Statement of Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, on Curfews in Turkey

I have been informed that the round-the-clock curfew declared in three neighbourhoods of ‪#‎Silvan‬ on 2 November in the framework of anti-terror operations was lifted on 14 November, after 12 days. According to information provided by the Turkish authorities on my request, four curfews had already been declared in Silvan prior to this since August 2015, the longest of which had lasted 3 days.

I have received very distressing allegations of human rights violations during this last curfew, including violations of the right to life of at least six civilians. As with other such operations, including the long curfew in ‪#‎Cizre ‬to which I reacted on 11 September, communications with Silvan were severely disrupted during this period. The information is therefore still contradictory and unreliable, but the pictures that emerged after the end of the curfew show evidence of heavy fighting and severe destruction of homes and private property. In my previous statement on Cizre, I had pointed out that the combination of an exceptionally severe interference with the human rights of a very large population and a near-complete information blackout was particularly worrying given the absence of the necessary oversight, and called on the authorities to allow access by independent observers, including Turkey’s national human rights structures, in order to dispel doubts about the conduct of the security forces. To my knowledge, this has not happened during any of the curfews.

In the aftermath of the curfew in Cizre in September, several human rights NGOs reported further on human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces during the curfew there, arguing that the total disruption of the lives of the inhabitants of the city and certain actions of the security forces had been perceived as “collective punishment” by citizens. I welcome the information that the Turkish Human Rights Institution visited Cizre and Şırnak in the aftermath of the curfews in order to investigate these allegations and is preparing a report on that visit.

While I reiterate the right and obligation of the Turkish state to fight terrorism, the methods employed in this fight have to respect the human rights guarantees enshrined in international standards, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights. Imposing open-ended, round-the-clock curfews in entire neighbourhoods or towns until further notice represents a massive restriction of some of the most fundamental human rights of a huge population. Their frequent and widespread use in South-Eastern Turkey since August does not appear to satisfy the criteria of proportionality and necessity in a democratic society. I therefore urge the Turkish authorities to reconsider this practice and ensure that in the future anti-terror operations are more limited in scope and the disruption of public life is strictly proportionate to the aims pursued.

I also stress the obligation of the Turkish authorities to shed light on numerous allegations of human rights violations directly or indirectly caused by security forces during this and other curfews declared in the past months. In this connection, the chronic problem of impunity concerning actions of security forces, as evidenced in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights regarding Turkey, as well as the reports of my Office, is a major source of preoccupation. Following my request for information on existing investigations in this context, the authorities only informed me of one case where two security personnel were suspended pending investigations, following the outrage caused by images of a dead body being dragged behind an armoured police vehicle in Şırnak in October 2015. The lack of ongoing investigations is disheartening in the face of the number and seriousness of allegations.

Finally, regardless of the origin of the violation of human rights of citizens, be it the failure of the state to prevent terrorist acts or the conduct of the security forces themselves, the authorities must ensure that victims receive fair, appropriate and timely compensation for the damages they suffered. This is going to be a formidable challenge considering the losses of life, injuries, as well as the large-scale destruction of private property which occurred during these curfews.

I acknowledge the predicament of the Turkish authorities and the Turkish security forces, who have the duty to fight terrorism and ensure the safety of their citizens in the face of exceptionally challenging circumstances. Nevertheless, I hope that the Turkish authorities and the Turkish courts will give serious consideration to the concerns outlined above, failing which a new wave of applications to the European Court of Human Rights would become very likely.

I will continue to monitor the situation very closely, and share my concerns and recommendations with the Turkish authorities in accordance with my mandate.