Last Updated On: Sep 25 2021 AHVAL NEWS
Following its four-day sessions in Geneva, the “Turkish Tribunal” convicted the Erdoğan government for its fundamental human rights violations in Turkey.
A total of 15 witnesses were heard during the four-day hearings over the torture, enforced disappearances and abductions of dissidents from abroad, freedom of press and expression, right of access to justice, impunity and crimes against humanity committed by the Turkish government.
Presiding judge Françoise Baroness Tulkens stated that the decision is not legally binding but may serve as a source for possible future investigations.
Tulkens said that the witnesses bravely spoke about their experiences and that the tribunal concluded that there is systematic and organized torture in Turkey. Tulkens urged the Turkish government to abide by international treaties against torture, to which it is a signatory.
The Turkey Tribunal Judges on Friday gave their final opinion on whether there is sufficient evidence to judge that the Turkish state is responsible for gross violations of human rights and if they qualify as crimes against humanity.
On Monday, the Turkey Tribunal, a not-for-profit human rights organization registered in Belgium, began a tribunal on the human rights violations committed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.
The four-day tribunal in Geneva addressed violations that included torture, forced disappearances, abductions from foreign countries, freedom of press and expression, among others, with accounts from 15 witnesses.
The Turkey Tribunal, a symbolic international tribunal, said that the acts of torture and enforced disappearances committed in Turkey could amount to crimes against humanity.
Five observers followed the Turkey Tribunal to ensure that the impartiality and independence of the court were witnessed and heard the testimony of witnesses who have been victims of human rights violations.
The judges of the Turkey Tribunal have found out that “there is a systematic and organized use of torture in Turkey, particularly against people perceived to be linked with or supportive of the Kurdish people and the Gülen movement”.
The Tribunal maintained that domestic enforced disappearances are conducted by Turkey’s intelligence service (MIT) officials or other individuals working with or for the Turkish state. Moreover, the complaints of these enforced disappearances are not effectively investigated by Turkey.
Concerning press freedom, the judges said that “Turkey does not meet its obligations under international law”. It referred to the plight of imprisoned journalists and recurring physical and mental violence inflicted on members of the press.
The judges highlighted “a persistent and prevailing culture of impunity in Turkey”.
“The Tribunal cannot be seen as an initiative against Turkey, but as an initiative in favour of the protection of human rights,” said Prof. Dr Rik Van Walle, rector of the University of Ghent.
The Tribunal revealed that the Turkish government tried to have the event cancelled. However, its attempts to silence the Turkey Tribunal failed.
The Turkey Tribunal was watched each day by approximately 70,000 people on the YouTube channel from 85 countries. On Twitter, it reached more than one million impressions and peaked at 1,404,828 on Thursday.
“This unprecedented level of interest in the Turkey Tribunal proceedings has shown the need to break the silence and examine this enormous body of evidence in a legal and forensic fashion,” the head of the Turkey Tribunal, Professor Dr. em. Johan Vande Lanotte, Belgian Minister of State (hon title), maintained.
“This tribunal has finally given a loud voice to all of the millions of Turkish people who have been forced to suffer such human rights violations,” he added.
Vande Lanotte further said that the Tribunal would move forward to take the Turkish government to the International Criminal Court. The Tribunal may also use individual files for an application to the Magnitsky Act.
The Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 2012, authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.
Turkey has been suffering from heightened rights violations since the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government. Some 80,000 people were jailed and over 150,000 dismissed from their state jobs over vaguely defined, broad terror or coup-plotting charges.
The summary of the tribunal’s finding is reproduced below:
Firstly the Tribunal acknowledges the courage shown by the witnesses during their testimony and their contribution to breaking the silence. The Tribunal hopes that its Opinion will inspire and encourage the improvement of respect for and the protection of the human dignity and rights of all.
Opinion on torture in Turkey
- The Tribunal is of the view that there is a systematic and organised use of torture in Turkey, particularly against people perceived to be linked with or supportive of the Kurdish people and the Gülen movement, as well as people suspected of ordinary crimes.
- The Tribunal reiterates the obligation of the Turkish state to take measures to prevent and to investigate allegations of ill-treatment and deems that the conduct of Turkey is not in conformity with its obligations under international law.
Opinion on enforced disappearances of Turkish citizens
- The alleged victims are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and outside a formal legal procedure; Turkish governmental officials are at least indirectly by acquiescence, involved in their deprivation of liberty; and the Turkish authorities refuse to disclose the fate and whereabouts of the persons concerned. Therefore, as understood under international law, the abductions amount to enforced disappearances.
