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UN committee deeply concerned about Ilisu dam

Human rights based approach demanded for dam projects in Turkey
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By CounterCurrent, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, and Doğa Derneği | Potsdam, May 21 2011

One of the major human rights committees of the United Nations voices its deep concern about the construction of the Ilisu dam as well as other dam projects in Turkey. With this, the committee reacts to reports by civil society organisations on numerous human rights violations connected to dam construction.

For three weeks the committee for economic, social and cultural rights assessed the compliance of Turkey and four other countries with its obligations under the UN Social Covenant. In its final document, published on May 20, the committee urges the Turkish government to completely review its legislation on evictions, resettlement and compensation, and to take a human rights based approach into account in its infrastructure development projects, especially dams.

„The UN committee confirms that the Turkish government is obliged by international law to change its complete policy on resettlement and expropriation", Ercan Ayboğa, international spokes person of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, gladly states. „Up to now, the affected population received token compensation and were settled in villages where they had neither income nor a future. This must change now!"

Besides the Ilisu dam, for which the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland granted public guarantees in 2007, but withdrew them two years later, the Turkish government plans to construct almost 2,000 dams and hydro-electric power plants within the next twelve years, which might affect up to two million people. „Taking a human rights based approach into account means that those affected can fully and effectively participate in the planning of projects, that their rights to an adequate standard of living, to health and access to their cultural goods are respected", explains Heike Drillisch, coordinator of CounterCurrent, the Ilisu campaign in Germany. A report by CounterCurrent in cooperation with several initiatives in Turkey had induced the UN committee to reprehend Turkey in its concluding observations that these rights have been completely ignored by the Turkish government until now.

„This document of the United Nations once again shows the unavoidable and urgent need for establishing a new legal system. The current discussions regarding a new constitution must be used as an opportunity to draft provisions which recognize fundamental human rights and guarantee that ecosystems and communities can exist and flourish in Turkey as it had been the case in Hasankeyf for thousands of years", Engin Yılmaz, General Director of the Turkish nature association Doğa Derneği, states.

„The right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right. We will not cease to resist the complete destruction of our waters which the government currently pushes for", confirms Ayşegül Özpınar, a representative of the Great March of Anatolia, a protest march arriving in Ankara today. For several weeks, activists and dam affected people from all parts of the country marched towards the capital to demonstrate against the destruction of nature in Anatolia.


Besides the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights as well as on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights belong to the central human rights instruments of the United Nations. The respective committees periodically assess states' compliance with their obligations under the covenants. Turkey has ratified the Social Covenant in 2003. In its 46th session from 2 - 20 Mai 2011 the committee questioned the governments of Turkey, Germany, Moldova, Russian Federation and Yemen.

The concluding observation and recommendation of the committee on economic, social and cultural rights regarding dams in Turkey reads as follows (cf.

26.     The Committee is deeply concerned at the potential impact of the Ilisu dam under construction, as well as other dams, on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the areas concerned, especially with regard to forced evictions, resettlements, displacement, and compensation of people affected as well as the environmental and cultural impacts of the construction of these dams. (art. 11, 12 and 15)
The Committee urges the State party to take account of a human-rights based approach in its infrastructure development projects, especially dams, and to undertake a complete review of its legislation and regulations on evictions, resettlement and compensation of the people affected by these construction projects, especially the Ilisu dam, in line with the Committee's general comment No. 7 on forced evictions (1997).

The report "Dam construction in Turkey and its impact on economic, cultural and social rights" is available at as well as

Information on the "Great March of Anatolia":


Heike Drillisch, CounterCurrent (GegenStrömung), +49(0)177 - 345 2611,
Ercan Ayboğa, Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, +49(0)163 - 757 7847,
Engin Yılmaz, Doğa Derneği, +90(0)549 - 860 2766,
Ayşegül Özpınar,

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