On 24th September 2021, the Judges who formed a part of the Turkey tribunal gave their final judgment on the situation of the freedom of the press, abductions, impunity, judicial independence, and torture. The judges also gave their opinion on whether witness testimony against the Turkish government amounted to the Turkish state conducting potential crimes against humanity against the victims.
The Turkish government had an opportunity to depose in front of the tribunal and present its point of view. However, the government had not sent any representative for the hearing of the Turkey tribunal. Therefore, the tribunal hearing took place without two sides to represent its point of view as would be the case during a normal hearing in a court or a tribunal.
The judges came to some scathing conclusions about the role/involvement of the Turkish state in its disrespect/contempt for human rights. In the case of torture, the judge noted that “The Tribunal is of the view that there is a systematic and organized use of torture in Turkey” and that there is the widespread use of torture against “people suspected of ordinary crimes”. This can be seen as a sign of contempt and disrespect for human rights because the right to a fair trial is a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An important concept of a free and fair trial as laid out by article 11 section 1 is that
Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
Torture of an individual due to suspicion is an egregious human rights violation because the police are not tasked with taking law and order into their own hands. In a normal democracy, it is for the courts to decide who exactly is guilty or not.
In this context, it is therefore important to note the scathing remarks of the judges on the issue of judicial independence. The judges note that “even though the applicable legal framework provided effective safeguards, the rule of law was destabilized very swiftly by the government’s reaction to the Gezi Park protest in June 2013 and furthermore to the concrete threat of prosecution of high-ranking state officials for corruption in December 2013”. The judges also notes that “the Tribunal notes with concern the mass dismissals of approximately 4.560 judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of the attempted coup d’état, based on a list drawn up by the High Judicial Council”. In addition the judges also noted that “multiple judges and prosecutors who had adopted decisions or performed investigations disapproved by the government, were summarily arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on suspicion of membership of a terrorist organization after the attempted coup d’État. This constitutes, in the view of the Tribunal, severe intimidation of the judiciary”. While there are several other points on the independence of judiciary made by the judges in the tribunal, the reality as noted by the judges is that judicially in Turkey is being systematically intimidated. Therefore, it gives an opportunity for the police to torture individuals with a judiciary which may not do much to hold the police accountable.
In regards to other human rights issues in Turkey, the judges made some other scathing remarks. As far as abductions are concerned the judges note that:
“The Tribunal furthermore observes a recurring pattern used to execute the enforced disappearances. Regarding domestic enforced disappearances, firstly, the perpetrators do not seem to be worried about an intervention by the law enforcement authorities since the forcible deprivations of liberty are carried out in broad daylight, in the presence of eyewitnesses or security cameras; secondly, the abductions are carried out in a similar manner, namely using the same type of vehicles, often by provoking a car accident and by a bag being put over the heads of the alleged victims after which they are pushed into a black transporter van”.
In so far as freedom of expression is concerned The Tribunal noted that “the repression against the press and freedom of expression points to a larger policy of the State to silence critical voices and limit people’s access to information”. Moreover, the judges state that “The restriction of freedom of expression, in particular press freedom, through the extensive use of criminalization, prosecution, and pre-trial detention of journalists, has been exacerbated by the events of 15-16 July 2016. These restrictions inhibit both the media and the public from actively exercising these freedoms, essential in a democratic society. In addition, they deeply impact the families and communities of their direct targets”.
In terms of impunity, The Tribunal was “of the opinion that there has been a persistent and prevailing culture of impunity in Turkey since 1980, which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, particularly since the attempted coup d’état of 15 July 2016”. In particular, the judges noted that
The Tribunal acknowledges the Report’s identification of five interconnected causes which contribute to impunity and show the organized and institutionalized nature of the problem: (i) the deficient legal structure, (ii) the political rhetoric reinforcing the patterns of impunity, (iii) the lack of political will to hold state agents accountable, (iv) the ineffective and delayed investigations by prosecutors, and (v) the lack of an independent judiciary.
Due to these conditions, the tribunal noted that it “is of the view that the acts of torture and enforced disappearances committed in Turkey, in applications brought before an appropriate body and subject to the proof of the specific knowledge and intent of the accused, could amount to crimes against humanity”.
These judgments expose the all-around contempt and disrespect for human rights by the Turkish government. Those who question, oppose or disagree with the government or ensure that the government is bound to its limits face impunity, kidnapping, torture, persecution, purgery. This is aided by an executive that has no checks on it by either legislature, judiciary, or the media. The fundamental feature of respect i.e. accountability is all but missing in the Turkish system be it executive, judiciary, police, or media. These structures have bent to the will of the executive and the wholesale compromise of these institutions exposes the wholesale contempt of the Turkish government because they can commit rights violations and get away with and no one can ask any questions. This is the takeaway of the judgments.