Extrajudicial executions and abstaining from democracy

Extrajudicial executions and abstaining from democracy

While I was reviewing the resolutions approved last week in the United Nations General Assembly, I came across an interesting surprise.

This surprise was about extrajudicial executions.

The issue of extrajudicial executions has a distinct position among the topics that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government often takes pride in; it bases its pride on their adopted stance on the topic. The government has been emphasizing that extrajudicial executions have stopped in Turkey, and also that those incidents in the past, especially those that happened in the beginning of 1990s in the southeast, were being investigated with determination.

You would expect a government with this position to support a resolution in the U.N. on extrajudicial executions, wouldn’t you? You are wrong; Turkey has used an abstaining vote.

This resolution, which was prepared predominantly by European Union countries, condemns all extrajudicial and arbitrary executions and as a general principle reiterates states’ international, legal obligation “to conduct thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” and “to bring perpetrators of such acts to justice.”

Also, “impunity” continues to be a major cause of the perpetuation of violations of human rights, including extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The resolution also urges all states to take all necessary measures to prevent loss of life during public demonstrations, internal and communal violence, civil unrest, public emergencies and armed conflicts.

In the U.N. General Assembly, there was not even one country that voted against this resolution. However, 117 countries voted in favor of it and 67 countries abstained. Among those countries that abstained, there were only two countries that are members of such Western institutions as NATO and the Council of Europe: They are the United States and Turkey.

When asked why Turkey abstained, Foreign Ministry sources said, “To abstain in situations where there is no consensus on the text is a frequently consulted action.”

Among the abstainers, as well as big countries such as Russia and China, were predominantly Third World countries. It is possible to count Afghanistan, Angola, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and African countries such as Libya and the Central African Republic among them.

An interesting aspect was that the General Assembly vote occurred shortly after U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns visited Turkey in November.

In his written statement after his official visit, Heyns praised Turkey’s “significant strides in securing the right to life in recent years.” He has also questioned “the extent to which the political will exists to bring perpetrators to book.”

The significance of the statement is that the South African Special Rapporteur has observed that violations of the right to life by security forces continue during arrests and demonstrations.

Another point on which the U.N. representative was critical was responsibility for the Uludere incident at the end of last year, when 34 civilians were killed by government fighter planes, a situation that has remained unresolved. Heyns stressed that this situation increases concerns about impunity.

As can be seen, Turkey is being scrutinized in the field of human rights not only by institutions such as the European Union and European Court of Human Rights but also by the United Nations.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Dec. 26. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.