The torture crimes committed by the government and state officials in Turkey and the measures to be taken in this regard were discussed in a panel organized at the UK Parliament.
At the meeting titled “The Deterrence Potential of Multilateral Sanctions for Human Rights Violations in Turkey,” where prominent lawyers and activists made presentations, it was emphasized that more pressure should be applied to the UK government to impose sanctions on officials involved in torture and other countries should also get involved in this matter. The developments regarding the “sanction request” submitted by British lawyers two years ago, including the Magnitsky Act, to the UK government were also evaluated.
British lawyers Kevin Dent QC and Michael Polak applied to the UK Foreign Office in 2021 under the Magnitsky Act (Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 within the framework of Global Human Rights Sanctions Rules) and requested sanctions against the perpetrators of three different torture incidents in Turkey. Canadian lawyer Sarah Teich also applied to the Canadian government to include 12 Turkish government officials responsible for abductions and torture on the sanctions list.
The panel, hosted by member of the House of Lords and lawyer Baroness Kennedy, was organized by The Arrested Lawyers Initiative based in Brussels and the human rights associations Human Rights Solidarity operating in the UK. The panel took place on Monday in Block G of the UK Parliament, and approximately 30 invited guests, including politicians, lawyers, and human rights activists, attended.
Baroness Helena Kennedy Baroness Helena Kennedy, a Labour Party member of the UK House of Lords and lawyer, hosted the panel and gave the opening speech. She reminded that Turkey has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) multiple times and each time unlawful actions and decisions have been identified. She noted that the Council of Europe is currently considering the possibilities of taking action against Turkey.
The panelists presented their work on the issue of “torture and impunity” in Turkey and encouraged public awareness regarding the current political situation in Turkey and the benefits of UK sanctions.
“Bilateral relations hinder the implementation of the law”
Pointing out the closeness of security and diplomatic relations between the UK and Turkey, the lawyers indicated that this makes the implementation of sanctions more difficult. They highlighted that the UK government is experiencing a loss of motivation in implementing human rights sanctions against Turkish officials due to concerns that it could jeopardize future relations. They emphasized that the UK’s approach so far has been limited to temporarily raising concerns about human rights violations in Turkey at ministerial-level bilateral meetings.
While explaining how Turkey’s example could harm even established democracies, it was stated, “It shows the risk of shifting towards authoritarianism and instability if they do not resist emerging abuses and their allies do not hold them accountable.”
Michael Polak, who signed the application for “Magnitsky Sanctions” regarding the perpetrators of torture in Turkey, recalled that they submitted a well-prepared evidence dossier of 500 pages to the UK Foreign Office. Polak stated that despite two years passing since the application, no steps have been taken yet. However, he said, “But I email the ministry every two months and ask, ‘Did you read it?’ Sanctions work better when multiple countries are involved.”
Referring to the claims that the UK is reluctant to impose sanctions due to its close relations with Turkey, lawyer Kevin Dent QC made the following evaluation: “When I talk to people who criticize Turkey’s human rights record, they say that sanctions against Turkish citizens are very complicated. We need to overcome the sentiment that sanctions cannot be applied to a friendly country.”
Natalia Kubesch from Redress also drew attention to the same issue in her speech, evaluating the avoidance of friendly country citizens from sanctions as “hypocrisy” and saying, “This sends the message that some lives are more important than others.”
Canadian lawyer Sarah Teich emphasized the need for countries to act jointly on sanctions, stating, “There are things we can learn from the United Kingdom, and there are things they can learn from Canada. Multilateral learning is as good as multilateral sanctions.”
More than 600,000 people were detained on terrorism charges
According to official figures, more than 600,000 people were detained by the police in Turkey after the attempted coup in 2016 on overly broad and subjective terrorism charges, and over 100,000 of them were arrested. From 2016 to 2021, more than 310,000 people were convicted of membership in armed terrorist organizations. During the same period, more than 1,600 lawyers were detained, and 551 lawyers, most of whom were charged with “membership in terrorist organizations,” were sentenced to a total of 3,356 years in prison for terrorism-related charges.
In September 2020, The Arrested Lawyers Initiative launched the Turkey Human Rights Accountability Project in response to ongoing human rights violations and the arbitrary arrests of lawyers, activists, journalists, and academics. Lawyers Kevin Dent QC, Michael Polak, and Sarah Teich made sanctions applications to governments as a continuation of this project.
Mehmet Özdemir – TR724 | LONDON