Richard Howitt, a British MEP and member of the European Parliament's human rights subcommittee, told the British newspaper The Guardian that he had heard reports of "shocking" torture in Turkey on a recent investigative trip. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Namik Tan called these reports "silly stories...completely the products of fantasy; they have nothing to do with the truth. Nobody trustworthy in Turkey can be heard saying such things."
According to the Guardian report, recounted in Hürriyet newspaper, Howitt said,
"What we heard was shocking. There were accounts of soldiers cutting off people's ears and tearing out their eyes if they were thought to be Kurdish separatist sympathisers ... You can't hear these things without being emotionally affected."
Alatas: this is a general practice
IHD General Director Yusuf Alatas, asked for his view on these accusations, said that the abuse of corpses was "a general practice." He added, "The shape in which bodies are found will not be known. Limbs are cut off or in pieces."
Cangir described the case of a crime in the spring of 2004: "Meaz Resit Reso was killed in a skirmish at Sirnak. There was no damage to his face in the skirmish, but his ears and a part of his nose were cut off. This is an announcement of a crime. We have photographs. His family's claim is that he was captured while wounded. We are not able to confirm whether the cutting of his organs took place during the skirmish, or afterwards." Cangir said there have not been any developments whatsoever concerning the crime. As for the reply to the queries that he had written to the Military Police General Headquarters, it claimed that Reso's ears and nose "had been cut off by his friends."
Zeki Yüksel of the Van branch describes another case that had come to the attention of the IHD, in which the bodies of several dead PKK militants were found with their throats and ears cut, along with already being riddled with bullets. Yüksel said that a mass grave containing an estimated 21 bodies was found in Bitlis in 2000, and that many of the corpses were headless. Explaining that the objection made to the Bitlis Public Prosecutor's decision not to pursue the crime in the Mus Criminal Court had been ignored, Yüksel said they were thinking of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Lack of oversight
Alatas warned that military operations are closed to independent oversight: "Neither human rights nor internal rights rules are applied in battles and skirmishes that take place in this region-because the military operations are far from oversight. Answers to questions of who was captured alive, who was killed and why and how they died, are not forthcoming. Because in this subject there is no independent ability to oversee conduct during conflict, all of the operations carry grave flaws." "In general there is an agreement that the law pays little attention to this. The perceptions of people in the region are particularly disregarded."
He went on to say, "in areas of warfare, aid organizations and the press are generally present. They televise military operations. Here, there is nothing of the sort. The media does not enter the regions where these operations occur. They are far from the eyes of both the country and the world. Outside of the press releases of the General Staff, no one knows anything. As long as there is no oversight, they will feel completely free."
Alatas said that when the psychology of soldiers is considered, the importance of oversight becomes clear. "These sorts of environments are extremely provocative. Think of the psychological condition of a soldier whose friend is killed in a skirmish. Without transparency and oversight, with such psychological conditions anything can occur. Recall the stories told by soldiers who have been discharged from service in this region."
"The media must have access"
Alatas said that it was necessary for the press to be more comfortable working in the region and for civil oversight of military operations to be opened: "The media must not be forbidden from the regions where military operations are taking place. The international press must also be able to send reporters....It is necessary to open civil oversight over all military operations. It is necessary to listen to those who make claims and to research their cases. Prosecutors must take action on cases immediately, and it must be unacceptable for them to denounce claims." Alatas, recalling that operations take place in the context of the struggle against terrorism, said "the laws of war are not in effect there, so it is necessary that our internal laws be preeminent. Oversight should exist and independent civil society organizations should be able to take part."
Alatas criticized the response of the Foreign Ministry to the claims. "The Foreign Ministry rejects the claims at one go, with a manner that ignores the need for any research into this. Whereas is it not necessary to investigate, to take seriously what has been said by members of the parliament that we want to take our place in? We need to say, 'We will investigate, we will give an answer.' The door of oversight is being closed from the top like this."
Alatas pointed out that the areas in which military operations are being done are "even more closed than in Iraq." He said, "Even in Iraq the media can do things. Furthermore, only the laws of war limit occupations. As for Turkey, in the discourse of the struggle against terror there are things that disappear from sight. For example, the problem of 'if one was captured alive.' If you are looking with the view 'do terrorists have rights', you do not give the impression that we are carrying out the struggle in a state of law." Alatas emphasized that "the methods of the struggle against terror must be within the law." (TK/YE)