected the human rights situation in the southeast. Some 10,000 teachers were reportedly dismissed on suspicion of having links with the PKK, without due process.
The use of counter-terrorism legislation to remove democratically elected officials of Kurdish origin, the severe harassment of independent journalists, the closure of independent and Kurdish language media and citizen’s associations and the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors have also severely weakened checks and balances and human rights protections.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein acknowledged the complex challenges Turkey has faced in addressing the attempted coup of July 15, 2016 and in responding to a series of terror attacks. However, he said the apparent significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the country is cause for alarm and would only serve to deepen tensions and foster instability.
“I am particularly concerned by reports that no credible investigation has been conducted into hundreds of alleged unlawful killings, including women and children over a period of 13 months between late July 2015 and the end of August of 2016. It appears that not a single suspect was apprehended and not a single individual was prosecuted,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
The government had “contested the veracity of the very serious allegations made” in the report, said Zeid. The administration of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not commented independently on the findings.
For its part, the Turkish government did provide investigators with information indicating that the PKK, which the administration considers a terrorist organization, “had conducted a number of violent attacks that caused deaths and injuries among Turkish security forces and other individuals”.
“The Government of Turkey has failed to grant us access, but has contested the veracity of the very serious allegations made in this report. But the gravity of the allegations, the scale of the destruction and the displacement of more than 355,000 people mean that an independent investigation is both urgent and essential.”
Turkey has been fighting against outlawed PKK in its south-east for decades. The PKK launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984, calling for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. Since then, tens of thousands of people have died.
March 10, 2017