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Bipartisan group of 54 US Senators call for action on Turkey’s troubling human rights record

A group of fifty-four US Senators have signed a letter urging US President Joe Biden to press Turkey on its troubling human rights record. The bipartisan group, led by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida cited Erdogan for silencing critical media outlets, replacing the judiciary, and also noted his concerning foreign policy that has,

“…also grown more belligerent and combative over time. In recent years, he brazenly attacked U.S.-backed Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, he purchased Russian air defense systems despite warnings that they were incompatible with U.S. technology, and he encouraged Azerbaijan to use violence to settle a territorial dispute with Armenia,”

The letter also addressed Turkish pressure on the US to extradite Turkish nationals that are accused of being party to the attempted coup in 2016, naming NBA Basketball player and human rights advocate Enes Kanter as one of the most high-profile Turkish nationals in this position. Kanter and his family have faced continuous pressure from the long arm of the Erdogan administration, and in 2019 the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office prepared an extradition request, as well as an Interpol red notice for Kanter.

US-Turkey relations

This is not the first instance of U.S Senators criticising the Turkish regime. In October 2020, a group of Democratic senators, led by Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland demanded that the US government investigate alleged human rights violations committed by Turkey and its ally Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Senators Menendez and Van Hollen introduced two new nonbinding resolutions for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that demanded an inquiry into the violations by Turkey and Armenia.

In December 2020, the Democratic and Republican leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that Turkey’s behaviour is undermining NATO and US-Turkey relations. Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Democratic Senator of New York Y and Michael McCaul, Ranking member of the Committee and Republican representative for Texas, said that Turkey’s actions in Syria risked “reversing critical gains” made by the United States and its Syrian allies against the Islamic State (IS).

“We are gravely concerned by the threat Turkey’s increasingly provocative behavior poses to our decades-long bilateral relationship, to the NATO alliance, and to the region more broadly,”

Traditionally, Turkey is an important ally for the United States; a fellow NATO member, an important trade partner with bilateral economic relations, as well as holding significant geostrategic importance positioned on the Black Sea. The United States has also championed Turkey’s membership at the EU, based on the fact that Turkey is a key regional power with a large economy and has the second-largest military force of NATO after the US.  However, the spread of Turkey’s human rights violations have come to the attention of the new administration and should take precedence in future agreements. More pressure needs to be applied from large powers such as the US, to ensure that Turkey complies with its international human rights obligations. 

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