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(Istanbul) – The environment for human rights in Turkey worsened in 2015, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. Human rights violations increased following the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, a sharp escalation of violence in the southeast, and a crackdown on media and political opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

While securing a fourth term in office in the November 2015 election after inconclusive June elections, the ruling party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have pursued policies that dramatically undermine human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Turkey.

Turkish Gendarmes lead a group of refugees to buses to prevent them from sailing off for the Greek island of Chios by dinghies, at a beach in the western Turkish coastal town of Cesme. Reuters Pictures, 05 November 2015, UMIT BEKTAS

“Turkey’s trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The combination of the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process and crackdown on media and political opponents over the past year spell dark times ahead and take Turkey further away from the goal of being a rights-respecting country.”

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

Human Rights Watch examined developments during 2015, including the takeover of independent broadcasters, prosecution and imprisonment of journalists and critics, frequent bans on public assemblies, further steps to bring the judiciary under government control, and the failure to make progress on combating violence against women. It looked at the consequences of the collapse of the Kurdish peace process and the rising human rights violations against the Kurdish population in the southeast. Human Rights Watch also assessed Turkey’s treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, notably the 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

With Turkey as the main transit country into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants in 2015, the issue defined relations between Ankara and the EU. The November migration agreement between the EU and Turkey was designed to prevent irregular migration to the EU in exchange for €3 billion and other incentives. The agreement raised concerns that people could be denied access to effective protection, detained in Turkey, or blocked from entering Turkey altogether. Prior to securing the migration deal, the European Commission twice delayed publication of its annual report on Turkey’s progress as a candidate country for EU accession.

“The migration deal is an attempt by the EU to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey through financial incentives,” Sinclair-Webb said. “There are major concerns that asylum seekers in Turkey will not get the protection they need and that in its desire to stem migration flows, the EU will turn a blind eye to the serious deterioration of Turkey’s human rights and democratic framework.”

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