On the 73rd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
We Protect Our Economic and Social Rights in the face of Economic Crisis,
Our Right to Health under the COVID-19 Conditions,
Our Right to Peace against War!
This is the 73rd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The impact of the global crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic with political, social, economic, ethical, etc. dimensions are still at play. As is stated in the UDHR, we continue to promote peace, justice, equality, liberty and human dignity as well as the struggle for democracy that would guarantee them all under these circumstances because the only way out from this global crisis that threatens the very existence of humanity is to protect these values.
The drafting of the UDHR commenced on 29 April 1946 with the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights within the United Nations. The UDHR, with a preamble and 30 articles, was drafted by the commission, andadopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly assembled in Paris on 10 December 1948. The UDHRwent into effect in Turkey after having been published in the Official Gazette of 27 May 1949. The UDHR has beentranslated into more than 500 languages. It also remains the most translated human rights document in the world.The formal inception of Human Rights Day dates back to 4 December 1950, after the General Assembly passedresolution 423 (V) inviting all States and interested organizations to adopt 10 December of each year as HumanRights Day.
The UN was founded with a goal to establish an international system based on ideals of peace, human rightsand democracy in order not to ever go through the massive human destruction created by World War II. Today we, regrettably, lag far behind in reaching these ideals. Such an international system based on the rights and freedomsenshrined in the UDHR has yet to be established. The UN, in contradiction to its very grounds for existence, cannotbe effective enough in preventing and putting an end to wars and civil wars that account for the major causes ofrights violations, in intervening into refugee crises, in protecting natural and cultural heritage worldwide, in fightingpoverty and injustice, and in eliminating all kinds of discrimination, particularly against women. Herein the militaryand economic partnerships set up by powerful countries have indeed become setbacks against individuals’exercise of rights and freedoms. Specifically, the fact that the states have gradually been moving away from theirpledges for democracy and rule of law has led to the emaciation of human rights both as a reference system anda control mechanism.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare all the weaknesses and ineffectiveness of the international system while it, at the same time, has shown the path towards which this alarming course of events may evolve.
In spite of all these setbacks peoples all over the world have been raising their voices demanding freedom, justice,equality and human rights. The response of the states and governments to these demands has been thesystematization and generalization of all kinds of violence and imposing them as the sole truth of life onsocieties. Promoting and protecting human rights along with revitalizing their founding role in the face of thismassive crisis that the world has been going through are our primary duties.
This state of crisis that has further been aggravated by the pandemic is faced in Turkey with all its might and intensity. The country has been governed by a state of emergency (SoE) regime directly since 2016 and indirectly since 19July 2018 by this very same regime although it was claimed to have been lifted but rendered permanent andordinary through the introduction of numerous legal amendments. This state of affairs/process has led to theabandonment of the principle of constitutionalism, which limited the power of the government, thus, resulting in thedominance of arbitrariness and uncertainty over the public space by making both law and institutions “apparatuses”of an oppressive regime. The power to create uncertainty, to which the political power specifically resorts as a method of government, has provided it to translate the conditions of the pandemic to an opportunity. It has further centralized its power by associating the extraordinary nature of the pandemic with the SoE to exacerbate its repression and control over the society. The political power, handling its response to the pandemic as a security problem rather than an act of prevention and protection, opted for undermining human rights first -as it has always done under such conditions. The outcome of such conduct is the systematic violation of all fundamental rights and freedoms, prominently the right of access to information, right to life, right of access to healthcare, right to work, freedom of expression, freedoms of assembly and association.
Policies of the political power that render all the issues of the country ranging from the economy to public health as security problems, that polarize the society, that are predicated upon violence both at home and abroad, and that make conflict and war the only methods -particularly for the resolution of the Kurdish issue along with international problems- constitute the major causes of the violations of the right to life in 2021. People from very different social groups lost their lives as a result of either direct violence by the law enforcement or of structural violence and/or by third parties that arise through the failure of the state to undertake its responsibility to “prevent and protect.”
