Human rights off EU’s priority list with Turkey, HRW says

Geopolitics and migration issues have pushed human rights off of the European Union’s priority list for Turkey, Human Rights Watch advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia Philippe Dam said on Tuesday.

“The EU treats human rights as secondary,” Dam said, despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan using courts and terrorism charges “to silence and detain journalists, opposition politicians and anyone regarded as a critic”.

EU leaders “barely blinked” when Turkey withdrew from a Council of Europe convention to combat violence against women and the country’s top court moved to shut down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s second largest opposition bloc, Dam said.

The HRW director called on the EU to “clearly lay out the severity of the human rights situation in Turkey” when dealing with Turkish officials, and to press Turkey to comply with international law obligations including for jailed Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş.

The EU should “give little weight to a vague human rights action plan until Turkey demonstrates its judiciary is not a weapon of repression”, Dam said.

Before talks for the modernisation of the Customs Union between Ankara and the bloc, where EU leaders have been considering whether to include the procurement of services, farm goods and public tenders in the agreement, “visible progress on human rights should be a prerequisite”, he added.

In the EU Council meeting on March 25, European leaders agreed that improved relations in the eastern Mediterranean might lead to an improved customs union. They also said the EU was ready to engage with Turkey, “provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively”.

The Turkish foreign ministry praised the move in a statement, thanking the “many EU member states that have common sense”.