• Press Release

Onslaught on Kurdish areas in Turkey putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk

January 19, 2016

The Turkish government’s onslaught on Kurdish towns and neighborhoods, which includes round-the-clock curfews and cuts to services, is putting the lives of up to 200,000 people at risk and amounts to collective punishment, Amnesty International said today.

Research carried out by Amnesty International in areas under curfew and reports from residents in areas that are currently inaccessible to external observers, reveal the extreme hardships they are currently facing as a result of harsh and arbitrary measures.

There have also been numerous reports of security forces preventing ambulances from entering areas under curfew and providing treatment to the sick.

Cuts to water and electricity supplies combined with the dangers of accessing food and medical care while under fire are having a devastating effect on residents, and the situation is likely to get worse, fast, if this isn’t addressed,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

“In some areas, crippling curfews that don’t allow people to leave their houses at all have been in place for more than a month, effectively laying siege to entire neighborhoods. It is imperative that the Turkish authorities ensure that affected residents are able to access food and essential services.”

One person told Amnesty International that his relative, a resident of Silopi, was killed in his own home while clashes took place in the neighborhood. The family had to wait 12 days with the decomposing body in their home before it could be collected for burial.

Another resident of Silopi told Amnesty International that he and his family had no water for 20 days and no electricity for 15 days last month. He said that they had not been able to shower for two weeks and were rationing their drinking water before the supply unexpectedly returned last week. It has been intermittent since.

The curfews have been imposed in the context of operations by police, and increasingly by the military, in towns and cities in the east and south-east of Turkey since July 2015, when the peace process between the government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) broke down. More than 150 residents have reportedly been killed in areas under curfew as state forces battle the armed Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the youth wing of the PKK. The dead include women, young children and the elderly.

On January 13 an attack by the PKK left one police officer and five civilians, including two young children, dead when they planted a car bomb outside the Çınar police headquarters in Diyarbakır province. Thirty nine people, mostly civilians, were reported injured in what was clearly an indiscriminate attack.

Operations by police and military in residential areas have been characterized by the use of heavy weaponry and sniper fire, endangering the lives of ordinary residents posing no threat to security forces or others.

In the course of on the ground research following an earlier curfew in Cizre in September last year, Amnesty International found evidence that several deaths may have been caused by snipers at locations far from where clashes were taking place. Among those killed were young children, women and elderly people, who are very unlikely to have been involved in clashes with security forces. More recently reported deaths have also followed this same troubling pattern. Investigations into the deaths have failed to show any sign of progress.

“While the Turkish authorities can take legitimate measures to ensure security and arrest suspects, they must comply with their human rights obligations. The operations currently being conducted under round-the-clock curfews are putting the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk and are beginning to resemble collective punishment,” said Dalhuisen.

Turkish authorities have prevented independent observers from bar associations and human rights organizations from entering areas under curfew, making it difficult to form an accurate picture of what is going on. People speaking out against the abuses have been subjected to threats, criminal investigation and other forms of harassment.

In one incident on January 9, state prosecutors launched a criminal investigation against a chat show host and another staff member for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” after a caller to the “Beyaz show” chat show urged people not to stay silent about the deaths of women and girls in the south east of the country.

While the Turkish authorities appear determined to silence internal criticism, they have faced very little from the international community. Strategic considerations relating to the conflict in Syria and determined efforts to enlist Turkey’s help in stemming the flow of refugees to Europe must not overshadow allegations of gross human rights violations. The international community must not look the other way,” said Dalhuisen.

Full briefing available below