UN Human Rights Bodies Silent on Turkey’s Massive Crackdown

By Patrick Goodenough | July 19, 2016 | 4:40 AM EDT

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan display his portrait on the day his AKP party won back its majority in elections on November 1, 2015. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – A crackdown following the Turkish coup attempt has seen thousands detained or suspended, but the United Nations’ human rights apparatus remains silent even as the Obama administration continues to voice its public support for Turkey’s “democratically elected government.”

According to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, more than 7,500 members of the military and judiciary have been detained, including Supreme Court judges, prosecutors, and senior military officers, including dozens of generals.

Meanwhile the Interior Ministry has suspended almost 9,000 officials, including 30 provincial and 47 district governors, almost 8,000 police officers, and more than 600 officers in the gendarmerie (soldiers carrying out policing duties), the Anadolu Agency state news agency reported.

The clampdown comes after the abortive weekend coup attempt, but Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has drawn increasing criticism over recent years for autocratic measures including suppression of freedom of expression and assembly.

(Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Frontiers’ 2016 world press freedom index – a poor ranking for a NATO member that aspires to join the European Union.)

The last Turkish general election, held last November, also drew some criticisms from European observers.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the administration has from the outset “been very clear that we stand with the democratically elected government of Turkey.”

It had also offered to help the Turks in their attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice, he added.

Toner declined to comment on the high number of detainees.

“I don’t want to comment necessarily on the 20,000 [reported detentions] or this move or that move,” he said. “What I want to speak to broadly is that we have cautioned against a reach – if you will – that goes beyond a legitimate effort to bring these perpetrators to justice.”

Toner stressed the importance of the Turkish government remaining “true to the democratic ideals that they hold dear.”

‘Complete radio silence’

Despite the crackdown, there has been no public reaction from the U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein or from U.N. entities in Geneva that focus specifically on arbitrary detentions and judicial independence.

A Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the U.N.’s human rights bodies, U.N. Watch, called for them to speak out.

“Never before in modern history has a democracy ordered the arbitrary removal of thousands of judges, only to be met with complete radio silence from the entire U.N. human rights system,” said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

That “silence,” he said, had emanated from the high commissioner, the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s “special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers” and from the “working group on arbitrary detention.”

“The Turkish government’s massive purge and ongoing round-up of thousands of judges, prosecutors, police officials, military officers and soldiers, gives every indication that these lists were prepared in advance, just waiting to be used at the opportune moment,” said Neuer.

“There is no modern precedent for a democracy – let alone one that sought E.U. membership – to trample the rule of law on this scale with the removal of thousands of judges, and by carrying out thousands of arbitrary detentions.”

Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gulen and his supporters of being behind the coup attempt. Gulen condemned the coup and denied any involvement.

‘Democratically elected government’

The U.S. and other governments have expressed support throughout for the Turkish government, although not without resistance from some quarters.

An attempt to get the U.N. Security Council to issue a weekend statement condemning the violence failed when Egypt, one of ten non-permanent members serving a two-year term, objected to the phrase “the democratically elected government of Turkey” in a text drafted by the U.S.

Council statements must be adopted by consensus, so Egypt’s objections stymied the effort. Egypt’s envoy told Reuters he proposed alternative language calling on all parties in Turkey to “respect the democratic and constitutional principles and the rule of law,” but it was not accepted.

(There is no love lost between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood whose rule Sisi ended in a mid-2013. Sisi came to power by unconstitutional means, although a year later won an election by a landslide. His government’s human rights record has also been criticized.)

Erdogan, who served as Turkey’s prime minister from 2003, was elected president in 2014. In a general election held in June 2015 he hoped his Islamist AKP party would win a majority large enough to push through constitutional changes to turn the presidency into an executive one.

Instead the AKP fared poorly in an election that resulted in a hung parliament. After coalition negotiations broke down Erdogan called for new elections, which were held last November.

The AKP’s majority was restored in those elections, but foreign monitors voiced doubts that the vote was free and fair

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers expressed concerns, citing violent incidents, attacks against candidates hindering their ability to campaign freely, and media freedom restrictions.

An observer mission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a body that comprises lawmakers from national European parliaments, said while the elections themselves were well organized “the election campaign was characterized by unfairness and, to a serious degree, fear.”

On Monday, PACE president Pedro Agramunt in a statement voiced unease at the Turkish crackdown.

While it was important to bring those responsible to justice, he said, “to protect democratic institutions, it is equally important that the relevant legal procedures are carried out in accordance with the rule of law and human rights standards” to which Turkey has subscribed.

“In this context, the swift dismissal and arrest of thousands of judges, prosecutors, police officers and senior civil servants raises questions,” Agramunt said.


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow