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IOHR partners with Press Emblem Campaign to consider the future of human rights in Turkey prior to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review 3rd Cycle

27 January 2020
  • The International Observatory of Human Rights teamed up with the Press Emblem Campaign to host a discussion to coincide with the UN’s Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey and to highlight the unprecedented threat to human rights in Turkey.
  • The discussion was convened at the Palais des Nations, United Nations in Geneva.
  • In the previous UPR cycle the Turkish government officially supported 14 recommendations related to strengthening the legal framework on freedom of expression and 5 recommendations specifically related to bringing terrorism legislation in line with international human rights standards.

The International Observatory of Human Rights partnered with Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) to host the discussion just as Turkey was set to receive its human rights review at the UN in Geneva the following day. Panelists included journalists, civil society, academic experts, NGOs and those with government experience.

Turkey has not upheld its UPR promises. In fact, in the period under review, the government has weaponised the legal system and terror legislation to restrict free expression. By means of freedom of expression and freedom of press Turkey now stands far below where it was back in 2010, when the first UPR cycle was compiled.

During the talks a Turkish citizen who was afraid to give a name proclaimed,

“Turkey is a big prison. Everyone feels alone. They are surrounded by silence. It is so important for the international society to speak up for us. This is why this UPR means so much to us.”

Echoing this feeling of being fearful of how much they can talk about these issues, panelist Nurcan Baysal said,

“We are censoring ourselves because of these fears. For example before coming here I asked myself if I should use certain words, should i use the word invasion, or should i use the word war, because today in turkey even to say war is forbidden. Everything that I say has an effect on not only my life but of the lives of my children and family.”

The dearth of critical voices in Turkey was another serious concern for speakers on the press freedom panel. Yavuz Baydar, Editor-in-Chief of Ahval, expressed serious concern for news and internet blackouts as one of the issues surrounding the lack of critical voices.

“No state or power can decide who is a journalist, it is the domain for professional organisations and should always be seperate from power”

Panel 2 discussed the importance of addressing rights violations towards human rights defenders. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, gave a detailed presentation of the rights violation she and other human rights defenders have faced. Examining one of the causes of the rights violations she noted that,

“All the procedural safeguards have been neglected.”

Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR, addressed the need for Turkey to not only support but to also adopt recommendations that come as a result of the UN review this week.

“The UPR gives Turkey the opportunity to step up to its obligations to it’s people to underpin freedom of Expression, human rights and the rule of international law. It is time for action now, not more platitudes. Today at the U.N the quality and conviction of our speakers and our partnership with Press Emblem and the London Advocacy Group again highlighted the evidence is there already. We all call out the urgent need for change in Turkey.”

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