Throughout the course of 2006/7 BHRC monitored the human rights situation in Turkey and its compliance with obligations under the EU Turkish accession process.

Despite the AKP Government introducing a number of significant legal and political reforms certain human rights concerns continued to exist particularly in the field of freedom of expression and recognition of the cultural rights of minorities. As a consequence the BHRC conducted a number of fact-finding missions in the region and sent a number of barristers to observe trials brought against writers and intellectuals. The Committee also published a number of reports on critical areas of concern including the plight of internally displaced people. What follows is a selection of the type of work undertaken by the Bar Human Rights Committee in conjunction with its partner organisations including the Diyarbakir Bar Association, the Human Rights Association in Turkey, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, Index of Censorship, and the Kurdish Human Rights Project based in London.

Reform and Regression: Freedom of the Media in Turkey

In December 2006 the Committee hosted a conference and workshop on freedom of expression in Turkey in Garden Court Chambers in which a number of Turkish and Kurdish gave presentations. Six months later in July 2007, the BHRC and the KHRP carried out a joint fact-finding mission to Turkey to investigate the current situation for freedom of the media. The mission was co-organised with Article 19, Index on Censorship, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the Centre for European Studies, Limerick, Ireland in response to reports of rapidly increasing violations of the right to freedom of expression.

The mission found that today’s retrogressive legislation, rising harassment on the ground and the increased powers that have been conferred to the police, have led many to regard the situation for freedom of the media to have become reminiscent of the ‘dark years’. The report thus provides a background to the 1980s and 1990s and the backdrop against which media freedom has substantially deteriorated since the reforms of 2003 to 2004. It looks at Turkey’s legal obligations with respect to the international human rights instruments to which it is State Party; outlines recent amendments to its domestic legislation; and highlights the frequent accounts of violations of the right to freedom of expression experienced increasingly by the opposition, mainly pro-Kurdish media.

The Prosecutions of Orhan Pamuk & Other Writers

As regards trial observations, the Committee observed a number of important trials against intellectuals including that of Nobel Prise Winner, Orhan Pamuk. The Turkish government continues to deny the extent of the human rights violations and genocide committed against Kurds and Armenians in Turkey during the twentieth century. The renowned Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk referred to this in a media interview in Switzerland in February 2005. His comments attracted the attention of a Turkish prosecutor, who brought an indictment against Pamuk for ‘publicly insulting Turkish national identity’ under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution became a flashpoint of concern over Turkey’s protection of freedom of expression, and a litmus test for its suitability for accession to the EU.

The BHRC and the KHRP sent a mission to observe his trial and to interview others facing similar charges. Charges against Pamuk were subsequently dropped, but the question remains: why was the prosecution originally brought? And what will happen/ has happened to other lesser-known writers, editors, publishers and journalists facing similar prosecutions in Turkey?

Freedom of the Media in Turkey and the Killing of Hrant Dink

In a related matter, in July 2007 the Committee participated in another joint mission with the KHRP, Index on Censorship and Article 19 to observe the opening of the trial of Hrant Dink’s alleged assassins. Dink had been murdered for speaking out about the Armenian genocide. The published report attempts to outline the background to the killing of Hrant Dink and examines the indictment against the alleged perpetrators as well as claims of State complicity in the murder. The mission noted, inter alia, that the proceedings raised numerous concerns with regard to substantive issues, namely the scope of the investigation and the possible participation of the police, gendarmerie and intelligence services as evidence suggests that these were aware of the assassination plot and failed to take any action. More broadly however, the report highlights the restrictive legislation which encroaches on the right to free speech and provides support for the argument that ‘301 killed Hrant Dink’.

Human Rights Defenders in Turkey

The killing of Hrant Dink highlights another human rights issue in Turkey concerning the role of human Rights Defenders generally. Turkey has a vibrant and dynamic human rights movement that has formed an effective force for bringing the elements of the Turkish state to account for breaches of human rights. The Committee believes it is of crucial importance to Turkey’s democratisation effort that Turkey acknowledges the validity of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) activities and respects their rights. HRDs not only play a valuable role to the process of democratic renewal but also provide a gauge of a government’s true commitment to genuine democratisation. Because of their tendency to expose and criticise state actions violating human rights and to seek to impose government accountability, HRDs frequently themselves become primary targets of repressive state practices in breach of human rights. HRDs’ messages are silenced; they are denied access to victims of human rights abuses, and frequently face arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment and even ‘disappearance’. Consequently, the BHRC and the KHRP has been instrumental in documenting abuses committed against HRDs, through pressing for improvements in their treatment and using international mechanisms to achieve justice for HRDs whose rights have been violated.

The Internally Displaced Kurds of Turkey: Ongoing issues of Responsibility, Redress and Resettlement by Mark Muller QC and Sharon Linzey

Another important human rights issue in Turkey monitored by the Committee concerns the plight of internally displaced peoples. Since early in the 20th century, the position of the Kurds in Turkey has been precarious. This was particularly so during the 1980s and 1990s when state security forces forcibly evacuated some 3,500 towns and villages in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Between 3 and 4 million people became internally displaced during this period.

