UN High Commissioner urges Turkey to respect fundamental rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the Turkish authorities on Monday to respect the fundamental rights of civilians in its security operations and to promptly investigate the alleged shooting of a group of unarmed people in the south-eastern town of Cizre, after shocking video footage of the event emerged last week.
Zeid also expressed serious concern at reports that the cameraman, who was himself wounded, is facing arrest once he leaves hospital, and at the extraordinarily harsh prison sentences being sought by prosecutors in the trials of two other well-known Turkish journalists, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dündar, and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül.
“The footage apparently shot by Refik Tekin in Cizre some ten days ago is extremely shocking,” the UN human rights chief said.
“It shows what appears to be an unarmed group of civilians, led by a man and a woman holding white flags. They push a handcart, reportedly carrying dead bodies, across a street, watched at a distance by an armoured military vehicle. As they reach the other side, they are apparently cut down in a hail of gunfire, and Tekin keeps filming as blood flows past his lens.”
Refik Tekin is reported to be in Mardin State Hospital with a police officer waiting outside his room. A variety of reports suggest custody orders, signed by the Governor and a prosecutor, have been issued accusing Mr.Tekin of being a member of a “separatist terrorist organization.”
“Filming an atrocity is not a crime, but shooting unarmed civilians most certainly is,” Zeid said.
“It is essential there is a thorough, independent, impartial investigation into this and any other events that have led to the wounding or killing of civilians. The emergence of this video raises major question marks about what exactly has been going on in Cizre and other parts of south-eastern Turkey which the security forces have allegedly sealed off from the outside world.”
“I fully recognize the duty of the Government of Turkey to protect the population from violence, and that it is facing major difficulties in this respect in the south-east,” Zeid said, noting he had been informed by the Government that 205 members of the Turkish police, gendarmerie and military had been killed between 20 July and 28 December 2015.
“Nevertheless, the authorities must take great care to protect human rights when conducting military or security operations. If State operatives commit human rights violations, they must be prosecuted,” the High Commissioner said.
The UN Human Rights Office has received numerous reports of the deteriorating human rights situation facing ordinary people, including children, in south-eastern Turkey, especially in Cizre, Silopi, Sur and the city of Diyarbakir, where the imposition of numerous ‘temporary security zones’ and curfews are impacting heavily on people’s economic and social rights, including access to basic services such as medical care, water, food, and electricity. Non-state actors opposing Government forces have reportedly also taken actions, including the digging of trenches, which have impeded access to medical care as well as other emergency services. There are also reports of them recruiting minors.
The UN human rights chief said the reported treatment of Refik Tekin added to his “already considerable concern” about the treatment of journalists and other critical voices in Turkey.
“The country has an alarming number of journalists and other media operatives either already convicted, or awaiting trial,” Zeid said. “This raises questions about Turkey’s compliance with the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkey has ratified. Anti-terrorism legislation should not be used as a means to curtail freedom of opinion or expression. No one should be facing life sentences, as in the cases of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, because of articles they wrote. Journalists and other media workers should not be arrested, detained or prosecuted for the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their profession. It is the role of the media to stimulate critical debate on matters of public interest.”
The High Commissioner urged the Government of Turkey “to ensure that all actions taken in the name of countering terrorism comply fully with its obligations under international law to protect and respect human rights, particularly the rights to life, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, freedom of expression and liberty and security of the person.”
“A quick way to show that it does indeed respect these rights fully would be to free all those – whether they are journalists, academics or human rights defenders – who have been detained or prosecuted simply for recording or criticizing the actions of the State,” Zeid said. “In addition it is important to review, and if necessary amend, all laws which have enabled such draconian actions by the authorities against critics armed only with words and cameras.”