UN human rights chief urges Turkey to uphold rule of law in response to attempted coup

19 July 2016

The United Nations human rights chief today called on Turkish authorities to respond to the attempted military coup on Friday by reinforcing the protection of human rights and strengthening democratic institutions and checks and balances.

“The Turkish people bravely took to the streets to defend their country against those who sought to undermine its democracy. I urge the Government of Turkey to respond by upholding the rule of law, by strengthening the protection of human rights and by reinforcing democratic institutions,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein in a news release issued by his Office (OHCHR).

“In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” he added.

According to media reports, thousands of soldiers have been arrested and hundreds of judiciary members removed since Friday's uprising, which left at least 290 people dead and more than 1,400 injured following a night of violence.

Deploring the loss of lives in Turkey over the weekend and offering condolences to the families of those who were killed, the High Commissioner said that those responsible for the violence must be brought to justice with full respect for fair trial standards.

He also expressed deep concern that a large number of judges and prosecutors were swiftly suspended on Saturday and that detention orders were issued against many. The suspensions were particularly worrying given concerns about judicial independence in Turkey, he said.

“The independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession is key to the fair administration of justice, and judges must be able to exercise their functions without undue restrictions, pressures, threats or interference. The mass suspension or removal of judges is cause for serious alarm, and reports that many have been subject to detention orders also raises concerns of arbitrary detention,” Mr. Zeid said.

Given the large number of people who have been detained since Saturday, the High Commissioner stressed the importance of respecting the presumption of innocence, due process and fair trial guarantees, and of allowing independent observers to access places of detention. He also stressed the importance of transparency in the administration of justice.

“Turkish authorities are obliged to investigate all reports of violence, regardless of the political leanings of the alleged perpetrators,” he said.

The High Commissioner also expressed deep regret that high-level officials have suggested that the death penalty may be reinstated.

“Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004, but in fact it has not carried out capital punishment for 32 years – since 1984,” Mr. Zeid said. “Reintroduction of the death penalty would be in breach of Turkey's obligations under international human rights law – a big step in the wrong direction. I urge the Turkish Government to refrain from turning back the clock on human rights protections.”

In 2006, Turkey ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. International law does not permit a State which has ratified the Covenant and its Second Optional Protocol to denounce or withdraw from it.

Group of UN experts call for respect for human rights

In related news today, a group of UN human rights experts called on the Government of Turkey to abide by its international human rights obligations when dealing with the aftermath of the coup attempt, which they strongly condemned.

“In times of crisis, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is more essential than ever,” the experts said, adding that constitutional order will only be fully re-established if the separation of powers and the rule of law are upheld.

The experts noted that within hours of the coup attempt, the Turkish High Council for Judges and Prosecutors suspended a reported 2,745 judges and prosecutors of their functions. Hundreds of arrest warrants have allegedly been issued, resulting so far in the arrest of possibly up to 755 judges and prosecutors, including two judges of the Constitutional Court, according to the experts.

“According to international law, judges can be suspended or removed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence after fair proceedings,” the experts said.

“We call on the authorities to release and reinstate these judges and prosecutors until credible allegations of wrong doing are properly investigated and evidenced. Any sanctions taken must be in line with international standards on judicial independence,” they added.

The human rights experts also drew attention to the number of arrests carried out to date – some 7,500 according to official sources – and expressed serious concerns regarding calls to re-introduce the capital punishment abolished in 2004.

The experts – who are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization – include Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on summary or arbitrary executions; Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion; and Mr. Sètondji Roland Jean-Baptiste Adjovi, current Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.


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