Torture has remained the most dominant human rights problem in 2021 in Turkey as well in spite of the fact that it is a crime against humanity and is absolutely prohibited by the Constitution and universal law, which Turkey is a part of. Acts of torture and ill-treatment at official custodial places as well as extra-custodial places, in the streets and outdoors or in spaces like homes and offices along with the “extreme and disproportionate intervention” of the lawenforcement amounting to the level of “torture” in assemblies and demonstrations have come to bear a novel dimension and intensity. One can argue that the whole country has virtually become a space of torture today as a result of the political power’s mode of government based on repression and control.
It is also quite alarming that enforced disappearances/abductions, which account for one of the most disgraceful human rights violations in recent history and qualify as a crime against humanity, have also been witnessed in 2021 and the number of such cases has gone up again since 2016 when the state of emergency was declared.
Prisons, which are an unmediated sign of a state’s respect for human rights, have become extremely overcrowded today as a result of the political power’s abuse of law as an instrument of repression and intimidation in Turkey. Prisons are places where gross and serious violations are committed ranging from the right to life to torture, to right of access to healthcare. Single or small group isolation practices in prisons, notably in İmralı Prison, have become a chronic problem that remain unsolved. Prisons top the list of riskiest places with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisoners’ rights, which had already been restricted, have further been restricted on the grounds of the pandemic and the authorities have created a new “normal.” Despite warnings and calls by international human rights authorities referring to universal standards and norms; only journalists, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers, elected politicians along with those who expressed their critical or dissident views, who have been incarcerated without sufficient legal grounds, and particularly elderly and critically sick prisoners who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 were denied eligibility for the latest amendment introduced to Law No. 7242 on the Enforcement of Sentences and Security Measures as the authorities justified such exclusion on the grounds of the Anti-Terrorism Code (ATC).
Promotion and the effective exercise of the right to freedom of expression is one of the bloodlines of a democratic society. Free circulation of different ideas and opinions in the public space; free discussion that forms the basis of political pluralism, existence of free media and a vibrant civil society; formation of public opinion based on social demands; voicing criticism against political decision-makers and the supervision of authorities using public power can only be possible under circumstances where freedom of expression is protected and actively exercised. Yet, the political power’s restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion, specifically its pressure and control over the press that has alarmingly increased with the declaration of the SoE, have held out in 2021 as well.
2021 has been a year during which restrictions on and violations of freedom of assembly have been the rule, while the enjoyment of freedoms has been the exception just like the previous year. Individuals and groups from almost all social segments have not been able to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and protest due to bans imposed by civilian authorities and/or actual interventions by the law enforcement. Saturday Mothers are still not allowed to stage their peaceful vigils at İstanbul’s Galatasaray Square. The fact that blanket bans on protests and events imposed by the governor’s office in Van amounted to 5 years or the cruel and infamous violence by the law enforcement against Boğaziçi University students, women, LGBTI+, workers, HDP members, waste paper collectors, refugees, environmentalists and rights activists constitute the concrete instances of such violations.
Freedom of association is one of the fundamental rights essential for democracies to function. Citizens in Turkey cannot enjoy their freedom of association either because they are not allowed to act collectively and express their ideas while they cannot get involved in the civic and public space in an organized manner to shape their collective futures. Numerous members and executives of human rights organizations, associations, foundations, labor and professional organizations, and political parties have been arrested, detained, and attempts at repressing them through lawsuits, i.e. through judicial harassment, have also been in play in 2021. Co-mayors, local municipal council members have been removed from office and replaced by state appointed trustees. Members of the parliament have been detained following the lifting of their parliamentary immunity. Offices of political parties and civil society organizations have been attacked; lawsuits to dissolve parties have been brought.
The Kurdish issue remains one of the most fundamental challenges before Turkey’s democratization. The armedconflict that broke out again immediately after the general elections of 7 June 2015 is still going on not only due tothe fact that the government primarily failed to take sincere and coherent steps for the peaceful and democraticresolution of the Kurdish issue, but also with the impact of developments in the Middle East and is bringing aboutgross human rights violations, notably violations of the right to life. Specifically the attempt to dissolve the HDP, which won the votes of 6.5 million citizens in the latest general elections, will push a significant portion of the society in Turkey -notably the Kurds- out of participatory and representative mechanisms and will deprive them of their right to exercise their political rights. Such state of affairs is again quite alarming since it would sustain great damage on social peace and the will to co-exist. We, as human rights defenders, have always argued for the democratic and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue. We are persistent in our belief. We, therefore, want the conflict to end rightnow. Following the establishment of a non-conflict environment, this state of non-conflict should be strengthenedand monitored as well as genuine and effective programs should be developed by all parties in order to establishsocial peace.
