For Immediate Release
Turkish security personnel blocked a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) research team from accessing the town of Cizre in Turkey’s restive southeast earlier this month. That comes despite statements from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that international organizations “can easily visit” the country’s southeast, where PHR was investigating allegations of human rights violations.
“Denying PHR access to Cizre shows that Turkey’s promises of unimpeded access are totally false,” said PHR’s director of programs Widney Brown. “We already have grave concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings and the targeting of medical personnel in southeast Turkey. Barring PHR’s delegation was entirely arbitrary and heightens our concerns about what exactly is taking place outside public view.”
PHR’s delegation attempted to enter the town of Cizre on May 4. At a security checkpoint approximately three miles from the city, police from Turkey’s anti-terror branch stopped PHR’s investigators for further questioning. After two hours, the officials said they could not guarantee the delegation’s safety and would not allow it to proceed. Police officers said the PHR team could enter the city at a later time but only with the governor’s permission and a police escort.
“Having a police escort would have jeopardized PHR’s objectivity and intimidated the very people PHR was there to interview,” said PHR’s Brown. “There was no requirement that the delegation have permission from any government official to enter the town. The restrictions were only meant to prevent our team from doing its work.”
Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said the Turkish government had effectively enacted a “blackout” in areas of the southeast. The Commissioner said Turkish officials had “not responded positively” to his requests to send impartial observers to investigate allegations of the targeting of civilians and other human rights violations committed by Turkish security services and Kurdish separatist forces.
“For too long, Turkey has used concerns about terrorism as an excuse to throw a cloak over its own dubious practices,” said Brown. “Turkish officials must allow investigators from independent organizations like PHR as well as international observers like the UN unimpeded, free access to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.”
PHR’s investigators were eventually able to interview some residents of Cizre outside of the city’s limits. The team is set to release its investigation into human rights abuses and the targeting of health care workers in Turkey’s southeast later this summer.
Cizre was under a 78-day curfew until March 2, which effectively sealed off the town of 100,000 residents. The action was part of a long-running Turkish military operation against the PKK Kurdish separatist group. Both Turkish and PKK fighters have been accused of human rights abuses.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.