Article 17 of the 1982 Constitution provides that:
Everyone has the right to life and the right to protect and improve his/her corporeal and spiritual existence. ...
No one shall be subjected to torture or maltreatment; no one shall be subjected to penalties or treatment incompatible with human dignity.
Human rights may be suspended in a situation of emergency but this does not apply to the rights to life and to bodily integrity. However, it is also stipulated in Article 17 that the right to life is not violated by:
The act of killing in case of self-defence and, when permitted by law as a compelling measure to use a weapon, during the execution of warrants of capture and arrest, the prevention of the escape of lawfully arrested or convicted persons, the quelling of riot or insurrection, or carrying out the orders of authorized bodies during state of emergency....
This would allow use of firearms other than where necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
According to Article 34:
Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.
The right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall be restricted only by law on the grounds of national security, public order, prevention of commission of crime, protection of public health and public morals or the rights and freedoms of others. The formalities, conditions, and procedures to be applied in the exercise of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall be prescribed by law.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||Not party|
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
Article 16 of the Law 2559 on the Powers and Duties of Police provides generally that: "if a person or group resists and prevents the police from carrying out their duties the police can resort to force to the extent required to eliminate this resistance". Section 6 annexed to Law 2559 stipulates that:
The term "use of force" shall mean the use of physical force, material force and weapons in order to immobilise offenders, in a gradual manner and in proportion to the particularities and degree of resistance and aggressiveness [of the offender].
Where the action is taken against a group, the degree of force used and the requisite quantity of weaponry will be determined by the supervisor of the intervening unit.
With respect to firearms, Section 16 of Law 2559 provides that the police
may use firearms for the purposes of arresting a person against whom an arrest or custody warrant has been issued ... or a suspect in the act of committing an offence, within limits that are commensurate with the fulfilment of that purpose.
Before making use of firearms, the police ... must first call out ‘stop!’ ... If the person continues to flee, the police may fire a warning shot. If, despite those warnings, the person still continues to flee, and if no other means of stopping the person can be envisaged, the police may use firearms for the purposes of stopping the person, within limits that are commensurate with the fulfilment of that purpose....
Under Section 24 of Law 2911 on gatherings and demonstrations allows use of force to disperse an unlawful gathering. Where this occurs or
in the event of an attack on the security forces or on the property or individuals they are protecting; or where there is effective resistance, force will be used without any need [to issue] an order.
In 2015, the Law amending the powers and duties of the police was adopted by the Turkish Parliament. The law authorises the police to use firearms to protect property where there is no imminent or grave threat to life in violation of international law.
In addition, Article 27(2) of the Criminal Code may give rise to impunity when action is taken in self-defence:
If the limits were exceeded in the course of legitimate defence as a result of excitement, fear or agitation and can be regarded as excusable, the offender shall not be subject to a penalty.
Law No. 6328 of Turkey established the position of Ombudsman as an independent and effective mechanism of complaint to investigate alleged illegal acts by the state and to submit recommendations.
On 26 April 2003, the Gendarmerie Human Rights Violations Examination and Evaluation Center (JIHIDEM) was established for the purpose of:
- Accepting complaints
- Assessing the credibility of the allegations
- Ensuring a judicial or administrative investigation where the allegations are found to be credible.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Turkey, the Committee against Torture stated it was
seriously concerned about numerous credible reports of law enforcement officials engaging in torture and ill-treatment of detainees while responding to perceived and alleged security threats in the south-eastern part of the country
The Committee was also concerned at reports of the commission of extrajudicial killings of civilians in the course of counterterrorism operations in the south-east. It further expressed concern "that allegations of excessive use of force against demonstrators have increased dramatically".
Gulkanat v. Turkey (2019)
The case concerned allegations of ill-treatment by police officers. On 9 August 1999, three police officers came to Mr Gülkanat’s home and asked him to accompany them to the police station. According to Mr Gülkanat, the officers stopped the car in a wooded area and one of them insulted him, accusing Mr Gülkanat of harassing his sister-in-law. The three police officers then beat him before taking him to the police station. When he arrived at the police station, Mr Gülkanat reportedly complained to the senior officer in charge that he had been beaten and asked him to arrange a medical examination. The officer refused his request. Mr Gülkanat was released at around midday, without any record being made of his time at the police station. He subsequently went to the public prosecutor’s office to submit a criminal complaint and underwent a medical examination. The doctor certified him unfit to work for five days, noting that he had physical injuries.
A few days later the public prosecutor charged the three officers with abuse of power and ill-treatment and charged the senior officer with professional misconduct. In February 2001, the police officers were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, converted into a suspended fine. However, the judgment was quashed by the Court of Cassation. In July 2003, the police officers were again convicted by the District Court, and the Court of Cassation again quashed the judgment. In March 2006 they were convicted for a third time, but in April 2008, the Court of Cassation held that the proceedings were statute-barred. Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Mr Gülkanat complained of his ill-treatment by the police officers and of the length of the proceedings brought against them for illtreatment. He alleged, in particular, that the officers had enjoyed complete immunity owing to the application of the statute of limitations.
The Court found a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in both its substantive and procedural limbs.
Abdullah Yaşa and others v. Turkey
The first applicant, who was thirteen at the material time, was struck in the face by a tear gas canister which he claimed had been fired directly into the crowd by a law enforcement official during a demonstration. The public prosecutor decided to take no further action, without examining whether the force used had been proportionate, on the grounds that the law enforcement agencies had acted in the interests of maintaining public order and to defend themselves against a hostile crowd.
The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention because it had not been established that the use of force had been appropriate in the circumstances. Furthermore, at the relevant time, Turkish law did not specifically regulate the use of tear gas canisters during demonstrations nor had guidelines on their use been issued to law enforcement agencies. The Court noted that on 15 February 2008 a circular laying down the conditions governing the use of tear gas had been sent to all the security forces. Nevertheless, the safeguards surrounding the proper use of tear gas canisters needed to be strengthened by means of more detailed legislation and/or regulations, in order to minimise the risk of death or injury resulting from their use.
Güleç v. Turkey
This case concerned spontaneous and unauthorised demonstrations, shop closures, and attacks on public buildings in the town of Idil. The applicant’s son was hit and killed from a ricochet bullet fired by a gendarme to disperse the demonstrators. Evidenced by the damage to movable and immovable property and the injuries sustained by the gendarmes, the European Court accepted the Commission’s assessment, which described the demonstration as "far from peaceful" and which could constitute a ‘riot’ within the meaning of the Convention. But it held that the authorities should have provided their law enforcement officials with alternatives to firearms to disperse the assembly: the government had produced no evidence to support its assertion that terrorists were among the demonstrators, which might have justified recourse to live fire.
Ataykaya v. Turkey
This 2014 judgment concerned a youth who found himself in the middle of a demonstration as he was leaving his place of work and was struck in the head by a tear-gas canister fired by the security forces. He died shortly afterwards. Investigations failed to identify the person who had fired the fatal shot. The Court found
that the domestic authorities deliberately created a situation of impunity which made it impossible to identify members of the security forces who were suspected of inappropriately firing tear-gas grenades and to establish the responsibilities of the senior officers, thus preventing any effective investigation....