HLRN Urgent Action Automatic Support
President of the Republic of Turkey
Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
We are extremely concerned to learn about the situation on Diyarbakır and the Expropriation Decree issued by Turkey’s Cabinet of Ministers. According to information received from the Municipality of Diyarbakır and local civil society organisations 23,000 people have been displaced and more than 50,300 people, a total of 14,764 households,risk being evicted upon implementation of the Decree.
The population of Diyarbakır’s historic fortress quarter (Suriçi) have been under curfews since August 2015. During military operations in 2016, the army imposed curfews on six neighbourhoods of Suriçi (Cevat Paşa, Dabanoğlu, Fatih Paşa, Hasırlı, Cemal Yılmaz and Savaş). The open-ended round-the-clock curfews (confinements) declared on 11 December 2015 are still partly ongoing. The Municipality of Diyarbakır estimates that the operations have left 50,000 people displaced, including 23,000 people from Suriçi.
Military operations in the confined areas have totally or partially destroyed 70% of the buildings in curfew-affected Suriçi neighborhoods. The army and security forces already have demolished some 1,100 buildings, including world heritage sites. Meanwhile, the Expropriation Decree affects the whole Suriçi area with a total of 50,341 inhabitants; hence, threatening the forced eviction of potentially 27,000 more, and taking a total of 6,292 parcels of land and buildings.
Already, at least 1,642,000 residents have been affected by the curfews carried out in at least 22 districts of seven cities in the southeastern region. During curfews and confinements, fundamental rights of the inhabitants are violated, such as right to life and right to health. According to the Ministry of Health on 27 February 2016, at least 355,000 residents were forced to leave and, from August 2015 to April 2016, at least 338 civilians lost their lives under curfew.
The Turkish Constitution recognizes (Articles 56, 57) that Turkey’s citizens have the right to decent housing, and the state bears a responsibility to help meet those needs and rights. Turkey also bears related treaty obligations, having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2003, which recognizes “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Thus, the Republic of Turkey is obliged to give effect to the rights recognized therein and implement the guidance in the corresponding General Comments (No. 4 on the right to adequate housing and No. 7 on forced evictions). Turkey is further obliged to align the domestic legal order in order to give effect to their treaty obligations, as provided in General Comment No. 9 on domestic application of the Covenant.
Under the European Social Charter, which Turkey ratified in 2007, Article 31 guarantees the right to housing. Further, Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1 provides that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.” Turkey ratified the Protocol in 1954.
In its resolution 43/181, the UN General Assembly determined the “fundamental obligation [of Governments] to protect and improve houses and neighbourhoods, rather than damage or destroy them" and that "people should be protected by law against unfair eviction from their homes or land.” The UN Commission on Human Rights also has affirmed that, “the practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing,” and “urges governments to undertake immediate measures, at all levels, aimed at eliminating the practice of forced eviction.” International standards also affirm the right to a remedy and reparation “for victims of gross violations of human rights.”
Forced eviction and house demolition as a punitive measure are also inconsistent with the norms of the ICESCR, and the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 (Article 49) and its 1977 Protocols prohibit the displacement of the civilian population and the destruction of private property outside of strict military necessity. In light of these norms, CESCR repeatedly has expressed its concern over forced evictions that have taken place without adequate compensation or alternative accommodation. CESCR has encouraged Turkey to review its legal framework regulating urbanization projects to ensure those affected received adequate compensation and/or relocation.
The Turkish Cabinet ministers’ March 2016 Expropriation Decree is inconsistent with these norms and constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to all inhabitants of Suriçi. This is not only a punishment to persons charged, or alleged to be responsible for armed clashes. Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention, Articles 26 and 67 of 3rd Geneva Convention explicitly ban collective punishment. The 1974 UN Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict determines that “collective punishment, destruction of dwellings and forcible eviction, committed by belligerents in the course of military operations or in occupied territories shall be considered criminal.” Turkey has not taken legislative or administrative action to foreswear collective punishment or criminalize forced eviction.
In this connection, the 4th Geneva Convention’s Article 33 provides that nobody may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed and declares that collective penalties are prohibited. Concerning property, Article 53, prohibits any destruction of personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the sovereign, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations. Finally, Article 147 considers grave breaches extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. The destruction and demolition of at least 1,100 buildings and the expropriation of 6,392 land parcels of Suriçi could fit the description of extensive destruction and appropriation of property and would represent a grave breach of the Convention.
By the actions taken in Suriçi under the curfews and the ministers’ Expropriation Decree, the Republic of Turkey is also violating the affected population’s right to enjoy a bundle of human rights, as well as their right to live in their land in security, peace and dignity. Turkey must refrain from forced evictions and wanton destruction of property, including irreplaceable heritage structures, and ensure that the law is enforced against its agents or third parties who carry out such acts, whether in the name of security operations or urban transformation and renewal. Hence, Turkey should ensure that all feasible alternatives are explored in consultation with the affected persons and ensure an effective remedy, including reparations.
We urge Your Excellency and all authorities in the Republic of Turkey to:
Your Excellency, we look forward to hearing of your due diligence to adhere to the Republic of Turkey’s relevant human rights obligations by protecting its citizens from further violation of their right to adequate housing, among their other human rights.