Another biased report, this time from the Council of Europe

MARKAR ESAYAN
Published 17.06.2016 00:51
Updated 17.06.2016 00:59
Illustration by Necmettin Asma - twitter.com/necmettinasma
Illustration by Necmettin Asma - twitter.com/necmettinasma

The EU's displeasure with President Erdoğan and the government's domestic policies is reflected in a Council of Europe report that pleases only PKK militants and Gülenists, the former of which conducts terrorist attacks while the latter previously tried to stage a coup

In recent weeks, a draft report on Turkey's democratic institutions prepared by rapporteurs who had been appointed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was adopted by PACE's Monitoring Committee. The draft will be discussed at the Council of Europe's General Assembly on June 22. The rapporteurs are Norwegian deputy from the European Conservatives Group Ingebjorg Godskesen, Serbian deputy from the Socialist Group Natasa Vuckovic and Sylvie Affholder of France serving as secretary.

Being one of the 18 members of the Turkish delegation to PACE, I had met with both the rapporteurs and the secretary many times during the preparation of the report. We had the chance to exchange mutual views in a broader context, and, of course, other members of the Turkish delegation to PACE have also conducted similar talks. The Council of Europe suspended Turkey's membership after the 1980 coup and launched a monitoring process afterward. Turkey has been in a post-monitoring process for some time now. These monitoring processes are meant to quarantine member states when democracy is undermined and urge them to return to democracy. What is important here is to put Turkey to a healthy stress test with objective criteria and enable it to maintain democratic gains while encouraging it to take steps for reform. European civilization has a legacy of democracy that Turkey regards as important and valuable, but that does not mean that Europe itself is immune to problems and flaws. Indeed, PACE feels the need to warn EU member states about a lot of things. Especially the continuous rise of radical parties in Europe, racist attacks and problems related to migrants and refugees really point to a situation far below the standards provided by Turkey in many areas.Of course, there are some serious problems here that should be resolved like geographical and cultural differences, variations created by each country's own experience with democracy and treating country-specific challenges as deviations from European norms or totally ignoring them.

In short, as is evident from every single line of the latest report, willingness to improve the criteria of universal democracy and a kind of hubris, embodied in the mindset of that's the way we do these things around here, mingled and the latter predominated. It may have stemmed from the subjectivity of the team of rapporteurs when assessing Turkey. Or it may also imply a frequent attitude in Europe that cannot be attributed to individuals. For example, in the 19th and 26th paragraphs of the draft report, with reference to statements from the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, it says that the definition of terrorism in Turkey is overly broad, that the extensive interpretation of the anti-terror law contradicts Council of Europe standards and that this serves as a justification for changes in ownership of media companies.

Surely, what is meant here is the fight against PKK terrorism and the Gülen Movement. DAESH is apparently deemed so repulsive that there is no criticism about potential human rights abuses during the fight against it, which Turkey is carrying out with the same law. However, Turkey's current laws define nine terrorism crimes. This is essentially about what constitutes a terror crime. Compared to other countries - naturally these are democratic countries - while there are nine terror crimes in Turkey, there are 34 such crimes in the United Kingdom, another member of the Council of Europe; 11 in Germany and 13 in the U.S.

Besides, none of these countries struggle with such complex terrorist organizations as those Turkey does, which can conduct very destructive attacks simultaneously. The civil war across Turkey's 911-kilometer border with Syria has been going on for nearly six years. Our border cities like Kilis are hit by DAESH missiles and our citizens are killed. Similarly, the PKK and its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) is trying to carry out attacks routinely in big cities, like the latest one in Istanbul that claimed the lives of 11 citizens. I think Turkey should instead have been praised for achieving such a balance of freedoms and security in these difficult circumstances. Yes, the ninth paragraph of the report stresses Turkey's right and duty to fight terrorism, but only in a one-sentence passing remark. Moreover, if the rapporteurs care so much about alleged human rights violations - fortunately so - why do they have to add, upon Turkey's objection, that administrative investigations have been initiated into 63 security personnel due to their misconduct during operations?

At this point, Turkey does not expect praise from PACE, as it already has the potential to serve as a model for other countries in the fight against terrorism. We have entered an era of refugees and terrorism. As compared to the extension of the state of emergency in France for the third time, raiding homes without court order, the cross examination of a six-year-old child, attacks on Muslims and mosques, and to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's calls in the U.S. for revoking the citizenship of Muslims, Turkey's success points to a model that must be noticed. Turkey achieves this. Relative to the scale and complexity of the problem and the sense of chaos it stirs in people, violations look much smaller compared to the events in the old Turkey. Focusing on Cizre in particular, the report says that curfews and allegations of human rights violations have to be duly investigated. But why do the rapporteurs not make an issue of the fact that the PKK created a parallel town of tunnels under Cizre to fight security forces and to snatch the town from Turkey, that the amount of weapons seized since July 22, 2015 would equip a modest army and that the PKK uses civilians as human shields? Why do they not admit that coping with a terrorist uprising of this scale, while civilians are used as human shields, is rather difficult, that curfews have become an unpleasant necessity to prevent civilian casualties or that the PKK's propaganda machine was caught dressing the bodies of militants killed during clashes? in civilian clothes

Why were such issues glossed over with a few casual remarks?

