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EventsHuman Rights DefendersUK Authorities

Torture in Turkey: Parliamentary event on multilateral sanctions with Baroness Kennedy

 

In the panel held in the British Parliament, crimes of torture and countermeasures involving state officials in Turkey were discussed. On Monday 26th of June 2023, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws hosted an event in UK Parliament in collaboration with The Arrested Lawyers Initiative and Human Rights Solidarity.

The event covered ‘The Deterrence Potential of Multilateral Sanctions for Human Rights Abuses in Turkey’ to discuss Impunity, torture, and ill-treatment in Turkey in relation to Magnitsky Sanctions from the United Kingdom. Speakers, Kevin Dent KC, Sarah Teich, Natalia Kubesch, and Michael Polak, presented at the event on their work against this issue and encouraged the public to raise awareness on the current political situation in Turkey and the UK’s benefit to help.

Baroness Helena Kennedy

The state of emergency in Turkey marked the beginning of gross human rights violations, including widespread torture facilitated by the adoption of impunity provisions, enforced disappearances and mass detention on an industrial scale. According to official figures, more than 600,000 people have been detained by the police on overly broad terrorism charges, while more than 100,000 have been remanded in custody. Between 2016 and 2021, more than 310,000 people were convicted of membership of an armed terrorist organisation. Since 2016, more than 1,600 lawyers have been detained, and so far, 551 lawyers have been sentenced to 3,356 years in prison on terrorism-related charges, mostly for
membership in terrorist organisations.

In September 2020, The Arrested Lawyers launched the Turkey Human Rights Accountability Project in response to the ongoing rule of law violations and imprisonment of lawyers, activists, journalists and academics on trumped-up charges. Prominent British barristers Kevin Dent KC and Michael Polak, who both attended the event. An extra step was made towards the Canadian Government, authored by Mr Dent and Mr Polak, as well as Ms Sarah Teich.

Significant Quotes:

Baroness Kennedy: “Turkey has been brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights and the court found defiance of rule of law time and again. At this point in time, the Council of Europe is weighing the possibility of taking action against Turkey.”

Michael Polak: “Sanctions work better when multiple countries are involved.”
“We provided the Foreign Ministry a well studied 500 pages long evidence file. Two years passed over our submission and every other month I am sending them an email and asking, did you read it. No response.”

Sarah Teich: “There are things we can learn from the UK and there are things they can learn from Canada. Multilateral learning is as good as multilateral sanctions.”

Kevin Dent KC: “This sense that you cannot sanction a friendly country has to be overcome. When I speak to people who are critical of Turkey’s human rights records, they say it is too complex to have sanctions on nationals of Turkey.”

Natalia Kubesch: “The fact that nationals of friendly countries avoid sanction gives a message of hypocrisy and that some lives matter more than others.”

Sarah Teich, Michael Polak, Kevin Dent QC, Beatrice Travis (London Advocacy, Moderator) Natalia Kubesch

Key Points made in the event:

• The event covered case submissions made to the governments of the UK, US, and Canada, detailing first-hand accounts of torture present in Turkey.

• The UK has a close security and diplomatic relationship with its Turkish counterparts. Turkey is a NATO member, a formal ally of Britain and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950. Turkey is also a close trade partner to Britain, with the UK being the second biggest importer of goods from Turkey.

• This context creates significant diplomatic sensitivities, impacting the UK government’s willingness to impose targeted human rights sanctions Turkish officials, in the fear that it could jeopardise future relations. Instead, the UK’s
government’s preference to date has been to raise any concerns pertaining to the human rights situations in Turkey bilaterally, at the ministerial level on an ad hoc basis.

• The case of Turkey demonstrates that even established democracies face the risk of sliding into authoritarianism and instability if they fail to confront emerging abuses and allies to do not hold them to account.

• There is a demand for action from governments who are yet to respond despite it being nearly two years since submissions to the UK and Canada:

• These sanctions are about visa arrangements and asset freezing.

• Sanctions can also provide an important symbolic form of accountability by expressly recognising the harm suffered by victims and calling out perpetrators for their involvement in the abuses: sanctions can convey strong signs of disapproval by condoning, and explicitly demanding changes, to the
targeted individuals’ or entities’ behaviour. Specifically, sanctions enable states to send a statement “that this will not stand”, deterring others from engaging in similar conduct.