Threats to Rule of Law
(Istanbul, January 21, 2014) – Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government showed growing intolerance toward political opposition, public protest, and critical media during 2013, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. After the report went to press, government attempts to limit corruption investigations implicating ministers and the prime minister’s son further threatened justice and the rule of law.
“Harsh police crackdowns on protesters, a muzzled press, unfair trials, and a deeply flawed criminal justice system have marked Prime Minister Erdogan’s government’s human rights record in 2013,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at Human Rights Watch. “The crackdown overshadowed efforts toward peace with the Kurds, but unless the government is prepared to uphold everyone’s right to assembly, association, and free speech, the chances of solving the Kurdish issue are remote.”
In the 667-page world report, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.
In 2013, the Turkish government took positive initial steps in a peace process with the country’s Kurdish minority, announcing talks with the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan to end the decades-long armed conflict with the armed group. However, there were few concrete steps to address the rights deficit for Turkey’s Kurds, the root cause of the conflict in which an estimated 40,000 people have died.
During the Istanbul Gezi park protests and those in other cities between late May and September, the police severely injured scores of nonviolent protesters and six people died. Police officers are facing trial proceedings for killing two protesters, but there have been no prosecutions of the police for serious injuries and excessive use of force.
An indication of entrenched resistance to holding public officials and military accountable for abuses was the lack of justice for victims and their families two years after the December 2011 Turkish air force bombardment that killed 34 Kurdish villagers in Uludere.
Government pressure on the media was reflected in the biased or muted coverage of the Gezi protests. Restrictions on free speech and association were also evident in the high number of prosecutions and ongoing trials of journalists, political activists, lawyers, and students. Lengthy pretrial detention remains the norm, despite judicial reform efforts. Many of those incarcerated are accused of links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a body connected with the PKK.
The use of mass trials, in which multiple defendants face charges of terrorism or plotting a coup, have raised serious concerns that such trials are unfair and politicized. These concerns overshadowed the Ergenekon trial dealing with coup plots against the government in the early 2000s, which concluded in August without examining human rights abuses in which key defendants are implicated.