Press release - 420(2010)

Turkey: Commissioner Hammarberg concludes his visit to Diyarbakir and Ankara

Strasbourg, 26.05.2010 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, concluded today a three-day visit to Diyarbakir and Ankara during which he continued his dialogue with the Turkish authorities, following up on his two reports published in October 2009 regarding the human rights of minorities and refugees. In Diyarbakir the Commissioner met with regional and local authorities and NGOs and visited the E-type prison. In Ankara Commissioner Hammarberg held high-level meetings with officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice, as well as with UNHCR and NGOs.

The Commissioner remains deeply concerned by the continuing practice of arresting, detaining and prosecuting children who participate in Kurdish demonstrations in southeast Turkey. In the E-type prison of Diyarbakir, he met with eighteen Kurdish minors aged from 15 to 18, including two girls, who were held in detention for six to nine months for allegedly causing disturbances during their participation in demonstrations considered to be supporting terrorism.

Commissioner Hammarberg stressed that the imprisonment of children is an exceptional measure which should be avoided in principle. Systematically resorting to the detention and imprisonment of children, occasionally with very heavy sentences of more than ten years, runs counter to the fundamental principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the guidelines contained in the Issue Paper on children and juvenile justice, issued by the Commissioner in 2009.

The Commissioner expressed his worry at the dissolution of the pro-Kurdish party DTP last December by decision of the Constitutional Court and at the subsequent arrest of a number of notably Kurdish mayors, including members of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Ms Leyla Güven, with whom the Commissioner met in Diyarbakir prison, is in detention since last December without any indictment so far.

Commissioner Hammarberg welcomed the legislative reforms under way and invited the Turkish authorities to translate into practice the positive signs of goodwill aimed at resolving persistent issues pertaining to the protection of the human rights of minorities, especially in southeast Turkey. He underlined that in order to achieve this, criminal and anti-terrorism law and practice should be fully and effectively aligned with the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

In this context, the Commissioner also drew the attention of the authorities to the question of the internally displaced persons in and out of southeast Turkey and the need to fully respect their right to return home, resettle or integrate locally. An acceleration of the implementation of all relevant action plans is necessary, including the immediate demining of all contaminated areas and the review of the system of village guards. The Commissioner underlined the need to establish an independent, effective complaints mechanism regarding the village guards, in accordance with the guidelines contained in his relevant 2009 Opinion.

The Commissioner welcomed the existing draft legislation aimed at bringing asylum law and practice fully into line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.. In this regard he noted with satisfaction the authorities’ decision to set free all migrant detainees whose liberation was considered necessary by the Court in its latest relevant judgments. Commissioner Hammarberg views the first steps taken by the ministerial circulars of March 2010 aiming to ensure better access to and information on the asylum procedures as a positive measure and encourages the authorities to closely monitor their implementation.

Furthermore, the Commissioner commends the attention paid to foreign nationals coming from conflict areas who are in need of international protection and the measures taken to improve their situation. He also appreciated the improved coordination and collaboration of the Turkish authorities with UNHCR.

As regards the obligation for refugees to pay residence fees, the Commissioner welcomed the ministerial circular calling on local authorities to use their margin of appreciation and not demand this fee from asylum seekers and refugees and commended the express intent of the government to abolish the residence fee for asylum seekers and refugees in the context of the asylum law reform. Finally, Commissioner Hammarberg appreciated the legal change made in January 2010 regarding work permits for foreigners and expects that this change will effectively safeguard the right of access to employment in the country for asylum seekers and refugees subject to the modified provisions.

Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:

Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;

Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights
Communication Unit
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 35 38
Fax:+33 (0)3 90 21 50 53