Tribunal to adjudicate Turkey’s rights record

The panel of judges will hear the testimony of witnesses who have been victims of human rights violations.


The Turkey Tribunal, a civil society-led, symbolic international tribunal established to adjudicate recent human rights violations in Turkey including torture, abductions, shortcomings in freedom of the press and freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, will convene in Geneva between Sept. 21 and 25.

The tribunal, set up under the initiative of Belgian-based law firm Van Steenbrugge Advocaten (VSA), aims to assess and report “all allegations of human rights violations taking place under the jurisdiction of Turkish authorities,” according to the tribunal’s website.

The tribunal’s panel of judges includes notable figures such as Prof. Em. Dr. Françoise Barones Tulkens, former vice chairperson of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR); Justice Dr. Johann van der Westhuizen, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; and Prof. Em. Dr. Giorgio Malinverni and Prof. Dr. Ledi Bianku, who served as ECtHR judges.

The panel of judges will hear the testimony of witnesses who have been victims of human rights violations.

Mehmet Alp, a teacher who was repeatedly abducted and tortured by Turkish security forces; Erhan Doğan, another teacher who was tortured in police custody; Mustafa Özben, abducted by Turkish intelligence; Eren Keskin, a human rights activist who was arrested and imprisoned over her advocacy; and Mesut Kaçmaz, who was abducted by Turkish intelligence, will be heard as witnesses during the tribunal’s sessions next week.

The judges will also hear Tülay Açıkkollu, the widow of Gökhan Açıkkollu, a 42-year-old history teacher who died after 13 days of torture and abuse in police custody in 2016; Ercan Kurkut, the brother of Kemal Kurkut, a 23-year-old Kurdish student who was killed by Turkish police officers in 2017; and Sezin Uçar, the lawyer of Gökhan Güneş, who was abducted by people identifying themselves as police officers in January of this year.

Journalists living in exile Cevheri Güven and Meltem Oktay, outspoken fashion designer Barbaros Şansal, Kurdish politician Faysal Sarıyıldız, former prosecutor Hasan Dursun and former judge Süleyman Bozoğlu are also among the witnesses.

Several prominent human rights experts and organizations provide the Turkey Tribunal with reports. The group comprises Eric Sottas (Switzerland), former secretary-general of the World Organization against Torture (in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Johan Vande Lanotte); Yves Haeck (Belgium), professor at the University of Ghent and Emre Turkut (Turkey); the Lawyers Collective (Turkey); Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı (Turkey), former head of the İstanbul Council of Forensic Medicine and currently president of the Human Rights Foundation; the Ankara Bar Association (Turkey) and Johan Heymans, a human rights lawyer; and Philippe Leruth (Belgium), former president of the international Federation of Journalists.

The tribunal published a list of confirmed observers, which includes Marie Arena, a Belgian politician and the chairwoman of European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights; Kathleen Van Brempt another Belgian politician and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP); and Filipe Marques, president of European Judges for Democracy and Freedoms (MEDEL).

The tribunal, registered as a not-for profit organization in Brussels, consists of the initiative takers, the steering committee, the tribunal, executive staff and reporters and will be financed through crowdfunding.

The initiative taker, VSA, has handled various cases for Turkish citizens including the case of İsmet Özçelik and Turgay Karaman before the UN Human Rights Committee, inter alia, on the grounds of kidnapping and unlawful deprivation of liberty.

The initiative is being coordinated by Johan Vande Lanotte, a professor of law at the University of Ghent who at the end of the 1980s was one of the first in Belgium’s Flanders region to give a full-fledged human rights course.

The Turkish government will be given the opportunity to answer for itself.

The hearings will be streamed live. On the last day of the tribunal, the tribunal will announce its verdict, which will also be published on the website.

Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis in recent years, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with the aim of consolidating his one-man rule, has been systematically undermining the fundamental pillars of Turkey’s already imperfect democracy.

Following a failed coup in 2016, the Turkish government carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Ankara’s post-coup crackdown

Some pundits view Turkey’s treatment of a faith-based group as a genocide in the making.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government and President Erdoğan of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

“The increasingly widespread witch-hunt, systematic and widespread hate speech, ongoing persecution and massacre of Gülen movement members have made conditions in Turkey ripe for a deliberate, planned and systematic genocide,” Bülent Keneş, a veteran Turkish journalist in exile, wrote in his 2020 book, which he says attempts to sound the alarm to the international community about developments in Turkey that are inching closer to a full-fledged genocide against the Gülen movement, a faith-based group targeted by the Turkish government.

“More than 130,000 people have been dismissed from their civil service jobs and deprived of their and their families’ subsistence. More than 282,000 people of all ages, because of their daily activities, which are non-criminal acts according to law and part of their normal routine, have been taken into custody, and in excess of 600,000 have been the subject of investigations. At least 77,000 people have been incarcerated,” Keneş said in a December interview with Turkish Minute.

Scores of Gülen movement followers were forced to flee Turkey to avoid a government crackdown following the coup attempt. Some of these people had to take illegal and risky journeys on dinghies to Greece because their passports had been revoked by the government.

According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.


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