UN experts urge Turkey to respect the independence of the judiciary and uphold the rule of law

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“In times of crisis, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is more essential than ever,” today said a group of United Nations experts* calling on the Turkish Government to abide by its international human rights obligations when dealing with the aftermath of the military coup attempt.

“Constitutional order will only be fully re-established if the separation of powers and the rule of law are upheld,” stated the UN experts, while condemning in the strongest terms the recent events in which over 230 people have reportedly lost their lives.

Within hours of the failed coup attempt, the Turkish High Council for Judges and Prosecutors suspended a reported 2,745 judges and prosecutors of their functions. Hundreds of arrest warrants have allegedly been issued, resulting so far in the arrest of possibly up to 755 judges and prosecutors, including two judges of the Constitutional Court.

“We are particularly alarmed at the sheer number of judges and prosecutors who have reportedly been suspended and arrested since Saturday,” the experts stressed. “According to international law, judges can be suspended or removed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence after fair proceedings.”

“We call on the authorities to release and reinstate these judges and prosecutors until credible allegations of wrong doing are properly investigated and evidenced. Any sanctions taken must be in line with international standards on judicial independence,” the experts added.

The human rights experts also drew attention to the number of arrests carried out to date –some 7,500 according to official sources. “We call on the Turkish Government to fully respect the rights of the detainees, in particular their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to have effective access to a lawyer of their choice,” they said. “Their physical integrity while in detention should also be ensured.”

“No sustainable end to this crisis will be achieved if journalists or other critical voices in politics or civil society are harassed or silenced by authorities or any other group,” continued the experts, while recalling the importance of guaranteeing public freedoms during these critical days.

“We also urge the Turkish authorities to investigate independently and thoroughly all deaths related to this event, and to prosecute the perpetrators in full compliance with guarantees of due process and fair trial,” they added.

The UN human rights experts also expressed serious concerns regarding calls to re-introduce the capital punishment abolished in 2004. “Re-introducing the death penalty is not legally permissible under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights and runs counter to the worldwide trend to abolish this form of punishment,” the independent experts cautioned.

(*) The experts: Ms. Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion; and Mr. Sètondji Roland Jean-Baptiste Adjovi, current Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.