AS (2017) CR 12
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 25 April 2017 at 10.00 a.m.
The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Ms ĊBERG (Sweden) – The situation in Turkey is grave, and we all view with great concern the development of both the arbitrary legislation and the implementation of measures aimed at censoring the opposition in Turkey to Mr Erdoğan’s regime. It is with sadness that we view the Turkish State moving in a direction that takes it further away from the previous positions of improving standards on democracy, the rule of law, justice, and the protection of human rights. Instead, we witness a policy aimed at contrary views and policies.
In the wake of the recently held referendum on the constitutional changes proposed by the present government of Turkey, many questions remain to be answered by the Turkish authorities. One of these concerns the serious prospect of the possible reinstating of the death penalty in Turkey’s penal code, from which it was removed when Turkey entered the Council of Europe. The rejection of capital punishment is a basic principle of our Organisation and there must be no wavering on this item. The political leadership in one of our member States is sending messages of a fearful nature and this Assembly must stand strong.
The clarity of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly must provide space for a continuing dialogue with Turkey, the Turkish people and the many parts of society that are not in favour of the current development. We should pay special attention to those who hold democratically elected positions and political office and work towards protecting and safeguarding their right to perform political activities and bring an end to persecution.
There can be no doubt about our obligation in this domain and the need to consider the possibility of yet again making Turkey the subject of a monitoring process, as laid down in the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Let us also take into account the fact that 49% of the electorate did not vote in favour of the proposed changes to the Turkish constitution. We have an obligation not to abandon those who believe in democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the fundamental principles upon which this Assembly is founded. The Council of Europe must reach out and work within the mandates already being given or seek to enlarge them if necessary.
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – Let me start by referring to the main concerns in the report, as outlined in the summary. Obviously, we must acknowledge the right of Turkey's democratically elected government to declare a state of emergency and other measures after the attempted coup d´état and when the threat of terror is imminent, but the measures and their duration should be proportionate. Mass arrests and dismissals of civil servants, judges, prosecutors, academics, parliamentarians and mayors, as well as attacks on freedom of the media, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly can by no means be accepted. To be arrested because you criticise the president is not in accordance with the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Neither is long-lasting pre-trial detention. Accusations of ill-treatment must be investigated, and those responsible must be held to account.
I would like to raise another worrying issue that is not addressed in the report on which I hope the rapporteurs will comment and look into in their next report. The referendum shows a divided people. Since the 1960s and ’70s, lots of Turks have emigrated to other European countries, including Norway. They are valued members of our workforce and contribute to economic growth. In my home town of Drammen, more than 27% of the population are immigrants, and we have a large Turkish population. For decades, our local authorities have made efforts to integrate immigrants. Today, many of them are engaged in local democracy, voluntary organisations and sports. Ethnic conflicts are non-existent. Our local society is built on trust.
A very sad fact, though, is that we are now seeing very worrying signs that the conflict in Turkey is spreading to the Turkish diaspora in Norway, as well as in other countries. People tell us about serious conflicts, even within families and between friends, involving both children and adolescents. People worry about family members in Turkey, but are afraid to visit them for fear of having their passports revoked. The Turkish authorities encourage Turks abroad to report on Erdoğan opponents. Norwegian Turks have seen their names and pictures exposed in the Turkish media, being described as terrorists. This is threatening to undermine all our integration efforts and the peaceful coexistence in our local communities.
I sincerely hope that people will continue to live peacefully together in my home town. I therefore urge the Turkish authorities to stop instigating conflict in our local communities, and I urge the rapporteurs to take notice of this worrying issue in their future work.
Mr CROWE (Ireland) - I am extremely concerned about the situation in Turkey and the attack on democratic institutions.
The referendum on granting President Erdoğan sweeping new powers for the next 12 years has been widely denounced as unfree and unfair. Opposition parties are currently challenging the result in court.
According to a report from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), at least 2 462 No campaigners were detained and 453 sent to jail during the 85-day referendum campaign. The HDP is the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament and it has been targeted by the Turkish Government owing to its electoral success. Eleven HDP MPs and two HDP Co-Chairs remain in prison.
I met the International Federation of Journalists, who outlined to me the extreme conditions that independent journalists are being forced to work under, with the closure of 130 media outlets and the arrests of hundreds of their colleagues. The anti-democratic policies of the Turkish Government are completely unjust and unacceptable, and are pushing the country further along the path to a dictatorship. I am also conscious that I would not be able to make this criticism in Turkey as I would face arrest or imprisonment.
