Kurds, refugees, women and minorities all face severe rights abuses in Turkey, the US State Department finds, while Turkish-occupied regions of Syria are also the site of abuses aimed at displacing the Kurdish population.

The US State Department has highlighted a broad range of severe rights abuses in Turkey and Turkish-occupied regions of Syria, in their annual report on Human Rights Practices in nations across the globe. The report particularly spotlighted “Restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression prior to the May presidential and parliamentary election,” alongside a broad range of “significant human rights issues,” detailing multiple individual instances of abuse throughout a document running to nearly 100 pages.

In the annual report, Turkey was further blamed for “enforced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals in another country; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence and threats of violence against journalists.”

These abuses particularly targeted refugees and the Kurdish minority, the State Department found, while also pointing to interference with the judiciary, the restriction of the civil sphere, and gender-based violence and discrimination against women as particular issues.

More than 95,000 Turkish citizens were detained following the country’s failed 2016 coup event, the report recalled, further noting that tens of thousands of people were arbitrarily detained in the country, including opposition politicians, lawyers and journalists, many of them Kurdish, as well as a US embassy employee. “NGOs estimate that approximately 8,500 people are detained or imprisoned after conviction, especially for their alleged links to the PKK,” the report’s authors found, adding that observers believe that a significant portion of those detained for journalistic activities, human rights advocacy, or terrorism are in fact political detainees.

The government’s efforts to respond to these issues were described as “limited”. In particular, “the government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counterterrorism operations” against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the report found.

“Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations,” the report stated. “There were several attacks against ethnic Kurds that human rights organisations alleged were racially motivated.”

The comprehensive report also detailed particular instances of abuse, for example noting that a 27-year-old man died after being beaten by police following the country’s devastating February 2023 earthquakes. The report further argued that people affiliated to the PKK were more likely to be subjected to ill-treatment or abuse in custody, along with members of the country’s banned Gülen movement, blamed for the failed coup attempt.

“Authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of abuse and mistreatment, but generally did not publicly document the results of those investigations or publicly state whether action was taken to hold perpetrators accountable,” the report’s authors found.

Addressing the situation in Turkish-occupied regions of northern Syria, meanwhile, the US said: “Abuses by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey in the northern region of the country reportedly focused on Kurdish and Yazidi residents and other civilians, and included: killings; abduction and disappearance of civilians; physical abuse, including sexual violence; forced displacement from homes; looting and seizure of private property; transfer of detained civilians across the border into Turkey; recruitment or use of child soldiers; and looting and desecration of religious sites.”

These attacks on Kurds and other minorities were represented as civil society actors as part of a broader pattern of “forcible demographic change” implemented at Turkey’s behest, the report added. In a statement, the Turkish authorities denied the accusations and accused the USA of hypocrisy regarding human rights violations in their own country.