Guest blog post by Ramazan Guveli, Executive Director of Dialogue Platform.
As the European Commission’s progress report on Turkey is due to be announced soon there is no doubt that there will be little ‘progress’ to report on Turkey’s accession to the EU. Rather, it is expected to list a number of areas where it has gone backwards, although it may prefer to phrase it as stagnation. Erdogan’s visit to Brussels on 4-6th October will take place under the shadow of increasingly worrying reports coming out of Turkey concerning the government’s human rights violations and onslaught againt the media. That said, business is business and there will be other priorities on the table such as the refugee crisis, Syria and ISIS that is likely to once again mitigate the EU’s response to Turkey.
On Monday, Owen Bowcott, the Guardian’s legal correspondent, broke an exclusive story on a new report detailing the systematic human rights violations by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) against Turkey’s media, judiciary, and police. The Guardian journalist described the 95 page-long report as “scathing” in its criticism of the AKP’s actions against its critics, whose appetite for genuine accession to the European Union seems to be waning with every passing day. The report identifies the Fethullah Gulen-inspired Hizmet movement as one the AKP’s primary human rights victims, the other being the media. The report details how the government pursues Hizmet-affiliated media, schools and those it claims to be sympathetic to Hizmet within the police, judiciary and public office purging 40,000 employees from public position, led by mass arrests and extensive periods of unlawful detention.
Having read the report, I have four observations that I feel are important to share. The first concerns its authors. The report was drafted by a team of four lawyers representing some of the best legal minds the English judiciary has to offer: Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, Sir Edward Garnier QC, the Conservative MP and former Solicitor General, Prof Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, former UK member of the Venice Commission and Knighted for services to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, and Sarah Palin, a barrister specializing in media law. For those who may not know, the Lord Chief justice is the highest judge of the courts in England and Wales and the head of the judiciary. The position of Solicitor General, one of the law officers of the Crown, is also one of the most senior legal positions in the land. I imagine that some will find it dubious that the report was commissioned by a Gulen-inspired organization, given that it is identified as the primary victim, however the impartiality and repute of the authors is undisputed and consequently, the findings and justification of the report speaks for itself.
As such, my second observation concerns their unanimous conclusion: “From the perspective of international human rights law, we consider that the Turkish government has perpetrated significant human rights violations against supporters of the Gülen movement that would justify legal action before the European Court of Human Rights, in the absence of suitable remedies in Turkey.” Turkey is a EU-candidate country since 2004 yet here it is being taken to task by four British lawyers for effectively attempting a sociological purge of an entire community. Surely the EU accession process for a candidate country is not supposed to work backwards and of course the responsibility here is on the Turkish government. That said, does the EU have no responsibility at all? Could it not do more are legitimate questions to ask.
Thirdly, it is worth noting that much about Turkey is presented in a rather convoluted manner. That goes for Turkish TV debates and even Turkish judicial documents including indictments. However, this report, as you would expect, is written in a methodical, meticulous, point-by-point style deconstructing the issues at hand while being mindful of the wider political and legal context. It is not rushed and is not hyperbolic. It is what it should be: clear and straightforward and in that is pleasant welcome in light of so much of the opposite that we face when it comes to Turkey. It will be interesting to see if the forthcoming EU progress report on Turkey due to be published in mid-October will have picked up on what these British lawyers describe as “systematic human rights violations”, hate crime and discrimiantion.
Lastly, it was only a matter of time before such a report surfaced, as it is only a matter of time before these matters reach the European Court of Human Rights. If anything it’s surprising it has taken this long since, as the report states, President Erdogan and his government have been hounding Hizmet since December 2013. What is peculiar is that although European leaders and representatives of the European Union have voiced various criticism against the AKP government, in particular on press freedom, they have not publicly objected to the comprehensive and systematic human rights violations against the Hizmet movement en masse. Erdogan has self-confessed that his onslaught against Hizmet is indeed a “witch-hunt” and that Hizmet participants are “blood-sucking leaches” which must be eliminated by being “vaporized and split into their molecules”. His actions have been no less brutal than his words.
So why does the European Union remain silent? Have we not learnt from the past lessons about what happens when we turn a blind eye towards such systematic persecutions of entire communities? Is it not time for the European Union to stand up for its values?
Hopefully, this report will help it do just that, before it is too late.Blogactiv Team