I want to use this forum to call on the Turkish Government immediately to release the 11 MPs and Co-Chairs, to desist from its repressive policies and to drop the charges against these democratically elected representatives.
In March 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a hard-hitting report on the serious human rights and international law violations by the Turkish security forces, in the majority Kurdish south-east of the country. Over 500 000 people have been displaced, 100 000 have been dismissed from their jobs, and thousands have been jailed and tortured. Over 200 politically motivated prisoners in 29 prisons recently went on a hunger strike.
The United Nations report is highly critical of the use of so-called “counter-terrorism legislation” that is being used to remove democratically elected officials of Kurdish origin; severely harass any independent journalists; close independent and Kurdish language media and citizens associations; and justify the mass suspension or dismissal of judges and prosecutors.
This is not a country that anyone could credibly describe as a “country of safe origin” to send refugees back to, but sadly that is what the European Union is currently doing.
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – Turkey is now in a very difficult situation. Turkey is combating the Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY). The Turkish President and Government have frequently said and are still saying that the FETÖ terror organisation has placed its promoters within almost all the components of governmental structures. In this situation, any government would try to guarantee the existence of its statehood and provide security for its nation.
We should also not forget, however, that another important challenge facing Turkey is the migration crisis, which has caused huge turmoil for Europe as well. Turkey is one of the countries making the most effort to solve the problem of global migration. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world: 3 million. Turkey continues to pursue an “open door” policy towards Syrians without any form of discrimination.
At the same time, Turkey is one of the countries which suffer from terror and terrorist organisations. Terrorist organisations like the PKK, ISIS and some others operating in the region threaten Turkish sovereignty and the safety of its people. These attacks have caused hundreds of casualties in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities in Turkey. Measures taken by Ankara in this regard should be approved and supported by the international community.
Of course, for us, the existence of a strong and more secure Turkey, which expands its economic relations and develops relations with European institutions, is extremely important since Turkey is of strategic importance not only in the region but also for Europe. Turkey currently plays an important role in supporting peace and international security and, at the same time, in developing integration processes. Therefore, I think that during the discussions concerning Turkey, these sensitive matters should be taken into account and we should be careful not to damage our relations. Deciding to re-open the monitoring procedure in respect of Turkey would be an unjust, unfair and extremely prejudicial action which would be in stark contradiction to the values of the Council of Europe. This report may have an adverse effect on the relationship between Turkey and the Council of Europe and would not only significantly decrease the credibility of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the eyes of the Turkish public, but would also clearly constitute a discriminatory approach towards Turkey.
Mr GÜLPINAR (Turkey) – I regret to say that neither the traumatic feelings that the terrorist coup attempt created in Turkish society nor the necessity of the measures taken after this initiative have been understood by many of our European friends and by our colleagues, the co-rapporteurs.
Public officials removed from their posts and judges, prosecutors, officers, police officers and soldiers arrested on account of criminal investigations explicitly admitted that the Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation carried out the coup d’état initiative. They openly confessed that they were organised in the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the security systems; that the examination questions were given to them; and that 20% of their salaries were allocated to the terrorist organisation every month after their appointments were made. They decided to issue arrest warrants according to the instructions of the terrorist leader Gülen and they were acting according to his instructions instead of out of loyalty to the State, as would be expected of them as public officials. They carried out their intra-organisational correspondence by way of a cryptographic application; they recruited employees based not on their qualifications and competence but on their loyalty to this terrorist network; they expelled from the workplace those who did not obey the rules of FETÖ; and they even went as far as fabricating false evidence and imprisoning innocent people. In this respect, contrary to what this report suggests, all dismissals, detentions and arrests have been decided on the basis of concrete evidence and such confessions.
Moreover, legal remedies are available against these dismissals: for instance, more than 31 000 public employees have been reinstated. For dismissals carried out as listed in the annexe of decree laws, individuals can apply to the Inquiry Commission on State of Emergency Measures. Decisions taken by this commission are also subject to judicial review. All in all, regardless of their political viewpoints, all Turkish people are sure that FETÖ was the organiser of this bloody coup as many of its arrested members openly confess and admit.
