Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition Urges the Government of Turkey to Stop Denying Civilians Access to Medical Services

02/23/2016
map showing Turkey

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition urges the government of Turkey to cease denying civilians access to health services in areas of conflict in southeastern Turkey.

According to numerous reports, government-imposed curfews and other restrictions on civilian movement have prevented wounded and sick civilians from obtaining urgently-needed health and rescue services. These restrictions have resulted in security forces blocking ambulance transport for sick or wounded civilians—sometimes for days—as well as other impediments to accessing health care. As a result, people in need of urgent medical attention have sometimes been trapped in buildings and many have died from inability to reach medical care.

The coalition sent a letter to Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu. The text of the letter follows:

Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu, 

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition is a group of international nongovernmental organizations working to protect health workers, services, and infrastructure from violence. We urge the government of Turkey to cease denying civilians access to health services in areas of conflict in southeastern Turkey.

According to numerous independent and credible reports, over the past six months longstanding government-imposed curfews and other restrictions on civilian movement have prevented wounded and sick civilians from obtaining urgently-needed health and rescue services. These restrictions have resulted in security forces blocking ambulance transport for sick or wounded civilians—sometimes for days—as well as other impediments to accessing health care. As a result, people in need of urgent medical attention have sometimes been trapped in buildings and many have died from inability to reach medical care. We understand that more than 100 civilians have died as a direct result of the conflict.

Human Rights Watch reported that people in Cizre and Silvan were told by emergency services that it was not possible for an ambulance to come for the injured and that police blocked them when they tried to take wounded victims to hospitals by private vehicles. The situation is compounded by security forces’ attacks on civilians and by government interference with, and in some case reprisals against, individuals who have reported on these restrictions. 

Minister of Health Mehmet Müezzinoğlu has condemned attacks on ambulances and health facilities, which he attributed to the PKK. But such attacks do not relieve your government of the obligation to permit transport and evacuation of the sick and wounded as required as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Turkey has ratified.

We therefore urge you to direct Turkish officials and security forces to ensure that people in need have access to high-quality medical care, including access to ambulance services, under all circumstances, including during curfews, without interference by security forces.

We also urge you to conduct an investigation of security forces’ activities in southeastern Turkey and end restrictions on health professionals and independent human rights organizations to monitor security forces’ activities and assure access to medical care for all in need.  

Finally, we are disturbed by prosecutors opening investigations into protests by Turkish health professionals and academics on the conduct of security forces. Freedom of expression is essential to the protection of health care and we also urge that these investigations and potential prosecutions cease.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Leonard Rubenstein
Chair, Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition