Council of Europe Body to Monitor Turkey on Human Rights, Rule of Law

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly
Credit: Council of Europe

Due to “serious concerns” about Turkey’s compliance with its human rights obligations and the erosion of democratic institutions and functions, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided in a resolution issued last week to reinstate Turkey into its monitoring procedure, a process by which PACE ensures Council of Europe Member States are in compliance with their human rights obligations. [COE Press Release; Guardian: Pressure] While under monitoring, human rights officials will repeatedly visit the country and a progress report will be presented to PACE in 2018. [Guardian: Pressure] See Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 2156, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, 25 April 2017, para. 39. The resolution expresses PACE’s concerns about the Turkish government’s respect for “human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” particularly the actions taken under the ongoing state of emergency in the country, which PACE states has gone beyond “what is necessary and proportionate,” and the more recent steps towards consolidation of executive power through a constitutional amendment. [New York Times; COE Press Release; Guardian: Coup] The Assembly calls upon the State to lift its state of emergency, discontinue the improper use of emergency decree laws, release those who have been detained, and restore freedom of expression, among other requests. [COE Press Release] Previously, Turkey’s first monitoring procedure was closed in 2004 when the Assembly was satisfied that the State was meeting its obligations. See Parliamentary Assembly, The Monitoring Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly. Turkey is obligated to guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and freedom of expression as a State party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

PACE’s Resolution on Monitoring Turkey

The Assembly in its resolution acknowledges the many challenges Turkey is facing but also calls for Turkey to respect its human rights obligations. PACE notes the influx of Syrian refugees into the country and repeated terrorist attacks by multiple armed forces – such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – that have resulted in hundreds of casualties. See Parliamentary Assembly, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, paras. 4–5. While the Assembly respects the State’s right to address these challenges, protect its citizens, and strengthen its security operations, it underscores that such response measures must be implemented in accordance with human rights standards. See id. at para. 6. In particular, PACE is concerned about the weakening role of elected representatives, the lack of judicial recourse for detainees and others, the silencing of critics, the detention and prosecution of journalists, and the recent moves to consolidate executive power. See Parliamentary Assembly, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey.

According to the Assembly, several developments have weakened the role of elected representatives. At least 154 parliamentarians have been stripped of their immunity, and 12 have been detained since November 2016. See id. at para. 10. Government trustees have taken over the administrations of many municipalities in southeast Turkey, and dozens of mayors are currently imprisoned, which, according to PACE, has “suspended the practical exercise of local democracy in that region.” See id. at para. 12. PACE urges Turkey to restore parliamentary immunity and release detained leaders. See id. at para. 13.

Also of concern to PACE is the widespread detention of individuals without legal recourse and the dismissals of public servants via decree laws. Many dismissed civil servants (which include judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and academics) have had their passports cancelled and assets seized. See id. at paras. 14–17. The Assembly questions whether the State, under the guise of national security, is taking such measures to “silence any critical voices and create a climate of fear.” See Parliamentary Assembly, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, para. 20. In an effort to improve transparency and accountability, the Assembly supports Turkey’s continued engagement with the Council of Europe and the establishment of a national commission to ensure judicial recourse for those affected by the decree laws. See id. at paras. 17, 21.

The Assembly’s resolution also condemns the detention of journalists and the hindrance of their work. See id. at para. 25. A recent change to Turkey’s legislation eliminates one avenue by which the media can be sanctioned for espousing biased political propaganda. See id. at para. 31. The Assembly, viewing access to comprehensive information as essential to a democratic society, calls for the release of detained journalists, an end to the limits placed on the work of those with vague and unsupported “connections” to terrorism, and an amendment to current domestic legislation in order to restore freedom of expression. See id. at paras. 27–28.

Importantly, the Assembly is troubled by a set of constitutional amendments adopted in January 2017, and approved by referendum in April, that it says will have the effect of shifting Turkey’s government from a parliamentary to a presidential structure, expanding the president’s powers significantly while limiting parliament’s ability to check the president. See id. at para. 29. The Assembly has also questioned the validity of the manner in which these amendments were adopted, as the procedure was hurried, tense, and completed with minimal public involvement. See Parliamentary Assembly, The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, para. 30.

PACE’s Monitoring Procedure

The Assembly’s Monitoring Committee is responsible for confirming that all Member States of the Council of Europe are in compliance with their human rights obligations. A country’s monitoring procedure typically begins six months after it joins the Council of Europe. Two appointed co-rapporteurs, who serve for a maximum of five years, monitor the human rights situation in the relevant countries, noting their observations and offering written recommendations for improvements. For every country subject to the monitoring procedure, the Monitoring Committee is required to submit a report to the Assembly at a minimum once every three years. Until the creation of the Monitoring Committee in 1997, States only became subject to the procedure upon written request; today, the process is automatic upon accession to the Council of Europe. The failure of a State to cooperate with the monitoring procedure may result in sanctions. See Parliamentary Assembly, The Monitoring Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly.

At the conclusion of the monitoring procedure, which occurs at the discretion of the Monitoring Committee, the Assembly maintains a dialogue with the country and reserves the option of revisiting the procedure if necessary. See Parliamentary Assembly, The Monitoring Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly. The post-monitoring dialogue typically begins one year after the procedure closes. See id. The Monitoring Committee is expected to present a post-monitoring report at least once every three years for each country in the post-monitoring phase. See id. Finally, when the Monitoring Committee is satisfied that a country is meeting its human rights obligations, the post-monitoring dialogue is closed. See id.

Situation in Turkey

Since the breakdown of the peace process between Turkey and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in 2015, the Turkish government has reportedly engaged in a series of human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention, ill treatment of refugees, and the repression of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. [IJRC] More recently, the nation has come under fire for its use of emergency decree laws, which limit parliament’s legislative authority and shift power to the executive. [Guardian: Pressure] On April 16, Turkey passed a constitutional amendment that will significantly expand the power of the presidency. [New York Times]

In July 2016, after a failed coup attempt that caused 248 deaths, Turkey entered a state of emergency, which has been continuously extended since that time. [Guardian: Coup] However, according to the Assembly, in the nine months since that event, “the situation has deteriorated and measures have gone far beyond what is necessary and proportionate.” [COE Press Release]

Turkey’s Human Rights Obligations

As a State party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Turkey is obligated to protect the rights guaranteed in those binding instruments, including the rights to life, liberty, and freedom of expression, among others.

Turkey has also ratified the Revised European Social Charter; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What Is PACE?

The Parliamentary Assembly is a division of the Council of Europe with a variety of powers. The Assembly can demand action from the Council of Europe’s 47 Member States, conduct investigations to uncover human rights violations, question government leaders on any topic, observe elections to safeguard democracy, set the conditions a State must meet in order to join the Council of Europe, and recommend a Member State’s exclusion or suspension. See Parliamentary Assembly, The Powers of the Assembly. The Assembly is composed of one president, 20 vice presidents, and additional members who form committees addressing a wide range of issues.

Additional Information

The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental body concerned with human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in its Member States in the region. It comprises several organs, including the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee on Social Rights, among others.

For more information about the human rights situation in Turkey, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

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