Turkey’s Turmoil: UN called on to act over Turkey’s actions that have jeopardised their legal system

July 25, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Law Society of England and Wales leads the submission to the UN over the “systematic undermining” of Turkey’s lawyers.

What does this mean?

14 international legal organisations have teamed up to demand UN involvement in a 25-page report to the Human Rights Council. Erdoğan’s (the Turksih President) government triggered the systematic persecution of prosecutors and judges after a failed coup in 2016. They were convicted of terrorism “without credible evidence”. However, a spokesperson for the Turkish embassy has said those who were dismissed were “affiliated with FETO, a terrorist organisation that has infiltrated the civil service over the years”. He added that removing “these individuals from duty is a legitimate security reflex”.

However, concerns over poor human rights were raised even before the 2016 coup. Since then there have been significantly more arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. Reports of intimidation and threats from those still practicing undermine the rule of law, and rights to fair trials and legal representation.

Why should law firms care?

The way the international community deals with these egregious actions will send a clear message to all those leaders who seek to subvert the law. Whether this message will be zero tolerance or something much weaker will depend not only on the organisations who drafted the report but also on whether the UN intervenes or not.

The Turkish government blames the Gülenist movement (a nonpolitical “spiritual” group) for organising the coup. Thousands of supporters were imprisoned, sacked from public jobs, and prosecuted. On the day after the coup, 2740 judges and prosecutors were suspended over suspected links to the movement. However, UN principles state lawyers must be allowed to perform their duties without interference and never be identified with clients or their causes. Turkey’s actions are a clear breach of international agreements.

Since the 2016 coup, the government has gained worrying control over the legal system. Legislative and constitutional reforms gave the government more control. Thus, the independence of the legal system has been drastically weakened.

An appeal to the Human Rights Council is necessary here as 57,036 petitions have been sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Unfortunately, many of these have been rejected because domestic solutions were not exhausted before turning to the ECtHR. Yet the weakened rule of law in Turkey after the persecutions shows they may not be effective. Simon Davis, President of the Law Society, has said that the international legal profession will continue to support colleagues working in difficult conditions and do whatever it can to help restore meaningful access to justice in Turkey. It is now up to the Human Rights Council to decide whether the UN will act.

Report written by Elizabeth Marshall

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