While Turkey has made significant progress in protecting the right to life, it should step up efforts to prosecute those who commit unlawful killings, a United Nations independent expert said Friday following a visit to the country.
"Turkey has made significant strides in securing the right to life in recent years, and continues to take further positive measures in this regard," said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns. "However, impunity remains the main outstanding challenge that needs to be addressed urgently in order to consolidate the progress."
Heyns was in Turkey to examine the current level of unlawful killings and death threats, as well as efforts to prevent them and ensure accountability in such cases.
"Since the last visit by my predecessor in 2001, institutional and legal changes have been made - and are still being made - which, if fully implemented, have the potential to address many of the remaining concerns related to the right to life," he said, adding that there is wide recognition that at the moment the main obstacle to protect the right to life is impunity for perpetrators.
Heyns noted that members of the security forces are often protected from conviction by ineffective investigations and slow legal processes. Violations of the right to life by security forces include killings in the context of counterterrorism, measures during arrests and demonstrations.
He added that an investigation is still pending on the Uludere incident last year, in which 34 civilians were killed by Government fighter planes near the Turkish-Iraqi border. While he recognized that administrative and judicial are processes underway, Heyns noted that they are not transparent.
"This situation persists against a background where there has been little accountability for the large number of killings that took place during the 1990s," Heyns said. "Where prosecutions take place, it is largely for offences against the State, rather than for violations of the right to life."
In addition, he pointed that while some commendable initiatives are being taken to prosecute perpetrators, impunity is largely ignored in cases of domestic violence against women who are victims of so-called honour killings and are not protected by any measures.
During his five-day visit, Heyns conveyed a series of preliminary recommendations to address the challenge of impunity in Turkey. He also stressed the potential role that the growing number of domestic institutions may have in addressing and investigating human rights violations, and drew attention to the current process to establish the Turkish Human Rights Institution.
"The next steps in ensuring the independent and effective functioning of such structures will be crucial for the consolidation of human rights protection in Turkey," he said.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed in an honorary capacity by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. Heyns is scheduled to present his report on the situation in Turkey at the 23rd session of the Council in 2013.