A key function of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s is to hold debates on the state of human rights and the rule of law in each of its 47 member countries. Turkey, in the midst of a brutal crackdown, would seem an obvious candidate. So it’s puzzling – and alarming – that the assembly decided to take a pass this week on a debate – supported by international rights groups - about threats to democracy in Turkey.
The move not to consider the dramatic turn of recent events in Turkey is shocking. It comes at a time when Turkey is the world leader in jailing journalists, its government has closed down media outlets, and academics are under attack. Using state of emergency powers, the authorities dismissed or detained without due process more than 100,000 civil servants, and shut down hundreds of non-governmental organizations. In Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, the use of heavy weaponry in urban areas last year left hundreds dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Elected politicians, including Kurdish parliamentarians, have been jailed. Last week, the Turkish Parliament accepted President Erdogan’s plans to hold a referendum to secure his executive presidency, eating away at the Parliament’s role as a check and balance to protect rights, and seriously eroding the independence of the judiciary. But even all of that was apparently insufficient to warrant action by one of the continent’s key human rights bodies.
The assembly’s failure to address the crackdown in Turkey is all the more shocking given that a clear majority of its members did support the call for urgent action. So, what went wrong? At the opening of the week-long session, the assembly’s President announced his Bureau, composed of the assembly’s President, Vice-Presidents and heads of political groups, had just rejected the call for an urgent debate. This made it almost impossible to overturn this decision as it requires a two-thirds majority to do so.
The Bureau decision is highly questionable. It effectively killed the opportunity for the Assembly to scrutinize rights violations in Turkey. Instead, the Bureau members opted for silence, neutering the possibility for the Assembly to have a positive impact on events in Turkey, despite the will of the majority of its members.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly will meet again in April 2017. This will be another opportunity to scrutinize Erdogan’s crackdown and trigger a full monitoring procedure. For the sake of human rights in Turkey and the assembly’s own credibility, it should find the political will to act.