Turkey’s tarnished human rights record

Turkey’s tarnished human rights record

The report by Hürriyet’s İpek Yezdani yesterday, Jan. 28, shows that Turkey received quite a bit of heat during the U.N.’s “Universal Periodic Review” of its human rights record earlier this week.

The fact that countries like Sierra Leone and Congo, which hardly have good human rights records themselves, joined in the criticism is enough to show how tarnished Turkey’s international image has become in this regard. 

Its reputation as a country that is not only violating human rights, but also regressing in this regard has stuck and refuses to go away no matter how much the government tries.  

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who represented Turkey at the meeting in Geneva, reportedly did his best to counter criticism by claiming that improving human rights is a priority for his government. 

Given worrying recent developments in Turkey, which are reported in the Turkish media on an almost daily basis, Arınç’s remarks were as convincing as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent claim that the Turkish press is among the most independent in the world. 

Hardly a day goes by in Turkey when there is not a report about police brutality, claims of a co-opted judiciary, the hounding of journalists, attempts at curbing freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the prevention of the right to demonstrate, detentions of individuals on questionable grounds, violence against women and children, discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation, and so on.

Even if we assume that a certain percentage of these reports are exaggerated, as the government likes to claim – and in most cases, they are not – Turkey still has to deal with a deteriorating international reputation in this regard. 

One would expect, therefore, that a government that claims it is committed to democracy and improving human rights would try and address the problem head on, rather than beat around the bush with barely convincing arguments.

Instead we have a government that tries to dodge the issue by complaining about an international campaign aimed at discrediting Turkey in order to prevent it from emerging as an important player on the world scene. This, however, amounts to no more than trying to deal with a real situation by means of “tall tales for adults,” as they say in Turkish. If Turkey’s reputation has become so bad that even countries like Sierra Leone and Congo criticize its human rights record, and if this line is all the government can come up with to counter it, this means that Ankara has buried its head in the sand.

The simple fact is that for all the anger he displays over international criticism, Erdoğan – as the one who is really calling the shots in Turkey today – is more concerned about maintaining his power and pursuing his Islamist mission, than he is about dealing with the country’s reputation. 

He has to support developments that tarnish Turkey’s image because these have to do with protecting his own image, as well as the image of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and there is no indication that this will change soon.

This means that when Turkey’s “Universal Periodic Review” of human rights is held again at the U.N. in four years, the chances are that there will have been little improvement and a very real possibility that things will have gotten worse. 

When looking at the general picture today, it is clear that opening the way for advanced democracy and expanding rights and freedoms according to universally accepted norms is contrary to the interests of Erdoğan and the AKP. 

All they can do under these circumstances is to rely on tall tales about conspiracies against their self-sacrificing efforts for the “New Turkey.” They appear to be able to convince enough people in Turkey to win elections, but an equal number of Turks, as well as the majority in the international community, clearly remain unconvinced.