US senator urges European rights court president to consider applications from Turkey

In a letter to President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Robert Spano on Monday, US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked the ECtHR to “give consideration to thousands of applications filed by individuals credibly claiming unjust treatment by the Government of Turkey.”

Senator Markey said in his letter, which was shared from his Twitter account, that the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “continues its far-reaching campaign to target political opponents, journalists, dissidents, minorities including Kurds, and others, often through the expansive use of counterterrorism laws and authorities.”

Noting that the ECtHR provides a vital forum through which Turkish citizens can seek justice, Senator Markey said the court’s decision to reject the majority of more than 33,000 applications from Turkey on the basis that the applicants have not exhausted domestic remedies ignores the reality on the ground. Markey quoted an April 2019 report by the Human Rights Foundation that said, “… this ignores the reality that no viable remedy exists under the current Turkish judicial system, due to a mixture of executive interference and unreasonable court delays.”

The ECtHR is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the ECtHR’s regulations, domestic judicial remedies must first be exhausted before individuals can have recourse to the court.

Yet, prominent human rights organizations, judges and prosecutors’ associations have been questioning the adequacy of the Turkish court system to be considered a domestic judicial remedy.

In his letter Senator Markey cited a Human Rights Watch opinion that highlighted “serious doubts as to the ability of the domestic legal system in providing an effective remedy for human rights violations” and a September 2019 report by the Joint International Press Freedom Mission to Turkey, which concluded that the court “should rule on cases from Turkey without requiring the exhaustion of such remedy.”

In the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership to or relationship with “terrorist organizations.”

To avoid possible adverse rulings from the ECtHR, the Turkish government established a commission in January 2017 to evaluate the cases of those who were summarily fired from their public jobs during a state of emergency that was in effect for two years after the coup attempt.

The commission was accepted as an effective remedy, and applicants cannot apply to the ECtHR before the commission rules on their cases. There are still cases pending before the commission more than three-and-a-half years after its establishment. Moreover, after the commission’s decision the applicants first need to go through Turkey’s administrative court system and ultimately the Constitutional Court before their cases are eligible to be heard by the ECtHR.

Senator Markey said if the ECtHR recognizes the weakness of domestic remedies in Turkey and takes further action on behalf of so many whose rights have been violated, this would “help mitigate the impact of the collapse of the rule of law that President Erdogan has spearheaded.”

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