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  1. Introduction: Human Rights Crisis in Turkey Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe, finds itself at a crossroads where its commitment to protecting human rights and international law is under scrutiny. The country is currently mired in a massive human rights crisis, and in the wake of the ECtHR Grand Chamber decision, everyone with a sensitivity to human rights is waiting for the steps the government will take to address or exacerbate this issue. This report conducts a comprehensive examination of the human rights crisis and sheds light on the systematic disregard of fundamental human rights and international legal principles by the Turkish government. At the heart of the ongoing crisis is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber (ECtHR) dated September 26, 2023. This decision represents a significant turning point concerning ongoing human rights violations. Instead of heralding a new era of accountability and respect for human rights, it has been met with defiance from the Turkish government. This report examines the multifaceted dimensions of this crisis, highlighting its urgency and the need for steadfast international support. II. ECtHR Grand Chamber Decision: A Significant Turning Point in the Crisis The decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Yüksel Yalçınkaya v. Turkey on September 26, 2023, marks a turning point in the crisis Turkey is facing. The implications of this decision will resonate throughout the history of human rights and justice. The scope of violations emphasized in this decision is as follows:
  2. Violation of Article 7: Arbitrary Trials and Arbitrary Convictions The ECtHR’s decision reveals that actions cited as the basis for charges of terrorism in Turkey cannot constitute evidence of membership in a terrorist organization, and that charges were brought against individuals in violation of the principles of legality and predictability. Actions such as depositing money in a legitimate bank, using a widely-used mobile application, attending social gatherings, being a member of an association or union, sending one’s child to a legal school, subscribing to a newspaper, writing a newspaper column, or working at a legally established school were equated with membership in a terrorist organization, even though these acts were not part of the factual elements of the crime of terrorist organization membership. This decision points to a serious violation of rights by deliberately equating these non-criminal acts, which were not crimes according to the interpretations of national courts, with knowingly and willingly joining an armed terrorist organization. This decision underscores a grave breach of the law in Turkey’s terrorism-related trials and highlights the violation of fundamental principles laid out in Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This decision is an accusation of a legal system filled with uncertainties and arbitrariness.
  3. Violation of Article 6 § 1: Unfairness of Trials in Substance and Fundamentally The ECtHR’s decision establishes the violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. It reveals that trials leading to convictions for serious crimes resulting in heavy penalties in the scope of Article 6 § 1 were fundamentally and substantively unfair under Article 6 of the ECHR. Additionally, the courts’ failure to respond to the requests and objections of the defendants, their insensitivity to defense arguments, and the finding that the defendants were not genuinely “heard” raised legitimate suspicions that the trials were merely formal proceedings. As expressed in the ECtHR decision, the systematic obstruction of the right to a fair trial in Turkey seriously tarnishes the integrity of its judicial system and exposes it to a clear accusation of failing to uphold the most basic principles of justice.
  4. Violation of Article 11: Unprecedented Attack on Freedom of Association The ECtHR’s decision also underscores an unprecedented attack on the freedom of association protected under Article 11 of the Convention. The interference with the freedom of association by the Turkish government, which seeks to suppress dissent, and its classification of the freedom of association as a terrorist offense, has obliterated the right to freely assemble and engage in peaceful and legitimate activities with like-minded individuals, which forms the bedrock of democratic societies. The ECtHR calls for a reversal of this systematic wrong, stating that accusing individuals of terrorism without any actions that could be interpreted as incitement to violence or rejection of the foundations of a democratic society amounts to a serious violation of the freedom of association. As stated in the ECtHR decision, the consequences of this violation go beyond the directly affected individuals, deeply undermining the right to participate in civil life without unwarranted interference, even in the absence of any actions that could be construed as incitement to violence or rejection of democratic values. Systemic Issues and ECtHR’s Call to Action The ECtHR Grand Chamber decision has broader consequences that go beyond individual cases. As explicitly stated in the decision, approximately 8,500 applications involving similar complaints falling within the scope of Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention are pending before the ECtHR at the decision stage, and more than 100,000 cases with similar allegations continue to be heard in Turkey, despite the decision of the ECtHR. Within the scope of the ECtHR’s finding, when considering the data of the Turkish Ministry of Justice, it can be said that there is a systematic and serious problem affecting over 1,000,000 individuals. Due to the identification of systemic problems, the ECtHR has made a resonating call to action within the framework of Article 46, concerning the binding nature and implementation of the decisions. Turkey has been entrusted with taking general measures to address these systemic problems related to its approach to evidence identified as inconsistent with the principle that there is no crime or penalty without a law. The consequences of this call to action will be far-reaching, necessitating comprehensive reforms to protect the rights of all individuals affected by these systemic deficiencies and violations within the Turkish legal system. III. Defiance by the Turkish Government: Undermining the Foundations of Justice The response of the Turkish government following the ECtHR decision is deeply concerning and raises profound concerns about the state of international law and human rights in the country:
  5. Labeling the ECtHR Decision as “Inadmissible” and Accusations of Overstepping Jurisdiction Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç’s initial reaction to the ECtHR’s decision was outright rejection. Tunç not only categorically dismissed the decision as “inadmissible” but also rejected the authority of a reputable international legal institution, openly challenging its credibility. Furthermore, Minister Tunç accused the ECtHR of overstepping its jurisdiction and claimed that its findings were intrusive and unfounded. Following the Justice Minister’s statement, on October 1, 2023, during the opening of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM), President Erdoğan, referring to the ECtHR decision, stated, ‘The recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, a body of the Council of Europe, have been the last straw… It is impossible for us to respect the decisions of institutions aligned with terrorist organizations just like us.’ This statement indicates his opposition to the decision. These responses not only undermine the legitimacy of a respected international court but also raise critical questions about the government’s unwillingness to accept accountability for its actions.
  6. Questioning the Binding Force of the ECtHR Minister Tunç, with a gesture that questions the authority of the ECtHR, stated that they would be launching a review of the decision, suggesting the possibility of appealing the ruling. While appealing the decision is within Turkey’s legal rights, the dismissive tone and language used by the government raise concerns about its commitment to upholding international law.
  7. Implications for the Wider Human Rights Crisis The Turkish government’s defiant stance in the face of the ECtHR’s decision has serious implications for the wider human rights crisis in the country. It signals a continuation of the government’s disregard for international norms and principles, further undermining the rule of law and human rights protections within Turkey. IV. Urgent Need for International Support and Monitoring Given the gravity of the human rights crisis in Turkey and the government’s defiant response to the ECtHR decision, there is an urgent need for international support and monitoring. The following steps are essential:
  8. International Monitoring Mechanism The international community should establish a monitoring mechanism to oversee the implementation of the ECtHR’s decision and the broader human rights situation in Turkey. This mechanism should include independent experts and organizations to ensure transparency and accountability.
  9. Pressure for Compliance International actors, including the Council of Europe, European Union, and United Nations, should exert pressure on the Turkish government to comply with the ECtHR decision and undertake comprehensive legal reforms to address systemic human rights violations.
  10. Protection of Civil Society Efforts should be made to protect civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists who are at risk in Turkey. International support should include legal assistance, advocacy, and diplomatic interventions.
  11. Monitoring of New Legislation The international community should closely monitor any legislative changes in Turkey that may further erode human rights protections and the rule of law.
  12. Engagement with Turkish Civil Society International actors should engage directly with Turkish civil society organizations to understand their needs and concerns and provide support accordingly.
  13. Conclusion The human rights crisis in Turkey is reaching a critical juncture, with the recent ECtHR Grand Chamber decision serving as a turning point. The Turkish government’s defiant response to the decision and its refusal to acknowledge the gravity of the crisis raise serious concerns about its commitment to upholding international law and protecting human rights. Urgent international support and monitoring are essential to address this crisis, protect the rights of individuals affected, and hold the Turkish government accountable for its actions. The international community must stand together to ensure that human rights and the rule of law prevail in Turkey.
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Nurullah Albayrak is lawyer and columnist at TR724.com


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