UN Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds
Nick Cumming-Bruce, NYT, Mar 10 2017
GENEVA — Turkey’s military and police forces have killed hundreds of people during operations against Kurdish rebels in south-eastern Turkey, the UNHRC said on Friday in a report that listed summary killings, torture, rape and widespread destruction of property among an array of human rights abuses. The report details how operations by the Turkish infantry, artillery, tanks and possibly aircraft drove up to half a million people from their homes over a 17-month period from Jul 2015 to the end of 2016. Though the report is focused on the conduct of security forces in south-eastern Turkey, the 25-page document underscores the deepening alarm of the UN over the measures ordered by Pres Erdogan since the failed coup attempt last July. The state of emergency Erdogan imposed after the coup attempt appeared to “target criticism, not terrorism,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UNHRC head, said here on Tuesday. The Turkish government declined to comment on the report.
Critics of Erdogan charge that he called off a truce with the Kurds in 2015 to stoke nationalist sentiments after his party fared poorly in parliamentary elections. After the failed coup, he used his enhanced emergency powers to crack down on Kurdish political leaders, intellectuals and others who voiced support for the PKK. The report said measures taken by the government in the south-east since the failed coup, including arrests of parliamentarians, mass dismissals of officials and closing of Kurdish-language media, had been aimed at suppressing dissent in general and opposition parties in particular. Hussein said he was “particularly concerned by reports that no credible investigation has been conducted into hundreds of alleged unlawful killings, including women and children.” He called for an independent inquiry without restrictions, noting that his investigators had been denied access to the Kurdish areas. The report said that about 2,000 people had died in security operations in the south-east, citing information provided by the government. That included close to 800 members of the security forces and 1,200 others who the report said “may or may not” have been involved in violent action against the government. The Turkish authorities were acting in a difficult security environment, the report acknowledged, citing attacks, killings and kidnappings by the PKK. Nevertheless, by compiling information from interviews with victims and their relatives and by using satellite imagery, investigators for the UN verified a variety of abuses by the security forces, among them extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, violence against women and the prevention of access to medical care, food and water.
Investigators found that many of the worst abuses occurred during curfews, when the movement of people was restricted and entire neighborhoods were cut off for days at a time. Witnesses interviewed in the town of Cizre, along the Tigris River in the south-east, described “apocalyptic” scenes of destruction. Investigators were able to document at least 189 people who were trapped for weeks in basements without food, water, medical aid or electricity before dying in fires started by artillery shelling by security forces. Ambulances were prevented from entering the area, causing deaths that could have been avoided. Many of the victims simply disappeared in the wholesale destruction of large residential areas carried out by the military, which attacked systematically with heavy weapons, including bombing strikes, the report said. The destruction peaked in August. Investigators also reported that the authorities refused to investigate civilian deaths, accusing residents of supporting terrorism. The family of one woman who disappeared in Cizre was given three small pieces of charred flesh identified through DNA testing, investigators reported. When a sister of the missing woman then tried to start legal proceedings, she was charged with terrorism offenses. The UN said the report released on Friday would be the first of a series produced by the human rights office, whether or not its investigators were granted the access they needed.