On January 28, 2020, the 3rd Cycle of Turkey’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
After opening remarks by the Turkish delegation headed by Ambassador Faruk Kaymakci, UN Member States made their recommendations to Turkey in the field of human rights. Some of them also expressed their concerns regarding the country’s deteriorating human rights record.
While Amb. Kaymakcı’s statements involved a frequent emphasis on the fight against terrorism and the “extraordinariness” of the circumstances Turkey found itself in after a failed coup in July 2016, many UN Members expressed criticism over widespread human rights abuses and silencing of dissent which are still ongoing years after the coup and the lifting of the state of emergency.
In terms of recommendations by European representatives, the issues related to independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and anti-terror legislation were the most recurrent themes.
In the recommendations, the governments called on Turkey to take measures aimed at stopping executive control on the judiciary, to review anti-terror laws in order to ensure freedom of expression and media, to respect citizens’ freedom to peaceful assembly, and to stop the prosecutions and intimidations targeting lawyers, journalists and civil society activists.
Czech Republic, Estonia, Switzerland and Italy brought up the allegations of torture in police custody, calling for an impartial investigation into them.
Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden along with the United States called for a end to the Turkish government’s systematic practice of removing elected Kurdish mayors from office and replacing them with pro-government trustees. Sweden recommended Turkey to release arbitrarily arrested Kurdish politicians.
Czech Republic, France and Greece urged Turkey to comply with European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments, presumably referring to the Turkish authorities’ refusal to release several arbitrarily imprisoned people, including businesspeople and politicians, in defiance of ECtHR orders for their release.
Portugal along with Argentina, Brazil and Honduras brought up the issue of enforced disappearances, calling for an investigation into the allegations. Portugal called on Turkey to sign the UN Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The recommendations pointed at a wide consensus among European governments that the Turkish judiciary suffers from a paralyzing executive control and that the Turkish government has systematically used the post-coup measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent.
Calls to bring anti-terror laws in line with international standards arguably recognized the problematic nature of the sweeping terrorism-related prosecutions at Turkish courts based on unsubstantial and/or absurd evidence.
On the other hand, it has been rather disheartening that the allegations of torture, which have been repeatedly reported by various credible sources such as Human Rights Watch, the Ankara Bar Association and the UN’s very own Special Rapporteur on Torture; were only brought up by four European governments during the review of a country with which the EU has been maintaining close relations.
In addition, allegations of enforced disappearances inside Turkey as well as the Turkish government’s practice of forcibly returning citizens from abroad through bypassing of internal judicial mechanisms and due process, have not been sufficiently addressed by EU members. Some of these unlawful returns have occurred in countries in the EU's neighborhood such as Moldova and Kosovo.
We are also concerned about the apparent failure to address the plight of over 100,000 people who were removed from public sector jobs without due process, as none of the EU governments brought up the fact that these people have not only lost their jobs, but also pushed to a situation of absolute social and professional exclusion which has been described as “civil death.”
Despite these shortcomings, the UPR has been instrumental in portraying the gravity of the human rights situation of Turkey. We expect the European governments to continue following these issues closely and to maintain them as priority issues in their relations with the Turkish government.