OSCE/ODIHR final report on Turkey’s referendum recommends reviewing legal framework to secure fundamental rights and freedoms

The final report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on Turkey’s April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum, published on Thursday, recommends reviewing the legal framework to guarantee respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Free and equal participation of all stakeholders, including civil society, in all aspects of the referendum process should be ensured, the report says.

The report states that the referendum took place on an unlevel playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities. Under the existing state of emergency, fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed and voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, the report says. It further notes that while technical aspects of the referendum were generally well administered, late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard.

The report points out that in a state of emergency, legislation should ensure that rights and freedoms are only limited to the extent strictly necessary for the exigencies of the emergency.

To enhance the integrity of and public confidence in the referendum process, the report recommends that authorities implement safeguards to ensure a clear separation between the state and political parties, and prevent public officials from using the advantage of their office for campaigning purposes.

The report notes that one side’s dominance in media coverage, as well as the media restrictions, reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views. Authorities should refrain from applying anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute journalists based solely on the content of their reporting.

To provide for an effective means of redress, the report recommends that decisions of the Supreme Board of Elections be subject to judicial review. Additional recommendations relate to amending legislation to explicitly provide for the presence of observers, both international and citizen.

For referendum day observation, ODIHR was joined by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

June 24, 2017

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