EU should make human rights core in agenda with Turkey: HRW

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Philippe Dam, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia division, has called on EU officials to send a clear message to Turkey when they meet for an EU summit this week about the “deplorable” human rights situation in Turkey, saying it should have consequences for the country’s relationship with the EU.

Dam recalled that EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen stated clearly during a visit to Ankara earlier this year that “human rights are non-negotiable.” She added that the EU “will never tire” of raising concerns about Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe convention aimed at combatting violence against women. Dam said that after a previously muted approach, it was refreshing to hear a top EU official state those concerns.

Listing a wide range of human rights violations taking place in Turkey such as the imprisonment of scores of journalists, a “relentless” crackdown on free speech targeting people for social media posts, the jailing of expelled Turkish Parliament member Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a closure case against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a separate show trial against dozens of its politicians, Dam said all these developments show how Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned the criminal justice system into a cudgel against parliamentary opposition.

He also warned that a gunman’s attack on the HDP office in İzmir last week and the murder of a young party employee with police nearby also raises the specter of a possible descent into violence, adding that Turkey has blatantly refused to implement European Court of Human Rights rulings to release human rights defender Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş.

“EU leaders should explicitly call on the Turkish government to end attacks on opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. They should urge the government to reverse its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and implement the European Court’s judgments on Kavala and Demirtaş,” said Dam.

EU officials should also insist on evidence of actual progress on rights, not mere talk. It was inappropriate for EU leaders to offer the weak suggestion that “dialogue” on rights is “part of the EU-Turkey relationship.”

He also called on EU officials to make respect for rights a prerequisite for talks on new trade ties. “Talks on the modernization of the Customs Union, called for by Ankara, should not begin until concrete measures for an independent judiciary and accountable institutions are taken. An EU-Turkey agenda that does not affirm that human rights are key prerequisites would fail its commitments as much as it would fail Turkey’s citizens.”

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