Turkey must rebuild trust in judiciary, protect human rights - CoE commissioner

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has called on Turkey to urgently take measures to re-establish trust in its judiciary and repair the rule of law, which was damaged during two years of emergency rule following the July 2016 coup attempt. 

Constitutional changes regarding the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) made during the two-year state of emergency “are in clear contradiction with Council of Europe standards,” Mijatovic said following a five-day visit to Turkey.

“The suspension of ordinary safeguards and procedures for the dismissal, recruitment and appointment of judges and prosecutors’’ were an additional cause for concern, she said.

Turkey’s state of emergency came into effect on July 20, 2016, days after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government survived a coup attempt.

The state of emergency allowed the government to issue decree laws, bypassing legislative and judicial procedures. Over 77,000 people have been arrested and another 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been fired from the government as part of a crackdown by Ankara following the failed putsch.

Many of those arrested and dismissed are accused of links to the Gülen movement, a religious group that Ankara says orchestrated the coup attempt. The movement designated in Turkey as a terrorist organisation, though the Turkish judicial system has faced criticism for levelling terror charges at individuals based on flimsy evidence of links to the group.

“The existing tendency of the Turkish judiciary to put the protection of the state above that of human rights was significantly reinforced, and the criminal process appears to often be reduced to a mere formality, especially in terrorism-related cases”, Mijatovic said.

Underlining that Turkey has the right and duty to fight against terrorism and criminal organisations, including in response to the attempted coup of 2016, Mijatovic said that this must not come at the price of disregarding human rights.

The problem of “laws with an overly broad definition of terrorism and membership of a criminal organisation and the judiciary’s tendency to stretch them even further’’ has reached unprecedented levels in recent times, the commissioner said.

The Commissioner also touched on Turkey’s new Judicial Reform Strategy, announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 30, which included the protection and improvement of the rights and freedoms, improvements of judicial independence, objectivity and transparency.

“This strategy does not address crucial problems, such as the constitutional framework guaranteeing judicial independence and self-governance, or many shortcomings concerning the principles of fair trial, equality of arms and legal certainty,’’ Mijatovic said.

The commissioner went on to highlight the situation of human rights defenders and civil society in Turkey, stressing that that legitimate activities of independent, rights-based civil society organisations are subjected to continuous pressure from the Turkish authorities.  

Consequently, “all of Turkish society is subjected to a profound chilling effect. It is high time to ease the pressure on human rights defenders in Turkey and enable them to work freely and safely,” she said. 

Turkey ranks 109th out of 126 countries in the 2018-2019 Rule of Law Index, a measure of how the rule of law is perceived in countries around the world by the influential non-profit civil society organisation World Justice Project.