Ms ROJHAN GUSTAFSSON (Sweden) – As several of my colleagues mentioned earlier, there are many reasons to worry about the developments in Turkey. All steps taken by President Erdoğan show a new direction in Turkish politics, a direction that is in direct conflict with intentions to become more democratic and stay secular. The region does not need yet another religious government. For many years, the secular and democratic ambitions in Turkey gave some hope for development in the Middle East.
Imprisoning journalists and political opponents, shutting down universities and schools, and equating civil society organisations with terrorist groups are only some of the happenings in the country. It is therefore terrifying to imagine what more could happen now that the result of the referendum makes it possible for President Erdoğan to extend his power.
We have dialogue as the only method to reach out to the Turkish leadership, and by starting to monitor Turkey again we can claim that we have tried even more, with the Turkish people and democratic values in mind.
Ms JOHNSSON FORNARVE (Sweden) – Over the years, we have seen the Erdoğan Government move Turkey away from what could be described as a functioning democratic State. Since the summer’s failed coup, however, we have observed a worrying increase in restrictions on fundamental democratic rights. No country in the world has as many journalists imprisoned as Turkey. It says a lot about the direction the country is going in.
Reports of mass arrests and curtailment of freedom of speech have also become rampant. Since the coup, over 110 000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their work, and 40 000 have been detained for suspected ties to the US-based Gülen movement. It is now clear that Erdoğan has been using the failed coup as a pretext to silence all opposition in the country. This is especially true for factions advocating peace and a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict with the PKK. Media outlets seen as opposing the government’s view have been closed down under new legislation – around 160 outlets so far – the majority of which are Kurdish.
The Kurdish population has long been vulnerable because of the Government’s refusal to recognise the Kurds' fundamental rights. In Turkey's south-east, half a million Kurds have been uprooted from their homes since July 2015 by Turkish military operations. A report issued on 10 February by the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights described these actions as brutal and leading to widespread human rights violations, destruction of property, and the killing of hundreds of Kurds.
The mayors of 35 mainly Kurdish cities have been removed, and in some cases arrested; most have belonged to the HDP or their sister party the DBP. On the night of Friday 4 November, 12 MPs from the HDP were arrested by the Turkish police. Among those arrested are party leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdağ. Their crime was to criticise the government, a chief responsibility, I am sure you will all agree, of any parliamentarian working in a democratic State. This needs to be strongly condemned.
It is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the weekend’s referendum, whose results have been strongly criticised by several trusted sources for not being conducted in a free and fair manner. I therefore welcome the proposal that the Assembly wishes to strengthen and intensify its monitoring of the developments in Turkey in dialogue with all the forces throughout the country.
Ms KALMARI (Finland) – I was a member of the PACE election observation mission for the Turkish referendum nine days ago and it left me amazed. The situation in which the elections were held was not normal. Since the coup attempt in July 2016, Turkey has been under a state of emergency; this is not a situation for fully democratic institutions to function or elections to be held. Imagine an electoral campaign without the right to campaign properly and freely or without the right to gather in public places. The opposition was immobilised and the elections were merely a legal stamp for constitutional change.
Turkey, as one of the founding States of the Council of Europe, has supported our common values and has shared the heritage of democracy, human rights and the rule of law – until now. Currently, Turkey is taking the opposite direction from our values and we must not close our eyes and look away. There are no free media in Turkey. We see over 150 journalists imprisoned in Turkey. The yes campaign in support of constitutional changes got 85 000 minutes of TV-time by comparison with the 2 000 minutes given to the No side. We must also condemn the detention of thousands of politicians and civil servants.
Now we must have the courage to voice our opinion on all of this. Isolation is not the correct way, neither is neglect; dialogue, monitoring, the abolition of the state of emergency and the freeing of political prisoners is.
Turkish citizens deserve to have the human right of assembly and their freedom of opinion, even if they do not openly support the current government. The government is also planning to introduce capital punishment and – let me be clear – this is the main reason for the exclusion of Belarus from the Council of Europe.
At the moment, democratic institutions do not have the possibility to function in Turkey. Democracy requires freedom, and we have to work to find multiple ways to support, monitor and guide Turkey back on the common European path. I strongly support the reopening of the monitoring procedure on Turkey and I agree with the seven measures listed in paragraph 21 of the draft resolution.