Since becoming a candidate for accession to the European Union (EU) in 1999, Turkey has received a greater level of attention from the international community, particularly in relation to its progress towards meeting the standards required for EU membership, including various human rights standards. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the specific issue of the vast number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Turkey. The Turkish Government has purported to resolve the situation of internally displaced people in Turkey through monetary compensation arrangements and limited programmes for return. These measures have been plagued with legal and practical deficiencies, yet there has been no intergovernmental financial or other support structure designated to assist Turkey in better addressing this massive humanitarian catastrophe.

The published report provides an overview and critique of the Turkish Government’s programmes for return, resettlement and redress. It also addresses the issue of responsibility, both in the context of the EU and the international community more generally. It further provides a survey of the current and continuing difficulties facing IDPs in Turkey. The issue of internal displacement remains a critical one for the Kurds in south-east Turkey, the Turkish state, the European Union and the region overall. This report and its recommendations will be essential to all those working for significant change to the benefit of IDPs.

This report was followed by a joint BHRC, Human rights watch and KHRP evidence gathering mission in Turkey on the situation and status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Turkey. The mission investigated state policy and practise regarding measures to provide redress to persons displaced during the armed conflict in east and south-east Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s. The mission discovered severe failings in the legislative mechanisms designed to deal fairly with IDPs and their claims for compensation. Without essential reforms to ameliorate the legal provisions available to displaced persons, this already marginalised group may never receive a just solution to their plight.

Other missions and observation

The Bar Human Rights Committee conducted a number of other trial observations and fact-finding missions throughout 2006/7, the most prominent of which include the following:

(1) Indiscriminate Use of Force: Violence in Southeast Turkey – Fact-Finding Mission

On 24 March 2006, fourteen Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas were killed in the mountains outside Diyarbakir by the Turkish army. Thousands of people attended the funerals. Although they passed peacefully, some funeral goers threw stones and rocks when passing a police station. The police responded with tear gas, water cannons, batons and firearms, apparently indiscriminately. The security thereafter deteriorated and Special Forces were deployed. Violence rapidly spread to other Kurdish cities; many were killed, including children, and hundreds more were injured. Three people were killed when a bomb was thrown at a bus in Istanbul in protest at the violence in the south-east. Hundreds of people were detained, many of them illegally, including many children, facing a real risk of torture or inhuman treatment. BHRC barristers, Michael Ivers and Brenda Campbell, visited the region between 19 and 24 April in order to monitor and document the situation on the ground. They spoke with witnesses of the violence and local human rights organisations.

(2) The Semdinli Bombing Trial Observation

In April 2006, BHRC member, Ajanta Kaza, travelled to Turkey to observe the trial of two of three men accused involvement in the bombing of a bookshop in the town of Semdinli in the province of Hakkari. The incident sent shock waves throughout Turkey and internationally because the three individuals accused of planting the explosive devices – together with incriminating material – were apprehended by a crowd of civilians at the scene. Two of the men were non-commissioned army officers, raising the spectre of ‘deep state’ involvement in the attacks. The report expresses concern that no investigation was conducted of higher level official involvement and at the high degree of political involvement in the Semdinli incident by the government, state officials and senior military personnel. On 11 July 2007 the BHRC and the KHRP sent a mission to observe the opening of the Semdinli bombing trial re-hearing at Van 3rd Heavy Penal Court. In State Accountability? The Semdinli Trial Re-Hearing, the mission who observed the re-hearing on 11 July 2007 upholds the concerns of the 2006 mission.

(3) Effective Criminal Accountability? Extra-Judicial Killings on Trial – Trial Observation

On 21 November 2004 Ahmet Kaymaz, 31, and his son Ugur, 12, were killed by undercover police officers some 40 to 50 metres from their home in Kiziltepe, south-east Turkey. Proceedings were opened against four police officers on 27 December 2004, accusing them of using excessive force. A report comprising the findings of a joint trial observation mission by the BHRC and the KHRP of the third hearing in the trial which took place in Esikehir on 24 October 2005 is available. The mission concluded that there are grave concerns over the lack of effective criminal accountability for extra-judicial killings in south-east Turkey.

International Conference on the EU, Turkey, Human Rights and the Kurds

Finally, the Committee has been instrumental in monitoring Turkey’s compliance with its EU obligations under the accession process. Together with other leading NGO’s it helped create the EU Turkish Civil Commission. The EUTCC was established in November 2004 as the outcome of the first international Conference on ‘The EU, Turkey and the Kurds’ held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 22-23 November 2004. The EUTCC aims to both promote and provide suggestions for Turkey’s bid for EU accession, and to help guarantee respect for human and minority rights and a peaceful, democratic and long-term solution to the Kurdish situation. The EUTCC monitors and conducts regular audits of Turkey’s compliance with the accession criteria, as defined in the accession agreements. It also makes recommendations, acts as a point of contact, and exchanges information, with the institutions of the EU and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.

