Paris-Geneva, February 26, 2021 – The Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD) has been attacked, stigmatised and threatened after it denounced what it considers a Turkish government and PKK shared responsibility in the death of 13 hostages during a Turkish military operation on February 10, 2021. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) expresses its utmost concern over these events and calls on the Turkish authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against the organisation.
On February 15, 2021, İHD held a press conference and issued a statement pointing out the shared responsibility of the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistanê - PKK) in the deaths of 13 soldiers, police and intelligence officers from Turkey in the Gare region, Northern Iraq. The 13 people had been held captive by the PKK for more than six years when the Turkish armed forces decided to carry out a military operation in the Gare region, one of the objectives of which was to rescue them. On February 14, 2021, the Defense Minister announced that the 13 civilians had lost their lives in this operation.
In the aftermath of this event, on February 16, 2021, the Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, addressed the members of the parliament at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to inform them about the incident as a representative of the Government. As part of his address, the Minister targeted İHD and its executives for holding the state accountable for the death of the 13 captives, and referred İHD as a “canı çıkasıca” association [a curse commonly used wishing great evil, misery and death befall on someone]. He also falsely accused İHD for not condemning the massacre of civilians by terrorist organisations. On February 18, 2021, İHD published a statement denying these slanderous accusations, insisting that the association had always publicly denounced the killings of civilians by any actor, recalling its role as a mediator in captive situations and reminding the State’s responsibility to protect the right to life of persons hors de combat against abuses by third parties, especially in the context of a risky military operation.
Following the Interior Minister’s intervention, İHD began receiving threats through various channels, including by emails and on social media. The Observatory is extremely concerned by this development and fears that the stigmatisation and vilification of İHD by the Minister may lead to increased harassment against the association and its members. The Observatory recalls that multiple İHD members and executives have already been facing baseless criminal prosecutions for their work in defense of human rights and peace.
The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to put an end to the stigmatisation and targeting of İHD and all human rights defenders and organisations, and to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and association in the country. The Observatory more generally calls on the authorities to ensure that all human rights organisations in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment. The Observatory recalls that human rights organisations are entitled to point out State’s responsibility and may call for an investigation of any negligence by the State regarding its compliance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.