“It’s time for me to take up a new assignment in Turkey… There are a number of similarities between Tanzania and Turkey if you look at how the two countries are affected by conflict occurring in some neighboring countries.”
This remarkable, far-reaching and thought-provoking statement was made by United Nations Resident Coordinator Alvaro Rodriguez at the end of his service term in Tanzania; holding the reins of the pan-world organization program mainly targeting the realization of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) befitting the demands of the 21st century.
Why remarkable? Because what he gathered over the years he worked in Tanzania is very different from the rolling stone English proverb experience. Alvaro Rodriguez gathered the moss; worth keeps for all stakeholders on site in the Great Lakes region and learning from by those living beyond, including his new destination, Turkey.
To borrow from his own words: “I’ve learnt a lot through my experiences within the Kigoma Joint Program through which we, as UN, support refugees from Burundi and DRC and the communities hosting the refugees…”
Why far-reaching? Even from the rudimental geographical location perspective alone, Tanzania and Turkey are thousands of kilometers apart. In fact, Google sets the flight distance between Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, and its Turkish counterpart, Istanbul, at 8,008.5 km; while that of between the two countries’ seat of government, Dodoma and Ankara, is 7,435.5 km.
Also equally worth embracing under the concept are distances from remote Kigoma, hosting the refugees, and their countries of origin, Burundi and DRC, in the African continent hinterland. Worth consideration here as well are corridors of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
When Turkey is drawn into the refugee problem picture, one is talking of the country’s neighbours in the Middle East Region – Iraq and Syria in particular. The experiences of Alvaro Rodriguez in Tanzania will definitely be useful here.
Why thought-provoking? This could perhaps constitute the most important aspect of whatever Alvaro Rodriguez had to say during his farewell media interview in Tanzania before taking up a new appointment in Turkey. Neighbouring countries’ problems aside, Turkey has a very peculiar aspect. Unlike Tanzania, the country itself generates refugees!
Alvaro Rodriguez will have to work overtime to reverse this. One need not envy him. Goal Sixteen of the SDGs says categorically that we cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law.
It also observes that torture is prevalent where there is conflict or no rule of law and goes on to call on countries to take measures for protecting those who are most at risk. To be specific, here we are talking of women, children and the youth.
On a global scale, by the end of 2017, a total of 68.5 million people had been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violation. Maybe UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore puts it much better at the time when the world is marking the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Child Rights Convention.
Worried Fore says: “Children have always been the first victims of war. Today, the number of countries experiencing conflict is the highest it has ever been since the adoption of the convention. One in four children now live in countries affected by violent fighting or disaster; with 28 million …driven from their homes by wars and insecurity.”
So, what is on the ground waiting to tap on Alvaro Rodriguez experience in Turkey in terms of implementing the Sixteenth and other SDGs whose overall aim is to, among others, reduce all forms of violence and work with governments and communities to end conflicts and insecurity? Promoting the rule of law and human rights are key to this process.
Alvaro Rodriguez is taking up the new assignment in a country that has painted itself a picture of being like a prison for the righteous people. In the past three years, 17,000 women are on record for having been jailed. Comparable figures in history are traceable only to South Africa of the apartheid era.
The ‘crime’ of these women is being members of the Hizmet movement – the proof of which depositing a 1$ currency note in Bank Asia, subscribing for Zaman newspaper, or possession of books belonging to Fethullah Gulen, is enough.
Latest figures talk of more than 6,000 women and 700 children. What can an 86-year-old granny and a two-year-old child (baby?) do to warrant being held in a prison? Isn’t this reading the SDGs’ call for protecting those who are most at risk upside down? Sad stories abound, including a 32-year-old mother of three escaping from Turkey to Greece, only to die of cerebral breeding and distress.
Among the 169 targets of the seventeen SDGs goals, the question of improving education is given special emphasis. How does a country achieve this with 69,301 students under arrest, hundreds of thousand books are being destroyed, teachers being sacked and, at worst, detained? How can this be achieved by closing 15 universities?
Since the failed coup of July 15, 2016, the government has issued more than 30 decrees. As of March this year, state officials, teachers, bureaucrats and academics have been dismissed. In July 2018 an anti-terrorism bill was passed replacing emergency rule allowing authorities under the presidency to dismiss judges and other public officials arbitrally, restrict movement within turkey, ban public assemblies and allow the police to hold some suspects …without charge and repeatedly detain them in the same investigation.”
On the human rights issue, Turkey is signatory to several international treaties, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights but has gone ahead and suspended the European Convention on Human Rights during the state of emergency.
Kurds, Gulenists, and Islamists (ISIS) remain the main suspect target. In the process Turkey now has the third-highest per capita prison population in Europe, behind only Russia and tiny post-Soviet dictatorship of Belarus. Turkey holds the world record on jailed journalists. Prisons are said to be holding about 7% over their official capacity.
A Journalists and Writers Association based in New York says about 44% of inmates in Turkey are still awaiting trial or appeal. The situation in Turkey has given birth to Saturday Mothers — a group of activists and relatives seeking the whereabouts of their loved ones who disappeared in police hands.
The Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) reported in one of its studies titled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides in Turkey” that there has been an increase in deaths inside jails and detention centres. A typical case is one of retired professor Sabri Colk, who was jailed reportedly because of appearing on a television documentary about Gulen.
The world should wish Alvaro Rodriguez all the best in the execution of his NEW duties in Turkey. As, he said, he takes with him the experiences he acquired during his term in Tanzania when dealing with refugees from Burundi and DRC. Turkey has a longer and more sophisticated list to address along the dimensions of governance.
The people need amore voice against the government increased accountability. Turkey needs more political stability, rule of law and corruption control. In Turkey there is need for action to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms. This cannot be done on muzzled media.
As UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay had time to point out:“Being a well informed citizen means being knowledgeable, having a critical mind, and being able to play an active part in community and nation life.” Turkey is currently relatively missing out on the path to attaining the world’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.