- The Tribunal is of the opinion that the subsequent disappearance for a prolonged period of time and arbitrary detention is not in conformity with international law. Based upon the information presented to the Tribunal, there are reasonable grounds to come to the conclusion that domestic enforced disappearances are conducted by MIT officials or other individuals working with or for the Turkish State.
- The Tribunal notes that Turkey publicly recognizes its involvement and thus its responsibility in regard to enforced disappearances in countries other than Turkey itself.
- The Tribunal is of the opinion that the complaints and allegations of these enforced disappearances are not effectively investigated.
- The Tribunal concludes that Turkey does not act in conformity with its positive obligation to investigate under international law and that there exists no effective protection of the rights to liberty, personal integrity and life of perceived opponents of the government
Opinion on Suppression of Press Freedom in Turkey
- The Tribunal is of the opinion that the repression against the press and freedom of expression points to a larger policy of the State to silence critical voices and limit people’s access to information.
- The Tribunal is of the opinion that the conduct of Turkey, as far as press freedom is concerned, does not meet its obligations under international law.
- This Tribunal acknowledges with concern the following:
o the plight of journalists kept in pretrial or long-term detention; the prosecutions and severe convictions for insult or defamation of the president or state; the criminalisation of journalists covering Kurdish and Armenian issues; the recurring physical and mental violence inflicted upon members of the press and media; the application of ambiguous defamation, insult and terrorism law provisions against them; the abuse of emergency powers, as well as the direct and ongoing interference by State authorities in the internal affairs of the journalistic profession.
o The Tribunal is of the opinion that the conduct of Turkey, as far as press freedom is concerned, does not meet its obligations under international law.
Opinion on Impunity in Turkey
- The Tribunal is of the opinion that there has been a persistent and prevailing culture of impunity in Turkey and acknowledges the Report’s identification of five interconnected causes which contribute to impunity and show the organised and institutionalised nature of the problem:
(i) the deficient legal structure,
(ii) the political rhetoric reinforcing the patterns of impunity
(iii) the lack of political will to hold state agents accountable
(iv) the ineffective and delayed investigations by prosecutors
(v) the lack of an independent judiciary.
- The Tribunal notes that the lack of effective investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances is the result of the unwillingness of prosecutors to initiate investigations into crimes committed by state officials.
- The Tribunal is of the view that the persistent and prevailing impunity for serious human rights violations is not in conformity with Turkey’s obligations under international law. Further, this impunity sustains and even fosters the systematic and organised use of torture and enforced disappearances in Turkey.
Independence of the judiciary and access to justice
- The Tribunal notes the adoption of multiple (amendments to) laws that disrupted the independence of the judiciary.
- The Tribunal notes with concern the mass dismissals of approximately 4.560 judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of the attempted coup d’état
- The Tribunal notes that multiple judges and prosecutors who had adopted decisions or performed investigations disapproved by the government, were summarily arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on suspicion of membership of a terrorist organization after the attempted coup d’État. This constitutes, in the view of the Tribunal, a severe intimidation of the judiciary.
- The Tribunal refers in this regard to the national anti-terror criminal provisions, which are too vague and overly broadly interpreted, as observed by the ECtHR
- The Tribunal notes the extensive limitations of the right of defense, especially in anti-terror cases, introduced by emergency decrees, which in its opinion are not in conformity with the international human rights obligations of Turkey.
- In the view of the Tribunal and referring to the lack of independence of the judiciary as well as the prevailing culture of impunity, effective access to justice and thus the protection of fundamental human rights in the current state of the judicial system in Turkey is illusory.
Crimes against humanity
- The Tribunal is of the view that, at least since the attempted coup d’État in July 2016, the acts of torture and enforced disappearances have occurred in a systematic and organised manner. As a result, the Tribunal is of the view that these acts of torture and enforced disappearances cannot be viewed as mere isolated occurrences. Rather, in the opinion of the Tribunal, they are to be considered as part of a widespread and systematic attack against any civilian population that has taken place in Turkey at least since July 2016.
- Thus, the Tribunal is of the view that the acts of torture and enforced disappearances committed in Turkey, in applications brought before an appropriate body and subject to the proof of the specific knowledge and intent of the accused, could amount to crimes against humanity.