Subsistence Rights and Cultural Heritage Rights in the case of Hasankeyf: Human Rights Violations Perpetrated by the Turkish Government

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 25:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the even to unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or the lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control

Article 27:

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

These are two articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This report will examine how the construction of the Ilisu Dam in southeastern Turkey violates these articles, specifically, the subsistence rights and cultural rights of the people in this region. For the purpose of this paper subsistence rights will be defined according to the definition of Wolfgang Sachs, the right to nourishment, health, housing and livelihood.[i] Cultural rights will be defined as the right to take part in cultural life and see that culture conserved and developed.

The report will first look at the socio-economic effects of the dam and how the forced resettlement that has been carried out in order to construct the dam prevents those living within its vicinity from the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing, as well as to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

The detrimental effects of the dam on the environment and relation to human rights will be discussed in terms of subsistence rights and how transforming the environment will impact the subsistence rights of the people of southeastern Turkey. According to Wolfgang Sachs, human rights and the environment come into play when a people’s subsistence is dependent upon the right to use natural spaces. A third of humans rely directly upon nature and access to fields, forests, pastures, and water for their livelihoods making the environment an important factor in today’s human rights issues.[ii]

This dam project additionally will destroy a site of huge cultural and historical significance. According to international human rights law, governments are obligated to work for the conservation of cultural activities and artifacts. People have a right to their cultural heritage, to know where it is that they came from, and to be able to enjoy their culture freely. This dam project directly threatens the town of Hasankeyf, a place of great historical significance and endangers the right of minority groups to maintain their cultural traditions. This report will further examine the ways in which the project violates cultural rights.

In June 2014, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled “We Suffered When We Came Here.[iii]” The report was written about a dam project in Tajikistan that has led to the forced displacement of thousands of people from the new reservoir area. Inside the report, the harmful effects of the dam are meticulously detailed, including the social, economic, and environmental effects the dam has had and will have on the region. This project is strikingly similar to the Ilisu Dam project. Due to their obvious similarities, I will use the report published by Human Rights Watch as the main reference when discussing recommendations for the Turkish government in terms of resettlement and maintaining the rights and dignity of those they have forcibly resettled.