PHR has a long history of human rights advocacy in Turkey, where successive governments have used violence and persecution to quash dissent and to repress the country’s minority Kurdish population.
Our early work in Turkey began in 1994, when PHR investigators documented the widespread and systematic use of torture and the complicity of physicians in such practices.
In partnership with our Turkish colleagues, PHR led the international effort to develop norms on the effective legal and medical investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment known as the Istanbul Protocol (IP). Development of the IP was undertaken by more than 75 forensic physicians, psychologists, human rights monitors, and lawyers representing 40 organizations and institutions from 15 countries. PHR’s Dr. Vincent Iacopino was a lead author and project coordinator of the IP, which became an official United Nations document in 1999. PHR is currently leading a multi-year international effort to update and strengthen IP norms, a project which includes the participation of more than 180 experts from 51 countries. The project includes guidelines to help States promote effective torture investigation and documentation.
When massive demonstrations broke out across Turkey in 2013, police responded with brutal force, firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets directly into crowds and killing and injuring dozens of people, including medical personnel who were deliberately targeted for attempting to care for the wounded.
At the request of our long-time partners, the Turkish Medical Association and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), PHR deployed a team of experts to conduct emergency investigations into the attacks, and organized advocacy campaigns to oppose the persecution of our Turkish medical colleagues. PHR’s report “Contempt for Freedom” revealed that government forces engaged in unnecessary and excessive violence against protesters that constituted ill-treatment (cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment) on a massive scale and – in some cases – torture.
In 2015, Turkish security forces imposed a virtual state of emergency across the country’s Kurdish southeast. Our report “Southeastern Turkey: Health Care Under Siege” documented how the crackdown led to hundreds of civilian deaths and illegally deprived thousands of people of access to urgent medical care.
After Turkey’s failed military coup in 2016, thousands of professionals, including medical workers, were fired from their jobs, jailed, arrested, or tried on specious charges. When authorities put on trial prominent human rights defender Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, HRFT president and a longtime friend and colleague of PHR, and Dr. Serdar Küni, the first Turkish doctor to be charged simply for following his ethical duty to treat all patients, PHR responded with the full force of our advocacy and expertise. We led a global campaign to secure Dr. Fincancı’s freedom and provided court arguments in Dr. Küni’s defense. Both were subsequently released.
PHR continues to pressure the Turkish government to uphold human rights for all and to stop the persecution of health workers for providing urgent care to the sick and wounded.