Berkin Elvan’s death raises children’s rights issues

18 Mart 2014

Berkin Elvan’s death raises children’s rights issues

The 15-year-old’s death after spending months in a coma sparked protests.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul — 18/03/14

Last week’s death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who was mortally injured during last year’s protest and spent months in a coma, has put children’s rights on the public agenda.

Adem Arkadas-Thibert, child rights policy and advocacy officer from the International Children’s Centre at Bilkent University, said any violation of a child’s right to develop and reach full potential is a violation to their right to life under the UN convention on children’s rights.

“As a child, Berkin had a right to be heard and participate in all democratic decision making processes. He had a right to form his opinion freely and express it freely. He had a right to freedom from violence (not only protection from it), he had a right to peaceful assembly and he was the holder of all rights the Convention enshrines and Turkey is the duty bearer for his rights because Turkey committed itself legally to the Convention,” Arkadas-Thibert told SES Türkiye.

Elvan was buried March 12th, nine months after he was struck on the head by a tear gas canister fired at a protest in Istanbul while he was on his way to buy bread. No arrests have been made in his death, which sparked additional demonstrations last week in dozens of cities.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters as Elvan’s casket was carried through Istanbul. His was the eighth death connected to last spring’s protests that began in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters on Saturday that street violence would not be tolerated.

“We will never let the streets become battlegrounds,” he said.

Arkadas-Thibert said there is a culture of impunity, especially regarding crimes against children.

Speaking at a party meeting in Eskisehir, Justice and Development Party (AKP) Women’s Branch Head Guldal Aksit said families should take further responsibilities over the security of their children.

“A child at that age should not be at the protest squares. Whatever the reason is, no child should be pushed or encouraged to go to the protest ground. But he is a youngster, we may understand it. However, I call parents to protect their children, at this age when they don’t have any political affiliation, to go after their excitements and to lose their life. I don’t accept this and I see this with sorrow,” Aksit said.

Merih Ozkan, 32, a social media analyst who attended the protests in Istanbul after Elvan’s funeral, said Turkey does not protect children’s lives and the government takes this issue from an ideological perspective.

“Even children can be threats according to our rulers who believe politics come before human life. This situation creates nothing but fear among a significant part of the citizens,” Ozkan told SES Türkiye.

Other children have also died in protests. In 2009, 18-month-old Mehmet Uytun died after being hit by a canister during a police intervention at a demonstration in the southeastern province of Cizre. He was playing on the balcony of his house when the incident took place.

In 2011, 13-year-old Dogan Teyboga was killed after being hit in the head with a tear gas canister during unrest in the southeastern town of Silopi.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, said that given the way demonstrations are policed, there is a risk of injury to children and adults alike, whether they are bystanders or participants.

“Children and young people have been among the biggest groups taking part in the demonstrations. The fact that Berkin is a child makes it particularly difficult for the public in Turkey to come to terms with what has happened,” Gardner told SES Türkiye.

UNICEF Turkey issued a statement March 12th, the day of Elvan’s funeral.

“It is the state’s responsibility to protect and promote every child’s inherent right to life, by intervening against all forms of violence against children, holding perpetrators of such violence accountable and exercising due diligence whenever children are threatened or at risk.

“UNICEF sincerely hopes that recent and up-coming decisions of both national and regional human rights mechanisms on cases of extreme violence and preventable child deaths in Turkey will contribute to strengthen the culture of peace, protection and justice for children,” it added.

Correspondent Burak Sayin in Istanbul contributed to this report.