UN rights chief: Turkey must probe shooting of civilians

AP News
Posted: Feb 01, 2016 12:33 PM

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief called on Turkey on Monday to investigate the alleged shooting of unarmed people in southeastern Turkey that turned up in "extremely shocking" footage posted online last week.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein also voiced concern over reports that the cameraman, Refik Tekin, faces arrest over possible charges of membership in the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, when he leaves a hospital where he is treated for gunshot wounds sustained in the shooting in the southeastern town of Cizre.

Turkish authorities have imposed curfews in Cizre and other towns and districts to flush out militants from urban areas in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast since the collapse in July of a peace process with the PKK. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation says at least 198 civilians, including 39 children, have died in combat areas under curfew since August.

The video in question purportedly shows people wheeling a dead body on a handcart behind a man and a woman who are waving white flags, before they are apparently being targeted by gunfire. Tekin, who works for the pro-Kurdish IMC television, continues to film despite being hit and blood is seen streaming past his camera.

The video doesn't show who fired the shots but earlier footage had shown a Turkish armored military vehicle at a distance blocking the road. It wasn't known if anyone was killed in the shooting.

In a statement released in Geneva, Zeid said: "filming an atrocity is not a crime, but shooting unarmed civilians most certainly is."

"The emergence of this video raises major question-marks about what exactly has been going on in Cizre and other parts of southeastern Turkey which the security forces have allegedly sealed off from the outside world," he said.

Mehmet Elkatmis, a member of Turkey's Ombudsman Institution which deals with human right complaints, said he hadn't seen the video, but said it was "not possible for the Turkish security forces to fire on civilians."

Elkatmis said the security forces were "acting with utmost sensitivity" not to harm civilians. He acknowledged that "some undesired" incidents have occurred during the security forces' operations, but said these were being investigated.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has said the security forces are taking care to "distinguish between the terror organization and the civilians and to ensure that the battle is being waged within the rule of law."

The government has vowed to keep up its operations until the militants, who are linked to the PKK, are rooted out from the urban areas. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

The curfews bar independent observers from monitoring the conflicts zones, which has heightened concerns over human rights abuses, including the fate of some 20 people who were reportedly wounded during fighting in Cizre a week ago and were allegedly trapped inside a basement awaiting medical treatment.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other authorities have said medical teams are unable to reach the building where the wounded are stranded because of attacks by militants, including sharpshooters.

A pro-Kurdish party has suggested that it is attacks by the security forces that are preventing the medical teams' access to the wounded. It said it lost contact with the wounded Saturday and three legislators from the party have embarked on a hunger strike to draw attention to their plight.