Torture of Women in Turkey
By matherials of Amnesty International
For over a decade, Turkey has engaged in a bloody armed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who seek the creation of a separate Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. While successive governments have made some progress towards establishing parliamentary democracy and fundamental freedoms, national security has consistently been left to a security force that holds international human rights standards and Turkish law in equal disdain. A state of emergency, declared in 1987, continues in 10 southeastern provinces, which allows the security forces to exercise quasi-martial law powers. Anti-Terror laws affect people in all parts of Turkey, however, resulting in a bleak human rights picture in the country. Turkish and Kurdish women activists, lawyers, journalists, students, and women in their capacities as wives and relatives of other victims of human rights violations, are amongst those whose human rights have been violated and threatened in Turkey.
||Torture methods include being stripped naked and blindfolded, hosing with pressurized ice-cold water, hanging for long periods by the arms or wrists behind the back, electric shocks to the body including sexual organs, beating the soles of the feet, death threats, sexual harassment, rape, rape threats, threatened and actual forced virginity examinations and other forms of sexual abuse.|
Government officials admit that torture occurs but deny that it is systematic. In fact, they justify torture claiming that it is closely aimed to the State's fight against terrorism. However, many cases occur in western Turkey, outside of the zone of conflict. Until all detainees have full access to lawyers, doctors and relatives, police stations will remain fortresses of arbitrary state power, places of secrecy and fear where torture can be practiced without restraint.
Torture and Cruel, Inhuman,
In November 1993, Meral Danis Besta, an attorney at the Human Rights Association who represents local villagers in numerous formal complaints of human rights violations, was arrested. She reports that during her thirty day incommunicado detention in Diyarbakir Gendarmerie headquarters, she was slapped, kicked, subjected to sexual insults, stripped of her clothes and hosed with ice-cold water. Another 17-year-old girl had to be transferred to a hospital because of vaginal bleeding following electric shocks applied to her genitals.
Women are also often tortured because of their association with suspected terrorists. For example, Sirin Abi was stripped completely naked and sexually molested in front of her husband Ferzinde in order to force him to sign a pre-written confession.
|Sirin Abi was stripped completely naked and sexually molested in front of her husband Ferzinde...|
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have documented the use of virginity-testing in Turkey as a means of criminalizing, threatening and abusing women and considers it a form of torture and ill-treatment. For women detainees, threats of rape often are compounded by police taunts that rape will deprive women of their virginity and honor, prevent them from marrying and cause them to be ostracized by their families and communities. Police emphasis on virginity in the harassment and abuse of female detainees also has led them to use the threat or performance of forced virginity exams to harass, humiliate, intimidate, frighten, punish and torture women detainees.
Two groups of women are particularly vulnerable to forced virginity testing: women suspected of prostitution, and women detained for political reasons. Police use the findings of virginity exams to harass women. If an exam "establishes" that a woman is not a virgin, this is used to taunt and humiliate her. If on the other hand, the exam shows that a women is a virgin, police may threaten to rape her and destroy her "honor." In August 1992, a 43 year-old Kurdish woman and her 19 year-old daughter were arrested while they were attending a funeral in Diyarbakir. They were tortured and interrogated about how they knew the man who had been buried. According to the daughter, "They constantly threatened to take me for virginity control and then to rape me when and if they found out I wasn't a virgin."
In June 1992, the head of the Security Department in Adana told the press that female political detainees, to whom he referred as "militant girls," were being forced to undergo virginity examinations to avoid future accusations of custodial rape during interrogations. Police assert that an exam demonstrating that a woman is not a virgin repudiates a claim of rape because it establishes that she is sexually active and that "her loss of honor" is not attributable to custodial rape. This outrageous argument rests on the assumption that only women who can prove their virginity prior to an alleged incident of rape can successfully bring rape charges against the police.
The social stigma attached to having been forcibly tested for virginity is so great that many women do not report such tests, making it difficult to estimate what numbers are involved. Although the actual extent of the abuse is unknown, interviews with doctors, lawyers and local women and human rights activists reveal that the threat of forced virginity exams follows women throughout their lives.
Mothers of the "Disappeared": Activists Under Fire
In 1991 there were a handful of reports, by 1994 there were more than 50 persons reported as "disappearances," the highest number in any country reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. At least 35 people "disappeared" in 1995.
"Disappearance" is a human rights violation inflicted not only upon the victims but also upon their families. Mothers of the "disappeared" fear their children have died under torture, or that they were arbitrarily killed in reprisal for the deaths of soldiers in clashes with the PKK. In addition to this psychological trauma, the mothers of more than 100 people who have "disappeared" have been treated with callous lack of concern by the authorities.
