By Abdullah Bozkurt
Following the massive crackdown on civil society groups and non-governmental organizations that led to the arbitrary and summary closures of 1,325 foundations and associations in few months’ time, the repressive Islamist regime of Turkey set its eyes to strip the consultative status of leading NGOs at the United Nations (UN), bypassing established rules using its lobbying powers in select committees.
Exploiting the procedural flaws in the rules and abusing the membership status at the relevant UN bodies, Turkish representatives secured the revocation of consultative status for three prominent NGOs whose operations were shut down in Turkey. The proposals were accepted in the form of recommendations in violation of the established rules and procedures that required the UN Committee to give a chance for the NGOs and their administrators to respond to serious charges leveled against them by Turkish government. Sudan, Pakistan, China, and Venezuela were key enablers for Turkish government in successfully pushing through these proposals to withdraw consultative status for NGOs in Turkey and halting the considerations for such a status from another NGOs from Turkey.
At the special request from Turkey, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations on its 2017 regular session that was held from January 30 to February 24 recommended with the majority of votes the cancellation of the consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for leading charity group Kimse Yok Mu, press freedom advocacy group the Journalists and Writers’ Foundation (GYV) and the business group the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON).
Just like well over a thousand of other NGOs that were critical of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, all three organizations were branded by Turkey as terrorists or having linked to a terror group. Turkish government overnight declared one third of all its diplomats and judges as terrorist in the aftermath of failed coup bid on July 15, 2016, jailed 231 journalists on terror charges, imprisoned some 50,000 people on trumped charges and shut down NGOs, businesses, associations.
Yet Turkish government has so far failed to present any evidence linking these NGOs to any violence or terror. Citing the fact that these NGOs were shut down by the government with a decree-laws under the emergency rule and therefore they ceased to exist, Turkish diplomats at the UN asked the Committee to remove their consultative status with the UN without providing an opportunity for representatives from these NGOs to defend themselves against serious charges and make their case before the Committee.
In fact, as a result of Turkey’s lobbying efforts, the GYV which moved its operations from Turkey and registered itself as an NGO in the United States (US) was not even notified of impending vote on the revocation of its consultative status at the UN ECOSOC. Although the GYV is based its headquarters in New York, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations in its draft decision V asked the UN to “refrain from contacting or communicating with the three organizations whose legal status has ceased to exist and, based on that, whose consultative status was recommended for withdrawal at the 1st meeting of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, held on 30 January 2017.”
TURKEY ABUSED UN SYSTEM FOR PERSECUTION
The recommendations were adopted by majority despite the fact that the Secretary of the Committee explained that there had been a similar request regarding an NGO in consultative status two years earlier. At the time, the Committee had agreed to seek clarification from the NGO concerned before proceeding to a recommendation to withdraw its consultative status, which it did a week later, after receiving a response. However, Turkey asked for an immediate withdrawal of status of the NGOs, bypassing established precedents.
Turkey’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN mission, Güven Begeç, sent a letter to the Committee on January 23, 2017, requesting the withdrawal of consultative status of three NGOs, claiming that they are linked to Gülen movement, which was described by Turkish government calls as terrorist group FETÖ. The movement has been inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen who has been advocating science education, poverty reduction, community contribution, and interfaith and intercultural dialogue for decades. The movement promotes a moderate version of Islam with a heavy emphasis on public service and volunteer work for the community. It remains staunchly opposed to any violence or terrorism in the name of religion or a nationalism. The movement runs schools, universities and other institutions in some 180 countries.
Since Gülen has been a vocal critic of Turkish government and Erdoğan on massive corruption in the government as well as Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria and other countries, Turkish President launched an unprecedented persecution against Gülen and his followers in December 2013 right after major corruption probe that incriminated Erdoğan’s family members. Turkey’s Islamist leaders labelled the movement as ‘FETÖ’, a terrorist organization, although Gülen, 75-year old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather remained firmly opposed to any violence, radicalism and terror in the name of religion.
The persecution has apparently reached to the UN corridors with Turkish diplomats scrambling to undermine the status of independent and critical NGOs at the world body. Turkish government’s proposal to withdraw consultative status for three NGOs was supported by the representatives of Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Burundi, China, Sudan and Venezuela. The United States representative requested more information from Turkey with regard to these NGOs and asked for information and evidence on allegations that these NGOs were linked to any terror. She also said a response from the NGOs must be sought before taking any action on their status at the ECOSOC. However, the Committee decided against the United States’ proposal of postponing action on recommending to the Economic and Social Council the withdrawal of consultative status of the three NGOs. Israel supported the US position while Russia and Uruguay abstained.
