For Immediate Release
Over the past year, Turkish security forces have deliberately and unlawfully imposed a virtual state of emergency across the country’s southeast, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). That state of emergency led to hundreds of civilian deaths and deprived thousands of urgent medical care. PHR today cautioned that the current nationwide state of emergency in Turkey is an extension of the government’s pre-existing crusade to consolidate power and eliminate political dissent.
“Well before the failed military coup last month, Turkey’s government showcased its intolerance for dissent and its willingness to use collective punishment and other illegal tactics in the name of national security,” said PHR’s Christine Mehta, a coauthor of today’s report. “Considering Turkey’s track record in the face of crisis, and particularly its recent crackdown in the Kurdish southeast, the imposition of a nationwide state of emergency and the sweeping purges make it clear that any future dissent in Turkey could be met with equally brutal repression.”
In today’s report, PHR documented the imposition of round-the-clock lockdowns in cities and towns in the southeast – home to the country’s Kurdish minority – and in particular revealed how government security forces interfered with health care and emergency services. The report shows Turkish authorities occupied hospitals, destroyed medical facilities, barred emergency vehicles from reaching the wounded, and punished doctors for attempting to treat those harmed in the ongoing conflict between the government and Kurdish fighters. Independent Turkish human rights groups say at least 338 civilians died as a result.
“Turkey has undergone major – at times heartbreaking – upheavals in recent weeks, but it’s clear from our investigation that Turkish authorities no longer feel the need to respect the rule of law and will use any and all means necessary to stamp out their opponents, no matter the body count,” said Dr. Önder Özkalipci, a coauthor of the PHR report and a forensic medical expert based in Geneva.
“July’s coup attempt is no excuse to ignore past human rights violations, and the current crackdown within the judiciary and other sectors of Turkish society jeopardizes our ability to truly know the human rights consequences of the government’s actions in the southeast,” said Özkalipci. “Anyone who spoke out about human rights violations against the Kurds has been sidelined at best and imprisoned and charged at worst.”
From July 2015 through May of this year, PHR found that Turkish forces imposed curfews 65 times in 22 districts and seven major cities. Across the southeast, PHR documented multiple instances of Turkish forces illegally militarizing hospitals, and PHR interviewed families whose loved ones died because ambulances weren’t permitted to pass through government checkpoints.
In Cizre, a town of 100,000 people, Turkish forces imposed a 79-day lockdown, shuttering all eight of the city’s health centers. Three facilities were subsequently destroyed. During that period, well over a hundred people died while hiding in basements in the city, and despite serious allegations that they may have been executed, Turkish officials bulldozed the buildings and have not pursued any investigations into their deaths. Turkish authorities barred PHR from visiting Cizre and have refused to allow access to domestic and international human rights groups and observers, including the United Nations.
“Instead of investigating allegations of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, Turkish authorities are destroying evidence and shutting out human rights investigators, despite promises of open access,” said PHR’s Mehta. “In the wake of so much instability in Turkey, uncovering the truth has never been more critical to the country’s future. And yet Turkey’s leaders are using the failed coup as an excuse to cover up ongoing violations. We can’t lose sight of what has happened in the southeast.”
In 2013, PHR documented Turkey’s punishment of medical professionals who treated protesters and others during anti-government protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and for decades has worked alongside its Turkish counterparts to prevent torture and other human rights abuses in the country.
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.