Turkey: emergency measures have gravely damaged the rule of law

Nearly five months after the failed coup attempt in Turkey, the country remains locked in an acute rule of law crisis. The government must take urgent steps to restore the rule of law, the ICJ said today.

Mass arrests, many of them arbitrary, and credible allegations of the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, mean that access to legal advice, to a fair trial and to effective judicial remedies are crucial. However, the unprecedented summary and arbitrary purge of the judiciary following the coup, and arrests of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, have significantly weakened the justice system and its capacity to protect against and effectively remedy violations of human rights. The vulnerability of detainees to violations of their human rights has been compounded by unwarranted restrictions on access to lawyers and extended periods of pre-trial detention.

State of Emergency

The ICJ is concerned that the State of Emergency, which involves derogations from Turkey’s international human rights law obligations, has been renewed for a second period of 90 days, until mid-January. Sweeping emergency decrees continue to erode human rights, including rights of fair trial, the right to liberty, and freedoms of expression and association.

The ICJ recalls that in times of crisis, any measures derogating from human rights must be strictly necessary to meet a current threat to the life of the nation. This necessity must be continually re-assessed so that the derogating measures apply for the shortest time possible. Certain human rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture or ill-treatment, and the essential elements of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy can never be restricted even in a state of emergency. The ICJ is concerned that Turkey’s notifications of derogation purport to derogate in general terms from a number of these rights.

Measures taken under the State of Emergency should be rigorously and urgently reviewed to ascertain whether they are permissible under international law and whether they remain necessary and proportionate to any current threat to the life of the nation. Moreover, it must be ensured that non-derogable rights, including the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment, and the right to a fair trial, are not limited by emergency measures. The ICJ urges the Turkish authorities to lift the State of Emergency and the derogations from its international human rights law obligations at the earliest opportunity.

Independence of the judiciary

The ICJ reiterates its grave concern at mass dismissals of judges and prosecutors, which have a devastating effect on the independence of the judiciary. More than 3,000 judges and prosecutors – approximately one fifth of the judiciary – have been arbitrarily dismissed under emergency decrees, without procedural safeguards and without the right to reasoned decisions.

Judges and prosecutors have been detained in very large numbers. In total, more than 2,000 have been detained, including two judges of the Constitutional Court, 109 members of the Court of Cassation, 41 Members of the Council of State and five members of the High Council for Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

Restructuring of the Court of Cassation and the Council of State, under legislation adopted in July, has required the reappointment of all judges of these courts. New judges have been appointed rapidly, through procedures that lack transparency, and in the context of strong executive influence over the appointment process in the HSYK.

The ICJ is also gravely concerned that the independent association of judges, YARSAV, has been shut down, and its President, Murat Arslan, has been arrested.

These measures have eroded the separation of powers in Turkey and have seriously undermined the independence of the judiciary at every level, compromising the courts’ ability to provide fair trials or an effective remedy for violations of human rights. The impact of this situation on the protection of human rights goes beyond what can be justified under the state of emergency. To meet its international human rights obligations, the Turkish government must as a matter of urgency take steps to restore the independence of the judges and of the governing bodies of the judiciary. Procedural safeguards that protect against arbitrariness in criminal, civil and administrative procedures, including in regard to the dismissal of judges, must be reinstated.

Independence of lawyers and access to legal advice

The ICJ is similarly concerned at measures that undermine the independence of the legal profession and the capacity of lawyers to protect human rights. More than 573 lawyers are reported to have been detained in connection with the failed coup since July, and more than 200 have been arrested, and their assets frozen.

Amongst those reported to be arrested are four Presidents of regional bar associations: Orhan Öngöz, President of the Trabzon Bar; Mehmet Cemal Acar, President of the Siirt Bar; İsmail Taştan, President of the Gumushane – Bayburt Regional Bar and Fevzi Kayacan, President of the Konya Bar. The ICJ considers that many of these detentions and arrests are likely to be arbitrary.

These developments have very serious consequences, not only for the rights of lawyers themselves, but also for the right to a fair trial of their clients and the effectiveness of judicial remedies for violations of human rights. They raise concerns that lawyers are being identified with their clients or their clients’ causes, contrary to the Principle 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. The ICJ recalls that under the UN Basic Principles, governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

Furthermore, the ICJ is concerned that hundreds of NGOs have been closed under emergency decrees, including a number of lawyers’ associations. Such closures have serious implications for rights of freedom of association and expression, and for the rule of law.

The ICJ calls on the Turkish government to take urgent steps to guarantee the independence of the legal profession, protect lawyers from arbitrary detention or arrest and provide procedural safeguards to ensure the right to fair trial of lawyers under criminal investigation.


Roisin Pillay, ICJ Europe Director, at roisin.pillay(a)icj.org or +32 2 734 84 46

Massimo Frigo, ICJ Europe Legal Adviser, at massimo.frigo(a)icj.org or +41 22 979 38 05

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