Peace in Kurdistan Campaign: DELEGATION REPORT September 2015
Women’s delegation condemns the arbitrary killing of 21 civilians, collective punishment of communities and severe restrictions on the right to freedom of movement in Cizre.
“The siege exacted a heavy toll on women: one woman was shot dead as she ventured out to search for food, several women miscarried due to the stress of the bombardment, two women, a young mother carrying her baby, and the baby’s grandmother were killed as they tried to reach a neighbour’s house. The baby was injured as the mother fell, but survived.”
A three-woman delegation visited Cizre in South East Turkey between 17th and 20th September and reported about the conditions for the 100,000 residents following a 9-day round-the-clock curfew enforced by a shoot to kill policy. The delegation, consisting of two human rights lawyers, Margaret Owen and Melanie Gingell, and public health specialist, Dr Shatha Besarani, was invited by the Kurdish Women’s Council of Diyarbakir to consider how the siege impacted on women and children in the city. The council assisted the delegation in their visits to Cizre and Sur and ensured that the delegation was free to take testimony from the people they met there.
The killings in Cizre which took place between 4th and 12th September are a particularly brutal example of what is happening across the country. Turkey has rapidly descended into violence since the AKP lost its parliamentary majority in the general election in June 2015 and the democratic and constitutional situation is in a state of collapse. There has been a wide-scale coordinated attack against the political opposition with over 128 individual attacks against HDP offices, and attacks against Kurdish neighbourhoods, which have left an estimated 200 people dead. Following the bomb attack in Suruc, carried out by ISIS, that killed 33 Kurdish and Turkish activists on 20th July 2015 the government used its new anti –terror legislation to launch the arrests of at least a thousand activists mainly from the HDP and from civil society organisations.
Local communities had organised self-defence measures in the face of the attacks against them in Cizre and in the Diyarbakir district of Sur, as well as many other Kurdish neighbourhoods. In Cizre they had constructed a barrier across street to try to impede the progress of the tanks and had hung sheets across the roads to restrict the view of government snipers. Police and security forces attempted to remove the barrier, and further clashes took place. At this point the blanket round-the-clock curfew was imposed and enforced by a shoot to kill policy. Basic services were cut off including water, electricity and telephone networks. Local doctors were prevented from entering the hospital and at times the police denied the wounded access to any medical care resulting in further deaths.
In Cizre 21 civilians were killed over the course of 9 days, many of the dead were children -one only 35 days old – and 5 were women. Sections of the city were devastated, neighbourhoods destroyed, houses and shops burnt to a shell, residential buildings riddled with rocket holes, the streets littered with rubble, rubbish and spent bullets. The trauma and terror of the people was palpable.
Both sides in the clashes have used weapons. Security services have used tanks, heavy weapons, mortars and machine guns indiscriminately. The delegation heard credible accounts of the use of snipers by Government forces, which leads to the conclusion that there is a shoot to kill policy in force. These accounts are corroborated by similar accounts in the UK national media.  No category of people was exempt from this policy, as the high number of women and children killed attests.
The delegation visited the family of Cemike Cagirga, a 13 year old girl killed by snipers as she stood in the gateway to her home. She suffered bullet wounds to her chest and died almost immediately. The curfew meant that her family was unable to take her body to the morgue, and to prevent it decomposing, had to store it in the freezer for 24 hours. The authorities marked her body as having no family, thus avoiding triggering a full autopsy.
The siege exacted a particularly heavy toll on women. One woman was shot dead as she ventured out to search for food, several women miscarried due to the stress of the bombardment, two women, a young mother carrying her baby, and the baby’s grandmother were killed as they tried to reach a neighbour’s house, the baby was injured as the mother fell, but has survived.
The people have coped with great courage and those whose homes have been destroyed are either living with relatives or camping out in makeshift shelters, but the effects of the assault on the city are seen most evidently in the faces of the children who have been confined inside small houses 24 hours a day, unable to comprehend the reason for the incarceration. Small babies quickly became dehydrated in the high temperatures. Signs of trauma were visible in the children now playing in the streets with spent bullets and toy guns, fighting among themselves, re-enacting what had happened days earlier.