Mr LOUKAIDES (Cyprus) - When the failed coup d’état in Turkey took place last July, there was a general and unequivocal condemnation of the coup by the whole of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
We knew that had the coup succeeded, that would have meant further authoritarianism; brutal repression of the people; the running of the country’s administration by decree laws; the imprisonment of citizens and elected officials; the silencing of the press; and a dangerous adventurist direction for Turkey's foreign policy. Unfortunately however, and even though the coup failed, these developments are taking place today as well, as if the coup in fact had succeeded.
Instead of initiating a democratic response to reverse the root causes that still enable the manifestation of coups d'état in Turkey, the ruling party chose the path of further deepening the deficits in the democratic operation of the country’s institutions, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. In particular, the state of emergency has been in force for eight months, allowing the Turkish authorities to suspend fundamental rights and freedoms, and carry out massive prosecutions that are tantamount to a pogrom against opponents, or alleged opponents, of the Erdoğan government.
MPs, mayors, journalists, trade unionists, academics, judges, civil servants, activists and ordinary citizens are being dismissed, prosecuted and/or imprisoned in their thousands. Social organisations, newspapers and mass media are being banned. “Counter-terrorism” legislation is being used to strengthen repression and silence opposition. The situation in south-eastern Turkey, where house and arbitrary arrests, as well as bloody police operations, are continuing, remains particularly worrisome.
The 16 April referendum, carried out within the state of emergency and in the context of this democratic deficit, has highlighted the deep social and political divisions inside the country, while its effect on the adoption of constitutional changes raises justifiable concerns about the prospects of democracy in the country.
Turkey, as a founding member of the Council of Europe, has to listen to the recommendations of the report we have before us. The Turkish Government must end the state of emergency and release all the imprisoned MPs and journalists; restore the freedom of expression and the freedom of the mass media in the country; review the counter-terrorism legislation; terminate the impunity of the security forces; ensure the right to a fair trial; and resist any attempts to reinstate the death penalty, as this is totally incompatible with the founding principles of the Council of Europe.
However, in the meantime and pending measurable progress in the above-mentioned areas, Turkey should be subjected once again to the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.
Ms SANDBĈK (Denmark) – As part of an international peace delegation to Turkey in February, I gathered information about the dire civil and human rights situation. I toured Diyarbakir meeting many people who gave testimonies about their experiences, including military assaults, blanket curfews, countless infringements of civil rights, and what can only be described as human rights atrocities.
No legal action has been pursued concerning these great crimes. Impunity has been granted to the soldiers; even worse than that is the fact that those who have spoken out against state terror and human rights’ atrocities in the Kurdish region have been persecuted and silenced. Even for simply sharing statements made by HDP co-chairs, ordinary citizens have been arrested for “supporting a terrorist organization”. Such are the lengths to which the Erdoğan Government was willing to go to silence dissenting Kurds – and will be in the future, given the power by the yes vote to change the constitution.
The general election of 2015 was revolutionary for Turkey. For the first time, all oppressed groups – Kurds, Alevis, women – could have a platform. Furthermore, the unprecedented success of the HDP in the June 2015 election was a vote of confidence for its firm commitment to the peace process. But for Erdoğan, the HDP’s electoral success proved the principal parliamentary obstacle for his hyper-presidentialist ambitions. Indeed, in the aftermath of the election, President Erdoğan opted decisively for a strategy of war and deliberate societal polarisation.
HDP representatives with whom we spoke consistently reiterated the very plausible claim that President Erdoğan was undermining the party's capacity to organise and carry out its campaign for a no vote in the referendum. This situation, combined with the repression of opposition media, has clearly shown that the conditions for a free and fair plebiscite on the proposed constitutional reforms did not exist, and therefore now casts very serious doubt on the democratic legitimacy of the outcome of the referendum. It also bodes most poorly for the stability of the country more generally, not to mention the prospects for the peace process.
So what can we do? The only immediate thing and the very least we can do is to reopen full monitoring of Turkey. That at least may prevent the worst attack on democracy in Turkey and we will show respect for the values of this Assembly.
Mr STROE (Romania) – A failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016 deepened the repression by the State. Almost 100 000 people have been arrested since then, and over 100 000 State employees have been fired from their posts. Following the failed coup attempt, Turkey needs to respect democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Given Turkey’s instability for almost a year, many would argue that this is no longer possible. In my view, the consequences of the coup attempt could open the door to a more powerful Turkey. Last week, Turkey narrowly approved a package of constitutional amendments that will dramatically reshape the country’s system of government.
