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UN experts press Turkey to adhere to human rights obligations despite state of emergency

Street scene in Izmir, Turkey.
World Bank/Mehmet Namik Ugur
Street scene in Izmir, Turkey.

UN experts press Turkey to adhere to human rights obligations despite state of emergency

Human Rights

United Nations human rights experts today urged Turkey to uphold its obligations under international human rights law despite the attempted mid-July coup and during the subsequent state of emergency.

“One cannot avoid, even in times of emergency, obligations to protect the right to life, prohibit torture, adhere to fundamental elements of due process and non-discrimination, and protect everyone’s right to belief and opinion,” the experts underscored in a press release.

Their call comes as Turkey’s Article 4 – which, within certain narrow conditions, temporarily relaxes some obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – enters into effect, and the Government declared a state of emergency. Turkey signed the ICCPR in 2000 and ratified it in 2003.

“The invocation of Article 4 is lawful only if there is a threat to the life of the nation, a condition that arguably is not met in this case,” the experts noted. “Even in situations that meet this high threshold, Article 4 establishes limits to how much a State may deviate from its obligations under the Covenant.”

Since the 15 July attempted coup, and particularly from the 20 July declared state of emergency, detentions and purges have spiked in Turkey – most notably in the education, media, military and justice sectors.

“The derogation provision under Article 4 does not give a carte blanche to ignore all obligations under the ICCPR,” the experts said. “Even where derogation is permitted, the Government has a legal obligation to limit such measures to those that are strictly required by the needs of the situation,” he added.

Additionally, allegations of torture and poor detention conditions have risen following legislative provisions that enable indiscriminate administrative powers to affect core human rights.

“While we understand the sense of crisis in Turkey,” the experts said, “we are concerned that the Government’s steps to limit a broad range of human rights guarantees go beyond what can be justified in light of the current situation.”

In recent statements, UN human rights experts have urged the Turkish Government to uphold the rule of law in time of crisis, voicing their concern about the use of emergency measures to target dissent and criticism.

The experts stressed, “Turkey is going through a critical period. Derogation measures must not be used in a way that will push the country deeper into crisis.”

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.