Physicians for Human Rights: PHR documents improper use of tear gas and unnecessary force on demonstrators in Turkey

Letter to Turkish Prime Minister Follows In-Country Investigation, Seeks to Stop Excessive Violence and Unlawful Detentions

New York

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the World Medical Association (WMA), the German Medical Association (GMA) and the Standing Committee of European Doctors/Comité Permanent des Médecins Européens (CPME) sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today asking his government to immediately stop the use of tear gas and excessive force, which has led to the deaths of five civilians and more than 8,000 injuries among demonstrators. PHR also expressed concern over deliberate attacks on medical personnel and facilities, and unlawful detentions of a number of individuals, including the secretary general of the Istanbul Chamber of Medicine.

A team from PHR returned from Turkey last week after conducting interviews with more than 30 health professionals, survivors, and witnesses to the recent attacks on demonstrators. Those interviewed include Dr. Ali Cerkezoglu, secretary general of the Istanbul Chamber of Medicine, who was among those arrested in Istanbul on Monday without a warrant. He was reportedly assisting with the reopening of Gezi Park, which has been at the center of a brutal police crackdown following peaceful demonstrations that began in late May.

Our investigation in Turkey confirmed that the government has been engaged in the excessive and unnecessary use of force—including using tear gas as a weapon of mass scale—which has claimed several lives and led to thousands of injuries,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor, who was part of the team that spent a week in Istanbul and Ankara conducting interviews. “We’re also extremely worried about the deliberate attacks on medical professionals and unlawful detentions of key leaders, including Dr. Cerkezoglu. It is imperative that doctors and other health workers are not targeted for doing their vitally important work of helping the wounded.”

Police have systematically used about 130,000 canisters of tear gas on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, often at close range and in closed spaces. The Turkish Medical Association gathered evidence on more than 8,000 injuries due to tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, beatings, and live ammunition. Fifty-nine protestors have been seriously wounded, 11 others lost their eyes, and five civilian deaths have been linked to unnecessary and/or excessive use of force against protestors and other related injuries.

PHR, the Turkish Medical Association, and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey have pointed out that law enforcement officials have deliberately attacked medical personnel and facilities, and beaten and illegally detained dozens of medical personnel for providing emergency medical care to the injured. A bill seeking to criminalize the provision of emergency medical care to not only the demonstrators, but anyone in need, remains on the agenda in Turkey’s parliament. If passed, the law would stand in sharp contrast to the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it a crime for medical personnel to neglect their obligation to provide emergency medical care.

In today’s letter, PHR and three leading medical groups called on the Turkish government to end the use of tear gas as it has been used as a weapon on a massive scale; prohibit attacks on medical personnel who provide care to the injured; support the independence and autonomy of the Turkish Medical Association and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey; and immediately release and cease further detention of those who are simply exercising their right to peaceful protests.

A copy of the letter can be found here (pdf).

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there

1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals

1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals

1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq

2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions

2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta

2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring

2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual violence cases

2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

12 July 2013