The name of Gülen Movement has been at the epiccenter of many critical matters vis-à-vis Turkey particularly over the last couple of years. The movement has been held responsible by the Turkish government of supporting Gezi Park protests and launching the 17/25 December corruption investigations into the incumbent Turkish government back in 2013. Similarly, the movement has been also labelled as the internal hands of the ‘Western powers’ striving to topple down the government in Turkey through infiltrating into the state apparatus. Thenceforward the Turkish government has taken a U-turn from its democratic achievements that it gained over the last decade and turned into an authoritarian state drifting further away from the EU while putting excessive pressure on civil society, media, academia, and all the other critical segments of the Turkish society.
More recently, the coup attempt in July last year deepens the ongoing crackdown against almost all critical segments of the society including thousands of civil society representatives, teachers, academics, medical doctors, lawyers hence President Erdogan named Gülen Movement for being in charge of the attempted coup from the first moment. This collective punishment against thousands of people have been conducted based on the allegations that all these individuals were members of Gülen movement – a religiously motivated trans-national group, declared by the Turkish government a terrorist organization despite no court decision.
Therefore, Vocal Europe decides to conduct an interview on this particular issue with Gianni Magazzeni who is Chief of the Americas, Europe and Central Asia Branch, Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Vocal Europe: The UN Human Rights Office on 10 March 2017 published a report detailing massive destruction, killings and numerous other serious human rights violations committed between July 2015 and December 2016 in southeast Turkey, during the government security operations that have displaced around half a million people, mostly of Kurdish origin. Referring to the Turkish government, NGOs in the region and other stakeholders, how do you characterize the reactions that you have so far received vis-à-vis the report? Any criticism regarding the timing of the report?
Gianni Magazzeni: Firstly, the UN Human Rights Office acknowledges and welcomes the information provided by the Government of Turkey. The report clearly refers to Government sources, including with regard to the casualty figures in the context of security operations in South-East Turkey. It also takes note of the complex challenges Turkey has faced in addressing the attempted coup of July 2016 and in responding to a series of terrorist attacks. However, the report highlights significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the country which we believe is a cause for alarm. Our invitation to the Government to provide written factual comments – which we would publish on the ohchr.org website if the Government wished so – remains open. The Government of Turkey has contested the veracity of the allegations in the report, but at the same time it has communicated to us its commitment to continue dialogue and cooperation. We welcome this commitment and we look forward to seeing it taking concrete shape in the future. So we hope that the Government’s commitment will translate into permission for us to visit the affected areas in South-East Turkey and to collect first-hand information through sources on the ground.
We also invite the Government to take advantage of the recommendations in the report, especially with regard to the need for credible and immediate investigations into the serious human rights allegations. As we noted in the report, we are concerned about the apparently disproportionate security operations which resulted in a very high death toll, widespread destruction and large-scale displacement. We reiterate that every loss of life in the course of security operations in South-East Turkey should be duly investigated and perpetrators of unlawful killings should be brought to justice. Moreover, Turkey must ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism comply fully with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law.
We would also like to acknowledge the very good cooperation we had from NGOs and human rights defenders working in a challenging environment in South-East Turkey. We also deeply appreciate the individual engagement of victims, witnesses and family members. Their statements and documentation have greatly contributed to the analysis and findings in the report.
Vocal Europe: The Human Rights Office says the report was partly ‘’produced through remote monitoring, using both public and confidential sources, satellite imagery and interviews to gather information’’. Did The Human Rights Office face any challenge in working with the relevant Turkish state authorities during the data gathering period? Referring to Juan E. Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, whose scheduled visit to Turkey was postponed in September last year by the Turkish government; did the relevant staff of The Human Rights Office have a similar problem with respect to the necessary visits within the framework of the report?
Gianni Magazzeni: We have been seeking access to the affected parts of South-East Turkey for almost a year, to independently investigate allegations of serious human rights violations. But as this has not been granted, we produced the report through remote monitoring. This means a team was based at our headquarters in Geneva, and examined both public and confidential sources, viewed satellite imagery and interviewed people to gather information about the conduct and impact of the security operations in the southeast of the country. Remote monitoring is not a substitute for access to South-East Turkey itself, so we are reiterating our call for access. We stand ready to engage with the Government of Turkey in a constructive manner.
Allowing UN Human Rights monitors in the affected areas would confirm the Government’s intent to conduct security operations within the parameters of the rule of law. Furthermore, our findings and recommendations on the conduct of law enforcement officials could help the authorities address any shortcomings, with a view to preventing the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.
The UN Human Rights Office welcomes Turkey’s engagement with UN independent human rights experts such as Nils Melzer, the current UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, who visited Turkey from 27 November to 2 December 2016. Adequate follow-up and implementation of the recommendations of various UN human rights mechanisms by State institutions would contribute to improvement of the human rights situation in the country.
