Human Rights Association: 33 years but still a long way to go

The Human Rights Association (IHD) was founded on 17 July 1986 by 98 people.It was established after military coup of 12 September by the families of prisoners who were arrested, tortured, forcibly disappeared by the junta regime. 

Over 650,000 people were detained and tortured, 173 people were tortured to death, newspapers, magazines, trade unions, associations, political parties were closed, political party leaders and lawmakers were taken into custody and arrested.

Tens of thousands of people held in martial law military prisons were subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and hunger strikes and death fasts of political prisoners came to the fore and many prisoners lost their lives under these conditions.

The founders of the IHD included relatives of prisoners, writers, journalists, publishers, academics, lawyers, physicians, architects, engineers, teachers.

Having entered its 33rd year, the IHD has been a pioneer in the struggle for rights since its establishment. The IHD supported the Saturday Mothers and exposed human rights violations taking place in Turkey.

Its headquarters was raided twice by Turkish nationalists. In one of them, former chair, Akin Birdal, was shot and injured. Its members were tried numberless times before Turkish courts on account of  ‘affecting the reputation of the Turkish state and insulting state officials’ by reporting human rights violations. Some of these members were imprisoned and even kidnapped and killed. 

IHD is also member of International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) and representing Turkey at International Criminal Court Commission of Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. 

With its more than 10 thousand members, 28 branches and 5 representative offices IHD is still working for human rights and democratisation. 

ANF talked to Gülseren Yoleri, President of the Istanbul Branch of İHD, about the 33-year long struggle of the IHD.

The IHD brought together all those who want rights and freedom

Yoleri said that the last 33 years have been a very challenging process. She recalled how at the time of the military coup, “the Human Rights Association had created an energy for the whole social opposition in terms of being a reaction place.” 

At the same time, she added, “the foundation of the association showed a truth: there were people from all layers of society who wanted to fight for human rights and freedom, but there was a need for a center, a place to bring them together. At such a point, the Human Rights Association was the center that brought together people defending the most basic and necessary freedom and rights of human beings.”

The struggle has always been hard

Yoleri recalled that writers, intellectuals, relatives of the prisoners had been among the founders of the association, and that the IHD brought all these people together.

“From that day to the present, – she said – it has been a hard struggle.” Yoleri explained the problems the IHD experienced with these words: “It was a journey because there was a lack of rights in the society which also affected human rights defenders. We lived the same repression. Even at times we experienced maybe a little more: human rights defenders had to speak where everyone was silenced. Because that was its mission. Therefore, because it was fulfilling this mission, the state has tried to silence human rights defenders many times. Our executives have been kidnapped, killed, lost, imprisoned and given high penalties. It was not an option to stop or be silent, not even in the worst of the military junta regime because this would have meant giving up our humanity, our human values. That’s why human rights defenders continue their journey. ”

Religion, gender, race, political views

Yoleri said that trust was one of the biggest gains of the Association since its inception, and added: “The human rights association has created important values ​​in this 33-year long journey. One of these is our working principles. We stood by those who suffered human rights violations. It is known by almost all segments of the society that we do make any discrimination. We don’t ask which religion or gender, or race is someone who had his or her rights violated. We don’t look at his/her political identity, ethnic identity, belief or gender. Our biggest advantage in this process is actually trust. We have an obligation to keep secrets; when the victim comes to our association, we do not share any information with anyone, unless he/she wants to.”

Still a long way to go, fascism is still here

Yoleri stated that the association will continue its struggle and that they have a purpose and that this is the protection of human rights and freedoms. Yoleri added that they dreamed that the attacks against human and rights and freedoms would stop and the abuses of rights would be completely eliminated, but unfortunately much is there to do.

For this, Yoleri pointed out that the IHD family should increase and said: “Human rights defenders need to continue on their path by strengthening themselves and the association.

Of course, human rights cannot be defended only by the Human Rights Association, but we can say that the IHD occupies a very important and indispensable place. Our journey is still long and very difficult because fascism interferes with our lives in other ways.”

Yoleri ended her remarks by saying: “Today, when we celebrate our 33rd anniversary, I want to call on everyone to join us and help us getting stronger. It is possible to become a member of our association, to become a member of its commissions, but also to work as an activist.”