The U.S. Department of State has released its annual country report on Human Rights in Turkey, outlining some areas of improvement and drawing attention to some major deficiencies in Turkey’s record over the past year.
The report noted the full range of human rights issues in Turkey.
Security forces committed unlawful killings. Authorities obstructed demonstrations. Security forces allegedly used excessive force during sometimes violent protests related to the Kurdish issue, students’ rights, and labor and opposition activities. The government obstructed the activities of human rights organizations, particularly in the Southeast.
Impunity remained a problem. The government investigated reports of abuse by security forces, but the number of arrests and prosecutions was low, and convictions remained rare, although the number increased from previous years.
In particular, the report highlighted three issues as being particularly acute:
1. Deficiencies in access to justice.
Broad laws against terrorism and other threats to the state and a lack of transparency in the prosecution of such cases significantly restricted access to justice. While legal reforms led to the release of thousands from jail, the judicial system was politicized and overburdened and authorities continued to engage in arbitrary arrests, hold detainees for lengthy and indefinite periods in pretrial detention, and conduct extended trials. The secrecy of investigation orders also allowed authorities to limit defense access to evidence and fueled concerns about the effectiveness of judicial protections for suspects. The close connection between prosecutors and judges gave the appearance of impropriety and bias, while broad authority granted to prosecutors and judges contributed to inconsistent and uncertain application of criminal laws, particularly during expansive investigations related to state security.
2. Government interference with freedom of expression
The penal code and antiterror law retain multiple articles that restrict freedom of the press and the Internet. Authorities imprisoned scores of journalists who remained incarcerated at year’s end, most charged under antiterror laws or for connections to an illegal organization. As a result of the Third Judicial Reform Package, the publication of approximately 400 books was no longer prohibited. Journalists, academics, and authors reported self-censorship was common because individuals in many cases were afraid that criticizing the state or government publicly could result in civil or criminal suits or investigations. Political leaders, including the prime minister, sued their critics for defamation. The government harassed and prosecuted persons sympathetic to some religious, political, and Kurdish nationalist or cultural viewpoints. Authorities detained thousands of persons, including many students, during legal demonstrations and charged many under antiterror laws, significantly limiting freedom of assembly.
3. Inadequate protection of vulnerable populations
The government did not effectively protect vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, from societal abuse, discrimination, and violence. While the passage of a new domestic violence law showed progress, violence against women, including so-called honor killings, remained a significant problem. Child marriage persisted.
It is clear from this report that the United States is aware of the serious human rights violations that persist in Turkey. The question is whether it is willing to use its influence to effect change. Its record of acting on the federally mandated reports is not good.
The U.S. government will have an ideal opportunity to broach these subjects with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan when he visits the United States in May. Let us work to ensure that it does.