Vocal Europe: The post-coup crackdown in Turkey is still deepening. Despite a number of statements made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that Turkish authorities should be obliged to investigate all reports of violence, regardless of the political leanings of the alleged perpetrators; thousands of political dissidents have been so far dismissed, detained and arrested in Turkey based on the allegations that all these individuals were members of Gülen Movement – a transnational social group that is active in more than 140 countries, which Turkish government holds responsible without any court decision for the attempted coup on 15 July last year. What is your take on such a mass-punishment that is still proceeding while Turkey is heading towards a constitutional referendum in April 2017?
Gianni Magazzeni: Human rights under Turkey’s state of emergency are not the primary focus of our report, but we nevertheless, as I said, acknowledge the complex challenges Turkey has been facing in addressing the attempted coup of July 2016 and in responding to a series of terror attacks. However, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has pointed out, the apparent significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the country is a cause for alarm and would only serve to deepen tensions and foster instability. The UN Human Rights Office is alarmed at the fact that tens of thousands of people have been dismissed, arrested, detained or prosecuted following the attempted coup, including numerous judges and journalists, as well as democratically elected representatives. We thus encourage the authorities to end the state of emergency as soon as possible and to guarantee space for open debate free of intimidation in the process ahead of the referendum. We must also stress that there are certain rights, such as the right not to be tortured, that cannot be suspended even in a state of emergency.
Vocal Europe: Underlying various reports published by a number of very reliable human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch detailing the allegations of severe human rights violations against massive numbers of civilians in Turkey, whom Turkish authorities consider terrorists based on the allegations that they are associated to Gülen movement, is The Human Rights Office planning to prepare a report to investigate this critical matter?
Gianni Magazzeni: Driven by its universal mandate as set out in the UN General Assembly Resolution 48/141, the UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor the situation in Turkey and raise issues of concern with the Turkish Government. We are seriously concerned about the adverse effects on the enjoyment of human rights by the measures undertaken following the declaration of the state of emergency.
We recall that Turkey has an obligation under international law to guarantee that measures undertaken in the context of the state of emergency which are restricting human rights must be proportional and limited to what is necessary in terms of duration, geographic coverage and material scope. However, as the UN High Commissioner put it in his recent address to the Human Rights Council, it appears that in Turkey measures taken under the state of emergency appear to target criticism, not terrorism.
We will continue to engage with the Government of Turkey and raise issues of concern, either through the good offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights or by publishing the findings of the monitoring team.
Vocal Europe: Many Turkish-origin teachers and civil society representatives working for schools and NGOs linked to Gülen Movement in countries like Pakistan, Georgia, Somalia, Angola, Mongolia and some others are facing the risk of being deported due to alleged political pressure by the Turkish government. Many of these people no longer possess a valid passport to travel to a safer country since the Turkish authorities have cancelled over 50 thousand passports. If they are to be deported back to Turkey, they may be subject of human rights violations and imprisonment, whereas they can also no longer stay in where they are currently located due to alleged pressure coming from Turkey. Is there any measure that The Human Rights Office can take, such as issuing ‘Heimatlose’ status for these individuals to be relocated in safer countries?
Gianni Magazzeni: We are aware of reports that a number of Turkish citizens may be facing various restrictions or they may fear returning Turkey. But the UN Human Rights Office does not have a mandate to issue any type of status for individuals residing in third countries.
We wish to stress the possible detrimental human rights consequences of being rendered stateless for an individual. Stateless people are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and they may face difficulty in accessing basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Therefore, States should provide temporary residence status or other temporary protected status to any migrants who cannot be returned, including those who are refused entry to their country of origin, or who face practical obstacles in returning their country of origin or residence. It is the obligation of the host country to assess the individual claims of people who are rendered stateless or who refuse to return to their places of origin. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
The principle of non-refoulement, recognised as a rule of customary international law, prohibits the return of any individual to a place where she or he is at risk of persecution, torture or other serious human rights violations. The principle is enshrined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and in the case of refugees, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
The UN Human Rights Office works closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Office for Migration and other UN and non-governmental organizations to advocate for the protection of the rights of migrants and offer expert advice if required.
Vocal Europe: Thanks to excessive draconian measures taken by the Turkish government right after the attempted coup in July last year, a large number of individuals fled the country because of fear of execution and had to apply to asylum in many Western countries from Germany to Canada. Does a relevant UN body or The UN Human Rights Office monitor these asylum procedures particularly in countries where far-right political parties and the xenophobic sentiment are on the rise?
Gianni Magazzeni: It is the responsibility of States to ensure that individual asylum procedures are conducted in compliance with the State’s international human rights obligations.
The UN Human Rights Office is monitoring the situation of migrants in Europe and elsewhere and we have documented an increase in anti-migrant sentiment. Unchallenged political and social discourse depicting migrants as threats, describing them as ‘illegal’ or ‘criminals’, and stoking public fear, is fueling the physical and verbal abuse migrants face. We are also concerned that the safeguards to prevent violations of the principle of non- refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary and collective expulsions are not fully respected in practice.
*Gianni Magazzeni is Chief of the Americas, Europe and Central Asia Branch, Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights