Cablegate: Helsinki Commission Examines Human

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) ANKARA 486 B) 02 ANKARA 8881
C) 02 ANKARA 6116 D) 02 ANKARA 8564
E) 02 ANKARA 7290

1. (SBU) Summary: Two staffers from the U.S.
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(aka Helsinki Commission) traveled to Diyarbakir
January 15-18 for meetings with GOT officials, human
rights activists, and religious groups. Key agenda
items included torture, language rights, and village
return. (Staffers' discussions regarding religious
freedom issues reported septel.) In all areas of
concern, staffers noted gaps between reforms pledged
and reforms implemented. End summary.

2. (U) The staffers - Chadwick W. Gore, Commission
Staff Advisor and Secretary to the U.S. Delegation
to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and H. Knox
Thames, Commission Staff Counsel - met in Diyarbakir
January 15-18 with GOT officials, locally elected
officials, and human rights activists in order to
assess progress in implementation of human-rights
reform legislation (Refs B - E).

Torture - Still a Problem

3. (U) The number of terrorism-related arrests is
down, and so is the incidence of torture, Gore and
Thames were told in January 15 meetings with Hakki
Uzun, Deputy Regional Governor for the former State
of Emergency Region, and Sait Gurlek, Diyarbakir
Province Chief Public Prosecutor. (Note: As the
State of Emergency has been lifted, Uzun is now
presiding over the closing down of his office.
Saying he is under no particular deadline, he and
his staff were in the process of filing, archiving,
and handling administrative tasks. End note.)

4. (U) Gore and Thames met January 16 with
Huseyin Nail Atay, a Deputy Governor of Diyarbakir
Province. In this meeting, as in others with GOT
officials, the staffers handed over a copy of a
letter to PM Gul signed by Members of Congress from
the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The letter contained
praise for the new government's expressed
commitments to human-rights reform while noting
ongoing problems in that regard. Torture was at
the top. Atay defended the GOT's recent record on
torture as one of "great progress." He did not deny
abuses had occurred, and do still occur, but
commented that "at the individual level, government
officials make mistakes, in the United States, too."
He went on to state that the HADEP party's
provincial chairman had recently admitted that there
had been no cases of torture of late." (Note: We
were not able to confirm this remark. End note.)
The province had built a new prison - a very
expensive undertaking. It met EU standards, he

5. (SBU) Gore and Thames met January 17 with a
group of lawyers, physicians, and founding members
of the Diyarbakir chapter of the Human Rights
Foundation (HRF) to discuss torture. According to
the HRF representatives, it was too early to tell
whether recent legal reforms were having an effect
on torture. After the raft of EU-inspired reforms,
and after the lifting of the State of Emergency two
months ago, there was now even less reason for
Turkish authorities to turn a blind eye to torture
allegations, they reasoned. Nevertheless, they
said, to date in Diyarbakir no police, security
officials, or Jandarma have been brought to book.
In 2002, the HRF received 80 new allegations of
torture. (Note: That means 80 cases first brought
to their attention in 2002, not 80 cases that
occurred in 2002. End note.) How was it possible,
they asked, that not a single torturer had been
punished, even when subsequent medical examination
can confirm physical injury? The staffers noted the
instance of torture in Turkey was widely agreed to
be decreasing, but asked the HRF about what it was
seeing in its Diyarbakir office. The HRF members
replied that the statistics could be tricky; even
though torture may nowadays be less common, the
number of cases actually being reported to the HRF
was not decreasing. Cases from yesteryear are still
popping up. Since 1999 there have been fewer
detentions and arrests; however, the HRF claims, the
people-in-custody/people-being-tortured ratio has
not fundamentally changed. For 2002, the HRF
provided the following statistics. Number of cases
reported: 188. Number of cases reported that
alleged political reasons for detention: 186.
Number of cases reported that were males: 141.
Female: 32. Children: 15. Number of cases reported
that were acute: 32. Number of cases reported that
were chronic: 156.

6. (SBU) In documenting the practice of torture,
HRF members told the staffers they had observed
that, as is widely known, practitioners had gotten
more sophisticated. "Subtler" techniques, designed
to leave no trace, had been devised. These include:
hosing with cold water followed by exposure to cold
weather or air-conditioning, use of blindfolds,
painfully loud music, plastic bags to create
breathlessness, applying gels before using electric
shock, sand-filled bags instead of clubs for
beatings, pointing of cocked weapons, and verbal
threats up to and including death threats.

7. (SBU) A related risk for detained individuals -
denial of access to lawyers - persists, according to
HRF members, who described for the staffers a recent
case in Diyarbakir province in which a large group
of students was detained. The security official in
charge at first denied access to a lawyer,
apparently unaware that recent changes in Turkish
legislation guarantee access within 48 hours.
Access was granted, however, after HRF members
provided copies of the text of the new legislation.
After the lawyer had met with the students, however,
the security director attempted to hold onto the
lawyer's notes. (Note: The students had been
arrested for conducting a protesting against the
alleged enforced isolation in recent weeks of
imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.)

8. (SBU) In summary, the HRF members said torture
is difficult to eradicate in the region, and
torturers continue to enjoy impunity, because the
prevailing mind-set is that what is going on "is
being done for the well-being of the State and the
State accepts this as necessary." One will look in
vain, they said, for examples of concrete steps
taken by the State to police itself in this regard,
that is, convictions of torturers, or even thorough
investigation of allegations, or even unannounced
inspections of detention centers. The HRF claims
that in the past 17 years, although charges have
sometimes been brought, not a single public employee
has been convicted of torture in Diyarbakir

9. (SBU) The staffers also discussed torture
January 17 with representatives of the Diyarbakir
Chamber of Doctors and Physicians Treating Torture
Victims. (Note: The Chamber is basically a roster
of doctors who make themselves available to treat
torture victims. End note.) Chamber
representatives said recently reported torture
techniques included exposure while naked to cold
water and air conditioning, electric shock, and
squeezing of the testicles. On a psychological
level, noted the Chamber representatives, state
authorities also know how to bring pressure to bear
on patients. For example, it is common for law-
enforcement officers to sit in the room while the
doctor examines the patient, thereby creating
intimidation. The authorities have also taken
action against certain doctors involved in treating
torture victims. For example, two HRF doctors were
recently reassigned from their position at a state-
run hospital in Diyarbakir to smaller, outlying
districts. (Note: A doctor is free to open a
private-practice, but doctors in the public sector
must serve where assigned. End note.) The two have
repeatedly applied for reassignment but have been
stuck in place. Other Diyarbakir doctors have
suffered even more, serving prison sentences for
having treated PKK members - wittingly or
unwittingly. Upon release from prison, their
ability to practice medicine has been curtailed.

10. (SBU) In a January 17 meeting the staffers
asked Saban Erturk, Diyarbakir State Security Court
(SSC) Chief Prosecutor, whether he had any current
investigations underway that might lead to the
prosecution of alleged torturers. He replied that
the SSC did not handle torture cases; they were
handled by the regular criminal courts. Erturk said
changes in Turkish law (refs B and C) demonstrate
that the Government was serious about ending the
practice. "Any torturers will be accountable," he
said. He welcomed the idea of unannounced visits to
detention centers. When asked if the frequent
discrepancy between statements given by detainees
while in custody and statements given by detainees
at trial might be attributable to torture, the
Prosecutor said no. "They lie," he said. (Note:
In the Turkish legal system, a defendant cannot be
charged with perjury. End note.)

11. (SBU) The Chief Prosecutor praised the SSC
system as being an elite system. (Note: He himself
has 22 years experience as a prosecutor, and is now
one of only seven Chief Prosecutors in the nation -
arguably the one with the toughest circuit. He is
also a former International Visitor Program grantee.
End note.) He said the judges in the SSC system
were first-rate and that 80 percent of the cases
ended in conviction. In this way, he said, the SSCs
are fulfilling their mission of protecting the
Turkish people from terrorism. He commented that
Americans often consider as "rights" certain
activities that are explicitly prohibited by Turkish
law, for example, questioning the indivisibility of
the state or fomenting division along religious or
Marxist grounds. He had been to America and
admired its "vastness of freedom of expression," he
said, but Americans must remember that "in this
country thousands of people had been killed by
terrorists and up in the mountains there were still
hundreds of terrorists". (Note: The day before,
January 16, in Lice in Diyarbakir Province, a clash
between Turkish military and PKK elements had
resulted in one death and five wounded on the
military side and an undisclosed number of
casualties on the PKK side. End note.)

