The recent murders of two transgender women in Turkey highlight an ongoing pattern of violence and the urgent need for stronger protection measures by the government, four Turkish and international human rights organizations said today in a letter to Turkish authorities. The groups called on Turkey to remedy the conditions that place transgender people at risk from acts of violence by enacting anti-discrimination protections, instituting programs to combat prejudice and hatred, and repealing laws that provide an opportunity for police to harass stigmatized groups.
The letter was sent by Pembe Hayat "Pink Life," Human Rights Watch, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
"Protecting people and preventing violence means more than investigating after the fact," said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Without meaningful government action to affirm their rights and ensure their safety, transgender people in Turkey will continue to live in fear."
Since November 2008, at least eight transgender people have been murdered in Istanbul and Ankara. The most recent killing was of a transgender woman called Aycan Yener on Feburary 16, 2010, in the Fatih area of Istanbul. Yener, whose legal given name was Feyzi, was killed in her apartment. Her throat was slit, and she was stabbed 17 times. Assailants also stabbed her roommate, Seyhan Özmemiş, 32, who survived.
According to Turkish media, witnesses reportedly observed three people fleeing the scene, but no one has been arrested.
On February 8, Derya Y., a 35-year-old transgender woman, was killed in her home in the Altındağ district of Antalya. Police found Derya Y. in her bedroom with her throat cut and multiple knife stab wounds to her face and body. The targeted killings of transgender women are part of a broader pattern of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Turkey. According to Turkish media, the police found 56-year-old Şinasi Halimoğlu, who had arranged a date with another man, dead on his bed on January 28 with multiple knife wounds to his back and neck.
In the wake of the killings, the police have made efforts to investigate and resolve these crimes. In two of the earlier cases, suspects were caught and prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison, and in two other cases suspects are in pre-trial detention. The remaining murders are being investigated. However, little has been done to protect LGBT people in Turkey, especially transgender people, from future acts of violence, the groups said.
In the letter, the organizations recommended:
- Enacting anti-discrimination legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as a legal protection;
- Disaggregate statistics on violence figures that show violence against LGBT people; and
- Instituting consistent communication between the police and LGBT rights groups.
European bodies have called on Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe, and on other states to protect LGBT people from violence. The European Union, to which Turkey is seeking admission, adopted a progress report this month, reminding the Turkish government of the need to safeguard all minorities, including LGBT people. Similarly, in 2009, the commissioner for human rights in the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, urged all member States to enact legislation that would protect transgender people from attacks and violence.
"The Turkish government should stop ignoring demands by Pembe Hayat and other LGBT's in Turkey to take measures to stop ongoing transgender killings," said Kemal Ördek, member of Pink Life. "The Constitution and the Penal Code need to guarantee equality and non-discrimination. The Government in turn needs to stop hate murders against transgender people and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
Human rights groups like Pembe Hayat have documented a long history of police abuse in Turkey, as well as violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity by state and private actors. In 2008, Human Rights Watch issued reports on violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and on police violence, including harassment and abuse against transgender people in Istanbul.
ILGA-Europe will visit Turkey in April to assess Turkey's compliance with its European and international human rights obligations toward LGBT people and to document the violence, discrimination, and other obstacles they face in Turkey. The organization has asked the authorities to discuss proposed measures to address the human rights concerns of the Turkish LGBT population.
"Turkey is witnessing ongoing violence and hate against LGBT people," said Silvan Agius, ILGA-Europe's senior policy officer responsible for transgender equality. "The Turkish government's response needs to address the problems at their roots by tackling the severe stigma against LGBT people, social exclusion and poverty on the one hand, and the culture of gender stereotypes that is driving the violence and hate on the other."