Panel discusses Turkey’s dire human rights situation on sidelines of UN meeting

A panel of experts on Monday tackled Turkey’s human rights record on the occasion of the 56th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, highlighting the total collapse of the country’s justice system, the TR724 news website reported.

Held at the UN office in Geneva, the event, titled “Human Rights in Türkiye: The Independence of the Judiciary,” was organized by the International Association for Human Rights Advocacy (IAHRA) and moderated by former UN official Ricardo Espinosa.

It featured presentations by human rights experts Elodie Tranchez, Valerie Ramos, Johan Vande Lanotte and Çiğdem Koç, as well as Ayşegül Dilber, a former Turkish judge who was one of thousands of members of the judiciary summarily removed from the bench as part of a post-coup purge after July 2016.

Tranchez underlined the arbitrariness in the purge of judges and prosecutors after the failed coup, emphasizing the use of subjective and fraudulent evidence.

She also pointed out that Turkey’s domestic remedies, which alleged victims of rights abuses need to exhaust before taking their cases to international courts, have become completely ineffective.

Belgian jurist and former politician Vande Lanotte, who joined via videoconference, drew attention to the widespread social exclusion of people who were targeted in politically motivated trials in Turkey, which exacerbates the already heavy emotional toll of the unsubstantiated terrorism charges on the victims.

Vande Lanotte has famously represented Yüksel Yalçınkaya, a former teacher convicted of terrorism due to his links to the faith-based Gülen movement, in his case against Ankara at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ended in the Strasbourg court delivering a landmark judgment faulting Turkey over Yalçınkaya’s conviction and urging Turkish authorities to address systemic problems that led to his and many others’ prosecution.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the 2016 coup attempt that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

The event was followed by the permanent UN delegations of several countries from Europe and around the world, the report said.

Turkey’s post-coup purges included the mass removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors immediately after the failed coup which, according to many international observers, had a chilling effect on the legal professionals who continued to work in the judiciary.

Erdoğan’s government has also been accused of replacing the purged judicial members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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