Turkey also tried to revoke the status of all three NGOs in a single vote without taking up each one by one. The US remained opposed while Sudan endorsed Turkish position. In the end, a vote was called for each NGO separately. On charity group Kimse Yok Mu, the Committee decided to recommend the withdrawal of consultative status with 16 in favor to none against, with 2 abstentions (United States, Uruguay) and 1 absent (Israel). On TUSKON’s status, the representative reiterated its grave concern on crackdowns on NGOs in Turkey. Because the NGO in question did not exist, she said her delegation would abstain from voting. The Committee then agreed to recommend the withdrawal of consultative status from TUSKON by a vote of 16 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (United States, Uruguay) and 1 absent (Israel).
The most bizarre case was registered with the case of GYV which is operational in New York city. The US diplomat said that NGO was operational and it was based and operated in New York, in the United States. Turkish diplomat insisted however that the NGO listed as having a consultative status with the Council was registered as headquartered in İstanbul. The Committee decided, by a vote of 16 in favor to 2 against (Israel, United States), to recommend to the ECOSOC the withdrawal of consultative status of GYV.
UN SECRETARIAT WARNED ABOUT VIOLATIONS ON RULES
For its credit, the UN representative took a position on the votes, saying that rules of withdrawing status of an NGO which were clarified in article 56 of resolution 1996/31 stated that after a decision on the withdrawal of status was taken an NGO must be notified on the decision and shall be given “written reasons for that decision and have an opportunity to present its response” before the Committee. He said the next steps would be to provide reasons in writing for the Committee’s decision. Jorge Dotta from Uruguay who was re-elected to the chair on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, underlined that Article 56 cannot be ignored.
Turkish diplomat Ceren Hande Özgür who is also one of the vice chairs at the Committee, even objected to written notification, claiming NGOs were no longer in existence and therefore there is no need for notification. The US and the Secretariat objected to Turkish proposal, saying that rules are clear on the withdrawal process. The US diplomat said that the Committee’s role was to make a recommendation, with the Council having to make a decision. Turkey proposed to put the motion on vote, but the US objected to it saying that such a proposal would have a subsidiary body override the role of the parent body, ECOSOC. Such a vote would be beyond the competence of the Committee, he said. The Committee rejected the US proposal, by a vote of 2 in favor (Israel, United States) to 14 against, with 1 abstention (Uruguay) and 2 absent (Greece, Guinea). Taking up Turkey’s proposal, the Committee voted by 13 in favor to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 2 abstentions (Russian Federation, Uruguay) and 2 absent (Greece, Guinea).
The Article 56 of the UN Resolution No. 1996/31 which regulates consultative relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations states that “in cases where the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations has decided to recommend that the general or special consultative status of a non-governmental organization or its listing on the Roster be suspended or withdrawn, the non-governmental organization concerned shall be given written reasons for that decision and shall have an opportunity to present its response for appropriate consideration by the Committee as expeditiously as possible.”
Although all three NGOs were removed of their legal status in Turkey arbitrarily, the Committee could have very well communicated with their chief operating officers who were forced to move out of Turkey to avoid wrongful imprisonment. In at least one NGO case, the GYV moved its operations to New York city and its address was available to the UN ECOSOC Committee.
TURKEY TARGETS TWO MORE NGOS AT THE UN
Not only these three NGOs whose consultative status were recommended by the Committee for a withdrawal, Turkey also requested the UN to cancel pending applications from two other NGOs because they were also shut down by the government in Turkey. In a letter sent to the UN Committee on January 31, 2017, Turkey’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN mission Güven Begeç said ̇pending applications from Istanbul Fikir Araştırmaları Derneği and Hazar Strateji Enstitüsü Derneği must be rejected.
During the Committee meetings held on February 1 and 2, 2017, Turkey said both NGOs lost their legal status after closure by the decree-law of the government, their application for a consultative status with ECOSOC must be dropped. The US objected to these motions, asking whether there would be time for the organizations to respond before the Committee made its decision, in line with what had been done in the past. Turkey objected to notification, saying that these NGOs were no longer in existence. The Committee decided to revoke pending applications.
Among closed 1,325 associations and foundations ostensibly on terror charges in the last eight months alone by government decrees that are not subject to any effective judicial or legislative scrutiny, includes health, sports, education, charitable, unionist and other advocacy groups that apparently have nothing to do with terror or any other crime, such as the Anatolia Medical Ontology Foundation, the Gastrointestinal Oncology Foundation and the Health for Everyone Association. They were targeted because of unconstitutional profiling by the government, targeting critics, minorities, opponents and anybody else who is not willing to toe the line of the Islamist government in Turkey.
April 20, 2017