On 27 January I was invited by the Law Society to visit the United Nations in Geneva as part of a delegation of lawyers, journalists and experts on human rights issues in Turkey to observe the second “Universal Periodic Review” of Turkey’s human rights record. The first was held in 2010 and made a series of recommendations with regard to how Turkey could improve its human rights record. Many legislative changes have been made since then to give the appearance at least that these issues have been addressed.
The Law Society and Lawyers for Lawyers held an event after the review had taken place with a panel of speakers, including myself, who have “on the ground” experience with regard to issues surrounding freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and also the way in which the role of the lawyer in Turkey is being put under pressure as a result of the prosecution of many lawyers who are being identified with the alleged crimes of their clients.
I have been observing one of these trials for the Law Society over the last few years and a report with further background information can be found here.
Around 80 delegates attended the Law Society event, including a number of country representatives from UN member countries. The consensus amongst the speakers was that although the human rights situation in Turkey has improved from the very bad days of the early 1990’s the prevailing atmosphere is still oppressive in relation to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and in relation to the protection of the right to privacy. The position of lawyers and journalists is particularly tenuous within a regime which has brought prosecutions against thousands of individual lawyers and journalists alleging terrorist activity or activity against the interests of the state. Gender equality and gender identity are also areas where discrimination and persecution persist. Attempts to block access to thousands of websites, to control social media and other methods of communication have also been of substantial concern. Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU did initially produce a raft of more liberal legislation. However, it was felt that there is now an accelerating political process which is attempting to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms as Turkey’s enthusiasm for EU membership wanes and the government (and in particular the President) turns away from Europe and EU values.
As always there are no easy answers but those present remain committed to continue to raise awareness, gather evidence and pursue remedies for breaches of fundamental rights and freedoms wherever these are available.