Turkey makes progress on detention procedures, but not for terror suspects – UN experts

23 October 2006

Despite strengthened safeguards against arbitrary detention in Turkey’s criminal justice system stemming from new laws enacted last year, the situation of terrorist suspects who have been detained for up to 13 years without being found guilty is “most disturbing,” according to United Nations experts.

Despite strengthened safeguards against arbitrary detention in Turkey’s criminal justice system stemming from new laws enacted last year, the situation of terrorist suspects who have been detained for up to 13 years without being found guilty is “most disturbing,” according to United Nations experts.

The new laws, which establish limitations on the length of detention of people awaiting trial and judgment, provide for access to lawyers and bar as evidence statements made to police in the absence of a lawyer, “represent a great achievement for Turkey and we think that both the present and future generations of Turkish citizens will hugely benefit from them,” the chairperson of the group, Leila Zerrougui, said.

“Our great concern, however, is that there are in practice two criminal justice systems in Turkey, one for common offences and the other for terrorism related crimes,” she added in Ankara at the end of a two-week visit, noting that safeguards do not apply to terrorist suspects.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a group of independent experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. The experts found that numerous persons accused of terrorism had spent seven, eight, 10, in some cases 13 years in detention without being found guilty.

“Their trials register a perfunctory hearing every month or two,” they said in a statement. “The prosecutors told us that evidence was still being gathered and analyzed, but it is not clear to us what evidence could possibly need to be analysed 13 years after the terrorist crime was committed, no matter how complex the case is.”

Moreover, prosecutors pointed out that in order to be able to maintain these persons in detention for several years more without a judgment, the limitations on the duration of remand detention introduced by the 2005 new criminal procedure law will enter into force only in April 2008.

The experts said all the people they spoke to, both those representing the authorities and those behind bars, had stated that torture and ill-treatment by the police had dramatically decreased already before the entry into force of the new criminal laws.

“From a widespread practice used by the police to obtain self-incriminating statements from the suspect, torture (aimed at extorting confessions) has become the exceptional misconduct of individual police officers or gendarmes,” they noted.

“Combined with the already mentioned provision whereby statements made to the police in the absence of the lawyer have no value, this means that arbitrary detention based on coerced confessions is much less likely to occur,” they stated.

Noting, however, that the ban on statements made in the absence of a lawyer was not being applied retroactively, the experts called on the Government to extend the application of the provision to cases in which such statements were made before 1 June 2005.

“Turkey's obligations under the Convention Against Torture and fundamental considerations of justice require it,” they said.

 

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