The Turkish Republic has a nation-state constitution and structure with an official ideology that is not based on human rights. This state endeavored to democratize itself between 1999 and 2004, guided by the Copenhagen political criteria during the process of full membership to the EU. The reform process came to a halt in 2005 as attempts to deliver a conflict resolution to the Kurdish issue and followed a dormant course until 2013. The peace and resolution process, which was initiated in 2013 to resolve the Kurdish issue through democratic means, continued until 2015. Democratization efforts regained momentum during this interim period. Yet the reform process effectively ended in July 2015 as the armed conflict broke out again. The intensive armed conflict, Turkey’s military campaign into Syria and the failed coup d’état of 15 July 2016 witnessed rather tragic events.
A country-wide State of Emergency (SoE) was declared on 20 July 2016 and the SoE was extended 7 times only to be lifted two years after on 18 July 2018. Turkey has been governed by SoE decree laws. More than 100,000 public employees have been dismissed from their posts, numerous media outlets and associations have been closed down while rather extensive and gross human rights violations have been carried out by means of these decree laws. The Turkish Constitution was amended on 16 April 2017 under the ongoing SoE and the country took on an authoritarian system based on single-man governance. While Turkey was trying to democratize itself, it went back to at least 30 years and its constitution -founded on parliamentarian democracy which was the product of a military coup d’état- put on an even more anti-democratic character with the referendum of 16 April 2017 held under the ongoing SoE.
Efforts to democratize the republic has proven to be a process during which human rights defenders (HRDs) had to pay heavy prices. Turkey has long topped the list of countries where repression of and attacks against human rights defenders were witnessed the most. Numerous individuals involved in the human rights movement have faced trials, been convicted, assaulted and murdered. Associations active in the human rights field have been searched, closed down, wire-tapped and prevented from carrying out their activities. Scores of rights and law organizations in Turkey have been closed down, those that remained open have been kept at a firm grip and their executives along with their members have been subjected to a policy of judicial harassment because of the SoE.
The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey is one that was drafted pursuant to the military coup d’état of 12 September 1980. This constitution adopted a policy of impunity as a whole. Democratization efforts during the EU accession process and the peace process, however, failed to eradicate this policy of impunity in its entirety which, at the same time, become a culture in Turkey. Impunity has been re-granted an overt legal protection through decree laws issued during the SoE and even civilians have been awarded impunity particularly through the SoE decree law no. 696. The most pressing problem that HRDs have to face in Turkey is such policy of impunity implemented by the state. Thus HRDs quest for justice fail to yield any results because of these policies of impunity.
Further, İHD, which was established in 1986, has been singled out due to its holistic approach that handles human rights as a whole and its struggle to end rights violations. Militarist state policy has always perceived human rights organizations like İHD and HRDs as dangerous internal enemies. Such perception has started to change with the EU process. Yet, some institutions maintain their perception of HRDs as security risks for human rights are interpreted within the scope of a perspective characterized by security in Turkey, as is the case in the world. The Memorandum Document and the Strong Action Plan [Andıç Belgesi and Güçlü Eylem Planı] drafted by the Turkish General Staff in 1998 claimed that İHD was an internal enemy that should be closed down. This document was officially acknowledged by the General Staff in 2000. The criminal complaints filed by İHD regarding the generals who signed this document failed to yield any results with no effective investigations launched and no criminal cases were initiated against them. Within the scope of the trial launched in Ankara about the coup attempt of 28 February 1997, the generals only faced attempted coup charges while they did not face charges with regards to the Memorandum Document and the Strong Action Plan they had drafted against institutions like İHD. As is seen, the policy of impunity was maintained despite clear criminal evidence existed.
Click to read the full report: 20190531_Special ReportOnHRA&HRDs