‘Turkey Tribunal’ established to adjudicate human rights violations, raise int’l awareness

A “Turkey Tribunal” has been established under the initiative of Belgian-based law firm Van Steenbrugge Advocaten (VSA) to adjudicate recent human rights violations in Turkey including torture, abductions, shortcomings in freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

The Turkey Tribunal will be held in Geneva between September 21 and 25, 2020.

“In recent years, human rights violations have increasingly been reported in Turkey. Various international bodies and courts have confirmed this, sometimes even in very sharp terms. That is why we have taken the initiative to set up a ‘Turkey Tribunal.’ The tribunal is not a legally binding body. But the ruling of the tribunal will have high moral authority,” the tribunal said in a statement.

“All documents, the testimonials and the verdict of the judges will be published in full transparency …” the statement added.

The Turkey Tribunal, registered as a not-for profit organization in Brussels, consists of the initiative takers, the steering committee, the tribunal, executive staff and reporters and will be financed through crowdfunding.

The initiative taker, VSA, has handled various cases for Turkish citizens including the case of Ismet Özçelik and Turgay Karaman before the UN Human Rights Committee, inter alia, on the grounds of kidnapping and unlawful deprivation of liberty (CCPR/C/125/D/2980/2017, March 2019).

The initiative is being coordinated by Prof. Dr. Johan Vande Lanotte, a professor at the University of Ghent who at the end of the 1980s was one of the first in Belgium’s Flanders region to give a full-fledged human rights course.

The judges of the Turkey Tribunal are Prof. Em. Dr. Françoise Barones Tulkens (Belgium), former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights; Justice Johann van der Westhuizen (South Africa), former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Adj. Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (USA), former deputy executive secretary of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights; Prof. Em. Dr. Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland), former member of the Venice Commission and judge at the European Court of Human Rights; Prof. Ledi Bianku (Albania), former member of the Venice Commission and judge at the European Court of Human Rights; Dr. John Pace (Australia), former chief of the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq and secretary to the Commission on Human Rights from 1978 to 1994.

Several prominent human rights experts and organizations will serve as reporters and provide the Turkey Tribunal with reports. The group comprises Eric Sottas (Switzerland), former secretary-general of the World Organization against Torture (in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Johan Vande Lanotte); Prof. Dr. Yves Haeck (Belgium), professor at the University of Ghent and Dr. Emre Turkut (Turkey); the Lawyers Collective (Turkey); Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı (Turkey), former head of the Istanbul Council of Forensic Medicine and currently president of the Human Rights Foundation; the Ankara Bar Association (Turkey) and Johan Heymans, a human rights lawyer; and Philippe Leruth (Belgium), former president of the international Federation of Journalists.

The group will report on torture, impunity, legal aid, medical assistance for people in prison or in custody, forced disappearances, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Em. Prof. Dr. Marc baron Bossuyt, former president of the Constitutional Court of Belgium and president of the UN Commission on Human Rights, will serve as president of the steering committee. The committee will also include Jan De Bock, former Belgian ambassador to the United Nations and the European Union; Christine Mussche, attorney at law in criminal cases; Prof. Dr. Rik Van de Walle, rector of the University of Ghent; and Prof. Dr. Caroline Pauwels, rector of the University of Brussels.

According to the statement, during its sessions in Geneva between September 21 and 25, 2020 reports will be presented to the tribunal. The judges will ask questions to the rapporteurs. Witnesses will also be heard. The Turkish government will be given the opportunity to answer for itself. The reports will be published on the website a few weeks before the tribunal starts. The hearings of the tribunal will be streamed live. On the last day of the tribunal, the tribunal will announce its verdict, which will also be published on the website.

Turkey has been experiencing a backslide in human rights in recent years that has further deteriorated since a failed coup in 2016. Turkey was ranked first in the number of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in the 60-year history of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

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