Dr Beserani commented that “the trauma, physical and emotional, that these children are experiencing is only part of the problem. The renewed conflict in the region will disrupt and potentially destroy their education and their future employment prospects and will this fuel the ongoing poverty -conflict cycle. It is essential that the peace process is restored immediately if these children are to have a meaningful future.”
IMPACT ON WOMEN
Local self-administration is considered by many in the region to be an essential part of the solution to the Kurdish Question and an important step towards inclusive democracy in Turkey. An integral part of this is the introduction in HDP majority cities of co-mayors with, each post being held jointly by one woman and one man. This fundamental change has ensured that women have a leadership role across the region and is a reflection of the promotion of gender equality that has been at the forefront of the democratic project in Kobane across the border in Syria. Many of the co-mayors have been arrested in the last month on charges of threatening national unity. The delegation briefly met the female co-mayor of Cizre, herself subject to an arrest warrant, who described the assault on the city.
The developments towards gender equality in the region are in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making, including in national, regional, and international institutions; in mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict; in peace negotiations; in peace operations, as soldiers, police, and civilians.
Women’s participation is absolutely central to democracy and to peace building, and the real and practical achievements on this front, that Kurdish women are carving out for themselves, is deeply impressive and should serve as an example of how gender equality could be achieved elsewhere.
Women made up a high proportion of the casualties in this siege, as set out above, partly as a result of their caring role, when they felt they had break the curfew in order to seek food and water for their families. The example of the fatal shooting of a woman carrying her baby is particularly heinous. It is hard to see how this woman could have been seen as any threat to security services, and lays bare the indiscriminate nature of the killings.
The fact that women are in leadership roles will ensure that they can play a central role in the rebuilding of the community and as resolution 1325 recognises this will be essential.
While the state is entitled to place restrictions on the right to freedom of movement in order to protect public order, all such restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and imposed for a legitimate reason. It is hard to conceive of any circumstances in which restrictions of this magnitude could be justified. A curfew resulting in civilians being unable to access food, water and medical care is disproportionate and unnecessary. It appears that the people of Cizre are being collectively punished either for the 82% vote for the HDP or for the activities of militants, who rightly or wrongly, they are suspected of supporting. Collective punishment is prohibited within International Humanitarian Law, which applies in time of war, and thus is to be condemned with even more force when it occurs in times of so called peace.
The killings which took place in Cizre appear to be an obvious and flagrant breach of the right to life, which is enshrined in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes the inherent right of every person to life, adding that this right “shall be protected by law” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life”. The right to life of persons under the age of 18 and the obligation of States to guarantee the enjoyment of this right to the maximum extent possible are both specifically recognized in article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 4, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any derogation from the right to life and security of the person. The international standards on the use of force by security officers stipulate that lethal force may only be used as a last resort in order to protect life, and must meet the principles of necessity and proportionality. It appears that the use of lethal force in Cizre did not respect these principles and would therefore constitute the arbitrary deprivation of life and a violation of the right to life.
Turkey has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and appears to be in breach of its obligations under them. The delegation condemns in the strongest terms the arbitrary killing of civilians by the security forces and calls on the authorities to bring the climate of impunity to an end and to institute enquiries into the killings and to publish the results of such enquires.
The atmosphere in the city of Cizre now is of trauma, terror but also of a determination to continue the resistance even in the face of all that the state has to throw at them. Margaret Owen said “A massacre took place here in violation of international law and Turkey must be held accountable for all the horrors that happened here.”
To that end, international civil society and the media should use all their powers to call for a cease-fire and to offer solidarity and support for the re-establishment of the peace process as a matter of priority. We call on the UK government to condemn Turkish state violence against its own people, which is being carried out with impunity, and in particular, the arbitrary killing of civilians and the collective punishment of communities.
Written by Melanie Gingell, Margaret Owen and Dr Shatha Beserani
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
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