At the 2nd annual EUTCC conference on Turkey, the BHRC presented a report discussing the background to Turkey ‘s accession to the EU. It evaluates the likely impact of EU membership on the democratisation process within Turkey and its likely benefits for human rights and fundamental freedoms and for Turkey ‘s Kurdish population. The publication goes on to assess the reforms that have been enacted thus far as part of the accession process, particularly the amendments that have been made to the Turkish Penal Code. Whilst acknowledging that great strides have been made, it ultimately concludes that a lot of work remains to be done on the part of the Turkish administration if the accession process is to fulfil the promise that it has engendered.

Themed Time for Justice, Dialogue and Solution, the event on 16-17 October 2006 at the European Parliament in Brussels was hosted by the founders of the EUTCC, namely the Bar Human Rights Committee (UK); the Kurdish Human Rights Project (UK); medico international (Germany); and the Rafto Foundation (Norway), and was supported by members of the European Parliament.

The 2006 Conference focused on implementing a solution to the Kurdish Problem—the most difficult issue for Turkey in its bid to develop democracy. The Conference also focused on the need for fundamental changes to the judiciary; on the situation of internally displaced people; on continued violations of human rights; and on suggestions for compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria, specifically the obligation to respect and promote the rights of minority groups. The Conference concluded with the adoption of new resolutions. The publications attempt to shed light on particular areas of concern for a successful accession process by bringing together the leading speeches and papers of the 2006 Conference, including its Final Resolutions.

A similar conference at the European Parliament was held in 2007 in which over 400 leading human rights defenders, politicians, writers, lawyers and intellectuals present their views on the current human rights situation in Turkey.


In March 2005 BHRC conducted training in Diyarbakir on women’s rights, focusing on CEDAW, shadow reports and the Beijing Platform for Action.

In May we held a training programme in Batman on ‘Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights’ and conducted a fact-finding mission in Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Dersim (Tunceli) and Batman. Our aim was to investigate the rights of certain groups involved in the protection of civil and political rights, who have faced violations of freedom of expression and association. The mission accordingly investigated the protection currently afforded to journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders, particularly since the recent enactment of wideranging pro-EU reforms.

In June we sponsored a meeting in Diyarbakir on the situation of internally displaced persons and the law and on compensation for damage arising from terror and combating terror (Law 5233) together with Human Rights Watch, KHRP and the Diyarbarkir Bar Association. BHRC also participated in the Second Annual Conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds in Brussels in September.

We conducted a fact-finding mission to the Ardahan region of northeastern Turkey to investigate complaints about violations of property rights and related issues pertaining to the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. In October we followed this up with a joint fact-finding mission, trial observation and training programme on ‘Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights’ in that same region for both local lawyers and affected villagers.

In July 2005 BHRC and KHRP conducted a fact-finding mission to investigate the status of protection for linguistic rights. The mission held numerous interviews including with representatives of human rights organisations, media, bar associations, political parties, unions and organisers of linguistic courses. The mission found that despite claims by the Turkish Government that reforms now allowed for linguistic freedom, the actual implementation of these reforms was scattered and ineffectual in practice. Read more in “Recognition of linguistic minorities?”

In December 2005 a BHRC representative observed the trial of leading Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who is charged with “denigrating Turkishness” for remarks he made to a Swiss newspaper about the death of Armenians and Kurds in Turkey. This was Turkey’s most important test of free speech for years and the judge adjourned the trial until February 2006, shifting the onus to decide whether or not to prosecute Pamuk onto the Turkish government. The case was subsequently dropped after the EU said it raised questions about Ankara’s commitment to free speech.


In December 2004, BHRC and KHRP observed a part of the trial of three security officers who were allegedly responsible for the extrajudicial execution of Siyar Perinçek on 28th May 2004 and the torture of Nurettin Basçý. Read more in the report: “The extra-judicial killing of Siyar Perinçek – Trial observation“.

In December 2004 another a fact-finding mission was carried out to a number of cities in Kurdish region of Turkey, including Van, Diyarbakýr, Mardin including its district Kýzýltepe and Hakkari between. The mission’s task was to investigate two extra-judicial killings in Hakkari and Kýzýltepe. Read more in the report “Thirteen Bullets: Extra-judicial killings in South East Turkey”.

In 2004, BHRC has conducted several trainings on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and international law. We carried out three days of judicial training in Ankara together with experts from Jamaica and Norway on the international law against torture and methods for combating torture which was attended by more than 100 Turkish judges and Prosecutors. We implemented 2 days of training on the ECHR and UN mechanisms on human rights in Istanbul and Diyarbakir which was attended by 35 people from the Diyarbakir Bar Association, the Human Rights Association Diyarbakir Branch and Contemporary Lawyers Association Diyarbakir Branch.

BHRC organized and sponsored the first international Conference “Turkey, the Kurds and the EU”, held in the European Parliament, Brussels on 22-2 November 2004. Read more in the report and the speeches delivered at the international Conference.

For more publications with KHRP please visit their website.


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