UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast

Turkey rejects UN report alleging human rights violations by Turkish security forces in the southeast as ‘biased’.

A Turkish soldier on an armoured military vehicle surveys the border line between Turkey and Syria
The conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984 [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

A UN report has accused Turkish security forces of human rights violations during operations against Kurdish fighters in the country’s southeast, drawing an angry response by Turkey which rejected it as “biased”.

The report by the UN human rights office on Friday detailed accusations of massive infrastructure destruction, unlawful killings and other serious abuses committed between July 2015 and December 2016 following the collapse of a ceasefire.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 truce was declared and the two sides launched peace talks. 

The ceasefire largely held until the summer of 2015, and since then the two sides have been engaged in escalating clashes. Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider the PKK a “terrorist” group.

READ MORE: Armed group TAK claims deadly attack in Istanbul

The UN said that its study, which was carried through “remote monitoring”, was based on interviews, analysis of information provided by Turkey’s government and NGOs, as well as official records, open source documents, satellite images and other materials.

Citing data from various sources, the report said that around 2,000 people were killed in the region between July 2015 and December 2016 amid security operations.

“Reports generally put the number of local residents killed at approximately 1,200, of whom an unspecified number may have been involved in violent or non-violent actions against the state,” it said, adding that about 800 members of security forces were reportedly killed in clashes.

More than 355,000 people were displaced and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in various parts of southeastern Turkey, the report said. 

Ankara hits back

Later on Friday, the Turkish foreign ministry condemned the report, calling it “biased, based on false information and far from professional”.

In a written statement, the ministry said that Turkey “continued to share information” with its partners about anti-terrorism activities in the country.

Taha Ozhan, a Turkish member of parliament with the ruling AK Party, said the PKK’s decision to move the warfare from rural to urban areas was responsible for the developments that led to the events covered by the UN report. 

“The PKK shifted the fight to cities through so-called strategy of trenches,” Ozhan, who also heads the parliament’s foreign affairs commission, told Al Jazeera.

“This was a rough, anachronic strategy, where the terrorist group dug trenches in city centres and put civilians and armed men behind them with the aim of taking the control of cities in southeastern Turkey,” he added.

“There is a large human cost of what happened in southeastern Turkey, but it is caused by the group’s own actions.”

Ozhan said that recent reports pointing the finger to Turkish security forces over the clashes in southeastern Turkey were generally “lacking context, one-sided and subjective”.


In its report, the UN said that human rights violations, including killings, disappearances and torture, were documented mostly during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” put into force by the Turkish authorities.

The human rights office is “particularly alarmed about the results of satellite imagery analysis, which indicate an enormous scale of destruction of the housing stock by heavy weaponry”, the report said.

The study cited the Turkish government, reporting that the PKK had conducted “a number of violent attacks that caused deaths and injuries among Turkish security forces and other individuals” as well as kidnappings.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief, said that Ankara denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations.

“The gravity of the allegations, the scale of the destruction and the displacement of more than 355,000 people mean that an independent investigation is both urgent and essential,” he said in a written statement.

In response, Turkey’s foreign ministry said that Zeid has been invited to Turkey various times since March 2016 to see the situation in southeastern Turkey.

Q&A: Turkey’s ‘fight against terrorism legitimate’

Turkey has been struggling with various security issues in recent years, including the clashes in southeastern Turkey, deadly bomb attacks hitting cities, a coup attempt and an influx of refugees from Syria.

The country has been hit by a series of bombings in 2015 and 2016, hitting targets that include major cities such as Istanbul. Dozens of attacks claimed by Kurdish groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) took hundreds of lives of civilians and security forces.

The conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera