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Lawmakers Urge Biden to Address Turkey’s Human Rights Abuses Ahead of NATO Summit

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging President Biden to push Turkey to abide by international law while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in Washington for the NATO Summit between July 9 and 11, raising alarm over “systematic human rights abuses.”

Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) led a group of 142 House members in a letter to Biden sent Tuesday.

“We urge you, President Biden, to prioritize human rights and press the Turkish government to cease its transnational repression campaign, unconditionally release political prisoners, and restore the rule of law,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Your intervention is crucial to upholding the values of democracy and human rights on the global stage.”

The Biden administration says that it raises its concerns about human rights wherever it observes violations. The State Department’s 2023 country reports on human rights practices noted that Turkey had “significant human rights issues” and that the government “took limited steps to identify and punish some officials who may have committed human rights abuses.”

Still, the Biden administration has sought to keep close ties with Ankara, a NATO ally that controls the main passageway between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, and has acknowledged the strain of Turkey hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees stemming from the 2012 civil war in that country.

The lawmakers, in their letter, call for Biden to exercise “urgent intervention to address Turkey’s non-compliance with international law and its systematic human rights abuses,” and highlight specific instances of transnational repression, saying the Turkish government has sought to “silence” critics like Enes Kanter Freedom, a former NBA player and outspoken critic of Erdoğan.

The Turkish government has gone after Freedom’s “family in Turkey and placing an Interpol red notice and bounty on him and on many others,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers also accuse Turkey of “Interpol abuses,” including the forcible transfer of more than 100 Turkish nationals with allegations of involvement in the 2016 coup, “with reports of torture, denial of legal rights, and coerced confessions,” they wrote.

“The UN Special Rapporteur’s letter in 2020 condemned the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abduction and forcible return of Turkish citizens from multiple countries. Victims face torture, pressure, and humiliation before being deported, with the Turkish government neither denying nor hiding these actions,” the lawmakers wrote.

“This further underscores the need for urgent intervention to address Turkey’s non-compliance with international law and its systematic human rights abuses.”

The conclusion emphasizes the need for the Biden administration to balance its strategic interests with Turkey against the pressing demand to address and rectify human rights violations, ensuring that democratic values and international law are upheld.

The Biden administration should take a multi-faceted approach to address Turkey’s human rights abuses while maintaining strategic ties. Here are some steps they could consider:

  1. Raise Human Rights Concerns Publicly and Privately: President Biden should publicly and privately express concerns about Turkey’s human rights record during meetings with President Erdoğan and other Turkish officials at the NATO Summit. This includes urging the release of political prisoners and the cessation of transnational repression.
  2. Leverage Diplomatic Channels: Utilize diplomatic channels to pressure Turkey to comply with international human rights standards. This could involve working with other NATO allies and international organizations to present a united front.
  3. Support Human Rights Organizations: Increase support for NGOs and human rights organizations that document and advocate against abuses in Turkey. Providing funding and resources to these groups can help amplify their efforts.
  4. Condition Military and Economic Aid: Consider conditioning military and economic aid on improvements in Turkey’s human rights practices. This would send a clear message that the U.S. values human rights and democratic governance.
  5. Engage in Multilateral Forums: Use multilateral forums, such as the United Nations, to highlight Turkey’s human rights violations and seek international pressure on Turkey to reform.
  6. Protect Exiled Dissidents: Ensure the protection of Turkish dissidents in the U.S. and other countries by offering asylum and speaking out against efforts to silence them, such as the case of Enes Kanter Freedom.
  7. Promote Legal and Judicial Reforms: Encourage and support legal and judicial reforms in Turkey that would strengthen the rule of law and protect individual freedoms and rights.
  8. Monitor and Report: Continue to monitor and report on human rights conditions in Turkey through the State Department’s annual reports, ensuring that the international community remains informed and engaged.

By taking these steps, the Biden administration can demonstrate a commitment to human rights while balancing the strategic importance of maintaining a working relationship with a key NATO ally.

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