Turkey: Council of Europe to increase monitoring

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision of PACE to increase its scrutiny over Turkey’s record on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

On 25 April, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), composed of elected national MPs from Council of Europe member states, voted 113 to 45 (with 12 abstentions) to resume full monitoring of Turkey’s compliance with its obligations as a signatory of the European Convention for Human Rights and other Council of Europe statutes.

The decision creates an opportunity for increased international dialogue with the Turkish authorities on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Full monitoring involves regular visits to Turkey by PACE members and more frequent plenary debates on human rights in the country, to generate an open discussion on progress and problems and to promote improvements with regard to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The decision to return to full monitoring was prompted by a report produced by PACE rapporteurs on Turkey, Ingebjørg Godsksen and Marianne Mikko, documenting the ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices within the country. The report raised major concerns about the implementation of the state of emergency, invoked in response to the failed coup attempt in July 2016, which has enabled widespread abuses of human rights, including violations of the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

The report focuses on the large-scale and disproportionate effect of emergency decree laws, which have been used to dismiss over 100,000 civil servants without due process; detain over 47,000 people, including judges, prosecutors and academics; and close over 160 media outlets. The decrees allow for very limited access to judicial remedies, and have also affected due process rights by increasing the time a detainee may be held without charge and restricting access to lawyers.

The report also raised major concerns about the detention of parliamentarians and journalists – there are now more than 150 journalists in jail – and about the dire situation for freedom of expression in south-east Turkey. Moreover the report notes that the independence of the judiciary has been severely weakened, suggesting limited prospects for the right to a fair trial.

Turkey was last under full monitoring in 2004. It will remain under monitoring, until PACE members are satisfied that Turkey has addressed the concerns raised in the report.

The decision comes at a critical point for Turkey, following a referendum on the Turkish Constitution on 16 April. President Erdogan has declared victory in the referendum, which grants him significantly increased presidential powers. Prior to the referendum, the Venice Commission, another Council of Europe body comprised of independent legal experts, warned that the constitutional changes would “lead to an excessive concentration of executive power in the hands of the president and the weakening of parliamentary control of that power”, creating a system which “lacks the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against becoming an authoritarian [regime].” The referendum took place under a state of emergency, and was marred by widespread violations of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights.

Given this station, the Assembly had little choice but to vote to return to full monitoring. In addition to creating opportunities for dialogue, PACE’s decision sends a strong message to Turkey, demonstrating the Assembly’s firm commitment to holding the authorities accountable for their repeated failure to respect Turkey’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.

Turkey has responded angrily to PACE’s decision, stating that it was motivated by ‘xenophobia and Islamophobia’; however, the full monitoring procedure must now be used to press for real reform in Turkey. PACE, along with Turkey’s other international partners, must use this opportunity to push for an end to the state of emergency and the reinstatement of rights and freedoms curtailed by the emergency decrees; the immediate and unconditional release of all writers, journalists and media workers detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression; and guarantees for the independence of the judiciary.