Language Rights - Still Waiting
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: ::

12. (U) The staffers asked Diyarbakir Province
Deputy Governor Atay whether broadcasting in Kurdish
would begin any time soon. Atay replied, rather
tangentially, that it was a mistake to consider
Kurdish as a single language; there were several
quite distinct dialects. The staffers said they
were aware of that, but were asking an
administrative question not a linguistic one. "In
the course of time it will probably happen," Atay
opined. Kurdish cassettes and videos now circulate
freely, he added. The staffers expressed the view
that most international observers had assumed, after
the passage of the recent legislation, that
broadcasts would begin in a matter of days or weeks.
Again, Mr. Atay replied obliquely, saying there had
been an experience with local Kurdish-language
television, but it had turned out to be
"separatist." This time control would be vested in
TRT, the Turkish state television network. Private
Kurdish-language television channels in the future
were a possibility, he believed. In any case, the
authorities have stopped trying to control the
spread of satellite dishes; Kurds in Turkey have
access to Kurdish-language programming from abroad.

13. (SBU) In a separate meeting, members of the
Diyarbakir Bar Association told Poleconoff and FSN
Pol Assistant that the government was not making
serious efforts to lift all obstacles to the use of
Kurdish. They said the Bar Association has sued
RTUK (Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council)
over this issue. They believe the implementing
regulation does not meet the spirit, or the letter,
of the reform legislation passed in Parliament.
Some Bar Association members went further, and
stated that the cynical intent of RTUK and the
Turkish authorities was to placate European critics
while actually using Kurdish-language broadcasting
as a tool for further cultural assimilation. In
this regard, they pointed out certain restrictions
in the RTUK regulations (ref D) which, they said,
undermined the spirit of the reform legislation.
Concerning the use of Kurdish in classroom
education, they ask, why should Kurds still be
denied the kind of language-independence that was
long ago granted to Greeks and Armenians by the 1923
Lausanne Treaty, especially since there are so few
Greeks and Armenians left in Turkey? When asked
about the practical day-to-day use of Kurdish in
courtrooms, Bar Association members said that
Turkish-Kurdish courtroom translation was haphazard,
ad hoc, and at times denied. Those accused of a
crime were not granted the opportunity to read the
indictment in Kurdish.

Village Returns - Slow Going

14. (SBU) The Turkish Red Crescent's Regional
Director in Diyarbakir, Muzaffer Karadede, argued
that village return was of interest to the elderly
and was not much sought after by young people. The
villages have no jobs. Additionally, the loss/lack
of infrastructure and the obliteration of the
villages' former familial-communal support system
make return less enticing. Karadede, an
ophthalmologist who spent a good portion of his
professional career in Istanbul, is from an old
Diyarbakir family. He can hardly believe the
transformation his city has undergone. On top of
what might normally have been expected for rural-to-
urban migration in a country like Turkey, the long
fight against the PKK drove so many villagers into
Diyarbakir city that he now estimates that more than
90 percent of the people living in the city were not
born there. Not a single member of the Diyarbakir
city council was born in Diyarbakir. In his view,
given that the Turkish state never did much for
peasants in the region's villages anyway, it was
hardly surprising that not much was being done now.
Karadede also asserted that the village guard system
was now serving as a major factor in discouraging
returns, and that the village guard system has taken
on some of the characteristics of the region's old
"aga" (feudal landlord) system, in which might makes

15. (SBU) The village guard system was raised by
staffers Gore and Thames with Diyarbakir Deputy
Governor Atay. Now that the PKK had been defeated,
they asked, why was the village guard system not
being dismantled and why were the guards themselves
not being demobilized and disarmed? Atay began his
response by noting that as far back as the "Village
Administration Law" of 1924 there had been
provisions for something similar in the region. Be
that as it may, it was not now possible to eliminate
the village guard system all at once. Village
guards were on the state payroll and would not take
well to being dropped from it. The GOT planned to
reduce their number gradually, through attrition, by
not appointing any new ones. Also, in the future,
their duties may be changed, e.g. to janitors in
schools. (Comment: The staffers expressed some
incredulity that a village guard might want to trade
in his gun for a broom. End comment.) To what
degree, asked the staffers, was village return being
thwarted by village guards squatting on others'
land, intimidating, and using violence? The
problem, replied Atay, was exaggerated. In the few
cases where village guards had abused their
authority, they had been arrested and dismissed.
Sometimes what appeared as a case of village-guard
violence had as its underlying cause a traditional
blood feud. The bad example of some village guards,
he said, should not be used to obscure the fact that
"the village guards and the Army were part of a
successful struggle for the territorial integrity of
the country."