Mothers of the "disappeared" are not passive victims of the violence and injustice. Many are organizing to defend their rights to protest against violations and to campaign for justice, equality and freedom. Often they are persecuted and imprisoned for standing up for their rights. Mothers who have attempted to draw public attention to their plight have been subjected to ridicule, insults, beating and imprisonment by local security forces.
Emine Ocak, while protesting against her son's disappearance, was taken to Okakoy police station on July 1, 1995. While held in custody over night, she was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and hanged by the wrists.
|Emine Ocak was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and hanged by the wrists.|
The Turkish government routinely denies, covers up or justifies torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" by its security forces. Moreover, the Turkish government takes deliberate steps to prevent the violations committed by its security forces from being revealed to the Turkish public or the international community. Sahabat Karahan, Zeynel Yesil, and Dogan Sahin, workers at Atilim magazine which reports on the situation in the southeast, were taken to Istanbul State Security Court and formally arrested on charges of "membership of an illegal organization." They all alleged they were tortured while in custody, including sexual harassment and threats of rape.
State officials carry out torture, "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions and other gross violations because they know they will escape punishment. They are protected by police and gendarmerie officers of high rank, by prosecutors, by the courts, by Turkish law itself, and by the silence of the international community.
It would not be true to say that human rights violators are never prosecuted. Prosecutions do take place, and there have been convictions. Mediha Curabaz, a nurse, was raped with a truncheon adapted to deliver electric shocks while in detention at Adana Police Headquarters in August 1991, for which she won a small sum of compensation in her civil suit. However, from the very little information provided by the government, it is apparent that that the number of prosecutions taken on allegations of torture is low, and the number of convictions lower still. The climate of impunity created by the relative small number of convictions remains possibly the single largest obstacle to reducing unlawful killing, torture, and other human rights abuses.
Glay Aday, arrested on accusations of being a member of the Turkish Liberation Army of Peasants and Workers, reported that she had been tortured, including electric shocks, during her detention. The serial numbers of the police officers who carried out the interrogation appeared on her statements, and evidence of torture was submitted to the court. Despite this, no investigation was ordered.
Detainees do not have free access to a medical practitioner, much less one of their own choosing, and women doctors are routinely denied to female detainees. This denial of medical attention is an effective method of concealing torture and makes it particularly difficult to provide medical evidence of sexual torture. Even if this hurdle is passed, reports of sexual torture are often not investigated and many of Turkey's judges and prosecutors treat allegations of sexual torture with a casual lack of concern. Such gross negligence on the part of the judges and prosecutors is not the exception, but rather the rule.
When Zlcihan Ahin, a student detained at Istanbul Police Headquarters in November 1995, told a prosecutor that she had been drenched with pressurized cold water, beaten, suspended by the arms, stripped naked, and subjected to various forms of sexual assault and verbal abuse, the prosecutor responded by smiling. When Mensure Yuksel Erdohan, also detained at Istanbul Police Headquarters, testified in court that she was stripped naked, sexually assaulted, and subjected to electric shocks, the judge deliberately prevented her complaint from being noted in the file by interrupting her, stopping the court recorder and changing the subject.
Turkey is a prime example of a country which is, on the one hand, a modern, functioning democracy with ample, well-developed political and legal institutions and structures capable of protecting the human rights of its citizens. On the other hand, its government routinely allows women to be subjected to torture, ill-treatment, and other human rights violations. Nothing stands in the way of the investigation, termination and prevention of custodial rape, sexual abuse and other forms of torture except an astonishing lack of will masked by empty rhetoric about the requirements of national security.
Despite their international obligations, successive Turkish governments have violated human rights with impunity on the grounds that they are protecting national security or combating "terrorist" threats. Yet, as international law makes clear, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can never be justified. The "tough measures" which recent governments have introduced in the name of security violate the basic human rights of everyone, especially vulnerable women, who face both sexual abuse and its social consequences. There can be no security without human rights.
Write to Turkish authorities calling for a national commission with the purpose of stopping the torture of women in police detention. Ask that members of this commission be impartial, independent, and with recognized expertise on torture, including rape and rape threats, threatened and actual forced virginity examinations and other abuses regularly faced by women in police custody.
At the same time, urge your addressees to ensure that all detainees will be brought before a judge or released with all possible speed. Ask them to ensure that while in detention, all detainees will have access to a lawyer, their family and doctors of their choice.
Mr. Necmettin Erbakan Mr. Azimet Köylüoglu
Office of the Prime Minister State Minister for Human Rights
06573 Ankara, Turkey 06573 Ankara, Turkey
Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
1714 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Amnesty International USA 322 8th Ave. New York NY 10001 (212)807-8400
Amnesty International is an independent worldwide movement working impartially for the release of all prisoners of conscience, fair and prompt trials for political prisoners and an end to torture, executions, "disappearances," and political killings. It is funded by donations from its members and supporters throughout the world.