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Turkey may squander human rights in the name of security

An Iman passes the Turkish flag during a demonstration in support of Turkey's President Erdogan in Istanbul - AFP

An Iman passes the Turkish flag during a demonstration in support of Turkey's President Erdogan in Istanbul - AFP

19/07/2016 16:36

(Vatican Radio) Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildarim has insisted that his country is governed by  rule of law, following last Friday’s attempted coup.

Thousands of military and police officials and members of the judiciary have been suspended and detained, however sources are unable to confirm exact numbers.

Concerns have been raised that Turkey will be in breach of human rights as it attempts to punish those responsible for the failed coup, with President Erdogan refusing to rule out that  the death penalty could be reinstated.

Vatican Radio’s Georgia Gogarty spoke with Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  to discuss the current situation in Turkey and how the government must respond.


After the attempt to overthrow the government, Ravina Shamdasani said that “in the aftermath there is a lot of work to be done”. Investigations must be carried out, and those responsible for the coup must be brought to justice. She commended the “bravery of the Turkish people” who took to the streets “to defend their country against those who fought to undermine its democracy”. However, she stressed that the government must respond to this coup “by upholding the rule of law” and “by strengthening the protection of human rights”.  

To ensure that human rights are not breached, Shamdasani explained that anyone who has been arrested and subsequently detained must “have the right to a fair trial and due process”. Following that they must either be charged or released. She went on to say that in a post-attempted coup situation, the role of the judiciary is extremely “crucial”. The mass suspension of judges “is cause for serious alarm”, she says, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is urging authorities to “ensure the independence of the judiciary is upheld” and that there “ is transparency in the administration of justice”.

According to Shamdasani, the Turkish government is sending a signal that “human rights may be squandered in the name of security”, as they rush to punish those responsible. What is particularly regrettable for the OHCHR are the comments made by President Erdogan and high level officials that the death penalty may be reinstated in response to the coup. This would be in breach of Turkey’s international human rights obligations.

Following the decision to abolish the death penalty in 2004, Turkey signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Government on Civil and Political Rights, an international human rights treaty ensuring that the “abolition of the death penalty is irrevocable” and any attempt to reinstate it is in breach of Turkey’s obligations. Moreover, Shamdasani explains that using the death penalty against those responsible is “not possible legally” as Turkey cannot “retroactively apply a new law even if it is to be passed”

The future of Turkey now remains unclear, with Shamdasani saying that there have been “long standing concerns on the direction in which Turkey is going”, even prior to the attempted coup. The OHCHR expresses its hope that the coup will galvanize the government and society to reinforce democracy and the rule of law as opposed to “undermining it”. At this critical stage, Shamdasani urges the country to go down a path “built on the foundations of human rights”. 

(Georgia Gogarty)
19/07/2016 16:36