State of emergency in Turkey targeting criticism, not terrorism: UN Human Rights Commissioner

UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein, (c) UN

United Nations Human Rights Council members have gathered to discuss the annual report of human rights violations at the 34th Human Rights Sessions in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the report High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al Hussein, voiced concerns over human rights violations in Turkey saying, “State of emergency measures are targeting criticism, not terrorism.”

Rejecting the claims, Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ali Naci Koru, said, “There is no violation of human rights in Turkey.”

Koru said Turkey was fighting against ‘terrorists’ and the the violations in question were committed by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), not by the government.

Al Hussein responded to Koru, saying Turkey had to “open the gates” for investigations about ongoing curfews in the country – if Turkey doubted the reliability of the report.

Several UN observers were denied entry to regions under curfew in 2016 after RT filed a complaint to the UN with evidence suggesting people had been burned alive in the town of Cizre in Sirnak.

Al Hussein said reporters were not allowed to observe the situation in southeastern cities -mostly Kurdish populated- and Turkey must remove the obstacles against the UN reporters as soon as possible, otherwise Turkey must stop rejecting the accusations.

According to human rights organisations’ reports, curfews and blockades have been declared 66 times in 24 districts and 7 provinces causing hundreds of civilian deaths since the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government ended in April, 2015.

Military operations have continued in 2017 with a comprehensive operation launched on 5 March 2017 against PKK militants in the eastern town of Lice of Diyarbakir in which 7,000 soldiers, police officers and village guards have set up camp in the town’s rural areas where a curfew has been declared in 18 villages.

Al Hussein also commented on post-coup developments in Turkey and said they were alarmed that thousands of people were not being tried fairly.

“In Turkey, bombs and other shocking terrorist attacks against civilians continue to claim lives, which I condemn, and I fully understand the authorities are operating in a challenging environment in many respects. However, I am concerned measures taken under the state of emergency appear to target criticism, not terrorism. The fact that tens of thousands of people have been dismissed, arrested, detained or prosecuted following the attempted coup – including numerous democratically elected representatives, judges and journalists – raises serious alarm about due process guarantees being met. ” added the high commissioner al Hussein.

Turkish authorities have been implementing a state of emergency since 22 July 2016, just after the failed coup attempt. The government blames the failed coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric based in the US.

Over 43,000 people in Turkey have been arrested on suspected links to the Gulenist movement, and over 100,000 have been dismissed or suspended, many of them teachers, police officers, members of the judiciary and journalists.

Al Hussein also stressed the importance of ensuring freedom of speech during the forthcoming constitutional referendum in April. “Turkey must guarantee that the referendum will be held in a peaceful environment, free of intimidation,” said the UN commissioner.

The referendum is expected to take place on 16 April under the state of emergency conditions. Opposition parties have criticised the procedure.