I believe that one of the main principles of today’s debate should be pragmatism in terms of identifying the most appropriate options for managing the challenges we are faced with. I also consider that we have to maintain a constructive approach, in the interests of Council of Europe-Turkey relations. The objective is that of a stable Turkey, strongly anchored in the Council of Europe values and its conventions system. Maintaining a predictable and democratic Turkey is the prime objective for the regions of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
We have the preliminary conclusions of the international observers at the referendum, notably PACE, and we must take them into consideration. Moreover, we know and we have to give proper consideration to the Venice Commission’s opinion on the constitutional amendments, published on 10 March.
Here in the Assembly, we need to encourage Turkey to pursue a close co-operation with the specialised bodies of the Council of Europe through an open and direct dialogue, with concrete deliverables and with due consideration of the relevant principles of international law and the values and principles Turkey has adhered to. Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as a source of most needed stability in the region. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective and we need to help it, but Turkey has to respect human rights, democracy, the rule of law and also the international legal agreements.
At this time, we have to carefully asses the best way to continue the interaction between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and our Turkish colleagues, and perhaps think of a more constructive alternative to reopening monitoring. A wiser approach may help all of us, encouraging Turkey to take into consideration the recommendations of the specialised bodies of the Council of Europe and allowing reasonable time to implement them. It would be a useful hand given to Turkey when needed.
Mr TROY (Ireland) – I am honoured to represent my country as a founding member and strong supporter of the core values of the Council of Europe. I speak today of my own and indeed my country’s very deep concerns about the on-going developments in Turkey: the failed coup attempt in July, 2016; on-going terrorist threats; massive dismissal of civil servants, judges, prosecutors, academics; imprisonment of members of parliament; closing down of media and NGOs; limited access to judicial remedies. Quite simply colleagues, these are not practices of a functioning democracy.
Most recently, the referendum, which gives the impression internally that democracy matters, will transfer powers from the parliament to the President, giving an excessive concentration of powers in one office with consequent negative effects on the necessary checks and balances in a democracy and on the independence of judiciary.
Let us look at the observations of our own Monitoring Committee: “the context in which this referendum took place (under a state of emergency, with members of parliament and journalists in detention, fundamental freedoms restricted and populations displaced in south-east Turkey).”; “the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE) issued instructions late on voting day that “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria”, thus removing “an important safeguard” and contradicting the electoral law as amended in 2010, as noted by the Parliamentary Assembly/ODIHR observation mission.”; and “the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards”.
Despite all this, there was still only a very slim majority call on colleagues of the Turkish Parliament to reflect on how best to proceed and remain true to the values of the Council of Europe, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Mr UYSAL (Turkey) – One objection to our presidential system that is often brought up is that with the new system, the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on the same day.
Underlying this objection is the assumption that in the case of elections being held on the same day, the president's party will inevitably get the majority in parliament. It is necessary to counter this with two justifications: first, it is completely wrong to consider the people as incapable of deciding what is good for them and to think that they will be unable to tell the difference between the executive and the legislative; secondly, when local elections and general elections have occurred on the same day in Turkey, there have been examples where the results of the general and local elections have differed greatly. It is necessary that this be known first and foremost: Turkey's citizens are of high political rationality and consciousness, and it is not possible for them to be shaped by political engineering or to be duped by a single person.
Simply put, we bring the right to hold the president accountable. The president will be accountable. Political responsibility, which strengthens the rule of law, is now regulated in the constitution. The political responsibility of the president has been introduced for the first time. The president's authority to enact executive orders will not mean being above the law. In all presidential systems, the president's capacity to execute order is a common situation connected to the rapid operation of the system; this is not specific to Turkey.
Furthermore, when considering the nature of the executive orders to be brought up, they will be focused on the areas of execution and appointment-elevation. Above all else, it should be kept in mind that these executive orders are subject to the oversight of the judiciary and can be made invalid by a counter-law that is brought up by the legislative branch.
In a nutshell, as can be seen, when compared to the current system, the presidential system will establish an order in which measures solidifying the independence and impartiality of the judiciary are taken and those who are elected will have a say aside from the bureaucracy. When all the clichéd analysis claiming that a one-man regime is imminent are set aside, I imagine the details I have stated will be noticed.