16. (U) Leaving aside the debate about alleged
obstacles to return (village guard, paperwork, no
jobs, no infrastructure, lack of government
investment), the staffers tried to ascertain how
many villages in Diyarbakir province had in fact
been re-opened for return and how many had actually
seen returns The only specific numbers came from
the office of Deputy Governor Atay: 90 villages
("koy") and 303 hamlets ("mezra") evacuated during
the conflict, of which 48 villages and 58 hamlets
had seen returns. Twelve villages had had requests
for return that were denied -- on security grounds.
As for the remaining 275 villages/hamlets, there had
so far been no request. (Note: To place this number
in context, it is estimated that more than 3,200
villages or hamlets in southeastern Turkey were
evacuated during the course of the struggle between
Turkish forces and the PKK. End note.)
17. (SBU) The staffers met with displaced
villagers. The Deputy Governor's office arranged
for the staffers to visit Saklatkoy, a village
outside Diyarbakir to which return had been approved
and in fact achieved. The village had electricity
but no plumbing. Many structures were damaged, but
many have been repaired, and even some new ones have
been built, including a new primary school building.
The villager headman (muhtar), a man with three
wives and 23 children, expressed appreciation for
the chance to return. Other villagers echoed this
sentiment in their conversations with Gore and
Thames, which took place with a representative of
the Turkish government present. Their only fear,
they said, was that the PKK might come back. Upon
being driven back to Diyarbakir, the staffers had a
chance to meet with a family that had not managed to
return to its village (Koprulu, Mardin Province).
The head of household was an illiterate itinerant
laborer with 10 children. He claimed to have been
denied permission to work as a pushcart peddler in
Diyarbakir, and therefore leaves home for months at
a time to live with his brother and work on
construction sites in Izmir, some 700 miles away.
He said he had unsuccessfully applied to return with
his family to his village. He was told that he
would be allowed to return -- if he would agree to
serve in the village guard. He refused: "It's no
good; brothers are going to kill brothers."

18. (SBU) Comment: It would appear that
staffers Gore and Thames came away from Diyarbakir
somewhat underwhelmed by the degree of actual
implementation of human-rights reforms undertaken by
the Turkish government. As they explained to more
than one interlocutor, the international community
expected that reform efforts designed to make
torturers accountable, ease language restrictions,
and promote village returns would be bear fruit in a
matter of days/weeks, not months/years. Their
report to the Congress is likely to conclude that
human-reform pledges of the Turkish government still
await implementation on the ground. End comment.

19. (U) Gore and Thames did not have an
opportunity to clear this message.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


UN: Visionary ‘Blue Transformation’ Strategy To Enhance Underwater Food Systems

Record levels of fisheries and aquaculture production are making a critical contribution to global food security, the UN Ocean Conference under way in Lisbon, Portugal, heard on Wednesday...
Abu Akleh Shooting: Fatal Shot Came From Israeli Forces, Says OHCHR
Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank - not indiscriminate Palestinian firing - the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday... More>>

Ethiopia: Conflict, Drought, Dwindling Food Support, Threatens Lives Of 20 Million

Hunger is tightening its grip on more than 20 million Ethiopians who are facing conflict in the north, drought in the south and dwindling food and nutrition support beginning next month, the UN food relief agency warned on Thursday... More>>

UN Ocean Conference: Opens With Call For Urgent Action To Tackle Ocean Emergency
With climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution exacting a devastating toll on the world’s ocean — critical to food security, economic growth and the environment... More>>

World Vision: Deeply Concerned For Thousands Affected By Afghanistan Quake
World Vision is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan in the wake of a powerful earthquake in the early hours of this morning... More>>

Malaysia: UN Experts Welcome Announcement To Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty

UN human rights experts* today commended an announcement made by the Malaysian government that it will abolish the country’s mandatory death penalty and encouraged Parliament to take concrete steps to pass the agreement into law... More>>