Freedom House and Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) on 17 November held a roundtable discussion entitled “Collapse of the rule of law and the role of civil society and international community.”
Four panelists from Turkish and international civil society organizations with legal backgrounds attended the event held under the Chatham House rule, which means that identities of the participants cannot be disclosed, but their ideas and opinions can be shared with the wider community.
One of the speakers presented the current situation of the rule of law in Turkey by presenting data on the numbers of arrested journalists, politicians, lawyers and judges in the country. Another point discussed was a recent legislative change that allows for having multiple Bar Associations and the political reasons and motives behind this change.
Pointing out to the commonalities among various countries where there is a deliberate and calculated attack against the rule of law, the panelists came to the conclusion that the situation cannot be considered as unique to Turkey, but rather there is some kind of a “toolbox” from which states utilize certain common practices.
Inter-state applications must be encouraged
Speakers recommended the international community to show more support for pro-democracy forces in Turkey through enabling them to utilize the mechanisms of the United Nations and being more active roles to put pressure on Turkey in implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). One of the speakers noted that states might also lodge applications to the Court against other states as part of a mechanism called “inter-state” applications and suggested this could be sought as a method in the case of Turkey.
The direct link between the executive and judiciary branches in Turkey was demonstrated by one of the speakers through specific references to the case of Osman Kavala, a businessperson and civil society leader in Turkey who has been in prison on flimsy charges for more than three years. One of the speakers cited data on ECtHR rulings between 1959 and 2019, showing that Turkey has been a consistent violator of Article 10, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
ECtHR must review its case-law
One of the speakers said the ECtHR remains a relatively effective tool in litigating against violations in Turkey, however the country’s problem regarding the execution of the Court’s judgments also remains in place. Recalling that 51 of the 65 elected mayors in Turkey’s Kurdish cities were replaced by government-appointed trustees, one of the speakers stated that the Court might not reach a ruling that protects the electorate’s will in the case of these mayors, and noted that the Court had in the past viewed similar applications within a narrow framework, and considered such matters outside the scope of the ECHR. While mayor posts are not traditionally considered within the scope of the “right to free election” by the Court, panelists suggested the Court to review its case-law and utilize other means in order to acknowledge this blatant violation of the Kurdish people’s right to free will. One of the speakers also expressed disappointment in the way the ECtHR chose to handle the cases of 150,000 people who were dismissed from their government jobs through emergency decrees after the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. The Court had asked Turkey to establish a commission to review applications from these individuals in order to satisfy its rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies before lodging applications to the ECtHR.
Recommendations by speakers
The speakers also addressed the question of what civil society and the international community might do to help improve the situation in Turkey. Two speakers called on the international community to solidify its work and produce more reports including statistics, concrete sets of information and data on the independence of judiciary, its impartiality, arbitrary detention practices and fair trial violations, saying that the international community would be better armed in conducting advocacy efforts with such data.
One of the speakers also called on the ECtHR to reconsider its case-law and take a broader approach and avoid conservative interpretation in cases such as those of the displaced elected mayors.
Another speaker called on international NGOs to take more active involvement in ongoing European Court cases, such as through presenting amicus briefs. One speaker said states should consider ways of pushing those states that are unwilling to implement ECtHR orders and take steps towards making the Committee of Ministers, a body of the Council of Europe which oversees the execution of judgements of the ECtHR, more effective.