There has unfortunately been no setback and no development that could be considered positive in male violence against women in 2020. Hundreds of women were killed by men within the first eleven months of 2021. Yet, the political power has withdrawn from the İstanbul Convention overnight, the most comprehensive international convention that offers detailed definition of gender-based violence and domestic violence against women and provides for their adoption as criminal offenses, thus, enables many opportunities for the elimination of violence. Not to mention the fact that the authorities had declared an action plan for human rights with grandiose presentations a short while before. We came to understand what this plan actually meant through the intervention of the law enforcement using unlawful and uncontrolled violence, which went well beyond the power to use force defined in universal law and domestic legislation, against women and the LGBTI+ who protested the decision to withdraw from the İstanbul Convention.
Asylum-seekers/refugees/migrants that have now become a part, a primary component of the society in Turkey are still being intensively subjected to all kinds of discrimination and abuse, hate speech and economic exploitation. In 2021 asylum-seekers and refugees, who have been subjected to racist hate crimes and violence by the law enforcement and civilians, lost their lives. Human traffickers, too, have led them to death. Asylum-seekers and refugees faced the physical, psychological, social and economic impacts of the pandemic in the most severe manner while becoming lives ignored and even sacrificed by our society.
Turkey is going through one of its most devastating economic crises in the last four decades. Poverty, precarity and non-organization created by debt-based neoliberal economic policies that have been implemented for years have become deeper and continuous through the SoE practices. Such state of affairs has become even more alarming with the COVID-19 pandemic. Today there are millions of people in the country who have to work under the pandemic conditions in order to both biologically survive and to maintain their social lives. The rights violations that these persons have been subjected to vary greatly. Occupational murders top the list of these violations. The current economic crisis which has been in place in its most visible form since 2018 has deteriorated further with the COVID-19 pandemic and became tangled. High cost of living, unemployment and poverty affect women, children and refugees the most.
Oppressive policies of the political power have brought along some firsts on the basis of violations in 2021. Withdrawal from the İstanbul Convention, one of the most fundamental human rights conventions of the Council of Europe (CoE), initiation of an infringement procedure in respect of Turkey with the decision of the CoE’s Committee of Ministers on 2 December 2021 due to Turkey’s refusal to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ judgements in the cases of Kavala v. Turkey and Demirtaş v. Turkey, TurkStat’s manipulations in main indicators -notably in inflation figures- to avoid state’s obligations pertaining to economic and social rights, Financial Action Task Force’s downgrading Turkey to its grey list on the grounds that it did not fulfill the necessary obligations against money laundering and combating corruption essentially reveal how human rights violations multiplied as well.
The statements of the political power about human rights and reforming the judiciary should not be regarded as promises that can be materialized under such circumstances. If the authorities actually want to promote respect for human rights and opt for reforms, it is an obligation that a novel democratic constitution based on the principle of separation of powers should be drafted and a genuine conflict resolution process that will provide for facing the past should be initiated. Any proposal without these steps can be nothing but mere window dressing in response to international demands.
Lastly, İHD and HRFT, whose raison d’être is to create a country and a world where there are no more human rights violations and where justice, peace and democracy prevail, will keep on documenting and reporting human rights violations to make them visible, therefore, preventing them; and will continue to promote respect for human rights as well as the fight against impunity.
We see, we speak up, we struggle…
Human beings are human beings with their human rights…
We Protect Our Social Rights against the Economic Crisis,
Our Right to Health under the COVID-19 Conditions,
Our Right to Peace against War!
HUMAN RIGHTS ASSOCIATION
HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION OF TURKEY
Click to read the full report in English: js20211210_İHD-HRFT 10 December 2021