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UN Defends Turkish Democracy, But Is It Still There?

After the coup United Nations warns Turkish government to adhere to democracy

Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at a press conference during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 16 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc FerrŽ

Having received the support of the United Nations, Erdogan's government is cautioned by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to show restraint and respect democracy. However, what is there left to defend after Turkish freedom of the press has been crushed long ago?

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On Tuesday July 19th, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the government of Turkey to reinforce the protection of human rights and adhere to democratic principles while responding to the attempted coup which took place late last Friday, July 15th. “In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” Hussein stated, referencing the massive numbers of officials and police officers who have been suspended from duty following the attempted uprising. (Since the coup was quelled, more than 8,700 ministry officials have been suspended, and over 2,300 soldier have been detained.)  Regarding reports of removal and detaining of members of the judiciary during this mass investigation, High Commissioner Hussein pointed out that “The mass suspension or removal of judges is cause for serious alarm, and reports that many have been subject to detention orders also raises concerns of arbitrary detention.” The Turkish government has received the support of the United Nations, but the representatives of the UN have requested that in responding to the violence, Turkish officials ensure that they abide by democratic principles.

Worries have arisen in the international community that the government is hastily acting to discipline suspected players in the coup, but that the assumption of innocence before guilt has been suspended in the rush to do so. Even more troublesome is the spreading word that Turkey’s President Erdogan has expressed the sentiment that he would consider reinstating the death penalty in the country. In response to these rumors, High Commissioner Zeid stated that “Reintroduction of the death penalty would be in breach of Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law* – a big step in the wrong direction. I urge the Turkish Government to refrain from turning back the clock on human rights protections.” The Foreign Affairs chief of the European Union Federica Mogherini weighed in as well on the rumors, stating more explicitly the impact which reinstating the punishment would have for Turkey: “No country can become an EU member if it introduces the death penalty.” Choosing to do so regardless of this fact would effectively end Turkey’s longstanding bid for EU membership, and could have a serious impact on the state of civil society in the country.

When tanks rolled into the streets of the Turkish capital, Ankara, and Istanbul as the military released a statement saying that “political administration that has lost all legitimacy has been forced to withdraw,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a call for the public to take to the streets and counter the uprising. The United Nations, and a number of countries including the United States came out in favor of the Turkish government, and Turkish “democratic institutions.” In the United Nations press briefing on July 19th, La Voce exposed with a question (video at minute: 14:30) the fact that these democratic principles had reportedly been compromised long ago; “It was  a general statement around the world where we asked for the preservation of democracy around the world- it’s just that I don’t understand it as for months before in Turkey there were arrests of journalists, people could no longer express their opinion- what’s the sense in protecting or preserving democracy if there was not already democracy in Turkey, even before the coup?” In answering the question, deputy spokesperson to the Secretary General Farhan Haq was very diplomatic.

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