Curiously, while the report relies on data from the Interior Ministry when giving the number of security officers killed, it refers to data from the Human Rights Foundation (İHD) when specifying the number of civilians killed. Do the rapporteurs not know that the İHD is fully under control of the PKK or, to put it mildly, under heavy pressure from the PKK? Similarly, while the report rightfully cites Turkey's shortcomings in trying to meet all the social needs of 3 million Syrian refugees, for example, the lack of access to any education for 400,000 child refugees, why does it mention, only on Turkey's objection and quite briefly, that Ankara has been implementing an open-door policy for Syrians for more than five years and allocating work permits? Let me cite what the report fails to include: Turkey has spent over $10 billion from its national budget so far on refugee-related issues, and that amount has reached $20 billion with additional spending by municipalities, relief organizations and nongovernmental organizations; in cities like Kilis, the number of refugees has surpassed that of locals; there are 600,000 refugees in Istanbul alone; despite all this, there has been no remarkable increase in crimes targeting refugees. Why are these points not emphasized?

How encouraging it is to make assessments through cold numbers while ignoring the wider context of the fight against terrorism? Conspicuous by its absence is any effort to take note of, understand or mention the coup attempt made by the Gülenist organization on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2014 through its followers in the judiciary and police.

But contradictions abound. For instance, although there are scores of serious lawsuits and bills of indictment based on solid evidence showing that the media outlets affiliated with the Gülenist organization had committed hideous crimes such as blackmail, massive illegal wiretapping, violations of private life, takeover of property, stealing questions to university entrance exams and helping its followers cheat their way out of a university exam and even suspicious deaths, the report willfully ignores all this and criticizes the resulting legal actions only in the context of freedom of the press and expression. In the seventh and eighth paragraphs of the draft, while criticizing the removal of some deputies' parliamentary immunity regarding the files of summaries of proceedings waiting in Parliament, the rapporteurs give this justification: "While there are allegations about the lack of independence of the judiciary, suspension of parliamentary immunity creates huge worry."But what are these allegations? As we can infer from the report, the amendments made after the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 probes intended to break the power of the Gülenist junta at the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and to ensure pluralism there, and President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan's criticism of some decisions of the Constitutional Court. One wonders why the rapporteurs failed to listen to tens of thousands of people who had been aggrieved by the Gülenist organization, despite our efforts to constantly inform them. Why did they not look at the details of these ongoing lawsuits? Why did they not pay attention to the fact that this organization is the number-one threat to Turkish democracy, that it had tried to topple an elected government and that there is ample evidence in the bills of indictment?

This fact is glossed over briefly in the 31st paragraph of the draft with quite interesting political language. While the report refers to the organization, which the National Security Council (MGK) and the Cabinet of Ministers designated as a terrorist group, as "the so-called parallel structure," it describes it as "a former ally of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)." In other words, it seems that measures against this organization are interpreted as political conflict. In fact, this is what Fethullah Gülen himself says. When the Monitoring Committee was adopting such an important draft report, most of the proposals for change from Turkey were not discussed at all due to "lack of time." And some of them were rejected. Those familiar with the procedures at PACE know that when a draft is referred to the General Assembly, it is virtually impossible to intervene in it. So, what is the purpose here? To help Turkey, or to punish it? Does this not damage PACE's reputation to turn it into a PR platform for narrow-minded and biased views? Does such an attitude prevent Turkey from taking PACE seriously? Recently, the impression in Turkey has increasingly been that European mechanisms have become politicized and biased. Why should Turkey take European institutions seriously and bother with them if so many negotiations, meetings and efforts are not to produce an objective result?

There is no need to give way to such negative opinions. Turkey does not take a stand against impartial, objective and even rather harsh criticism. Indeed, when the purpose is to remedy the deficiencies of its democracy, just like those in other countries, an objective approach is necessary. That would only make Turkey happy.

This report can please only the PKK and the Gülenist organization, however. And it really did that. But it will not improve relations with Turkey and institutions like the Council of Europe and European Parliament. It will only reduce their power to influence and encourage. European Parliament, PACE rapporteurs and certainly some other European politicians may not be happy with Erdoğan's political line and the government of Turkey and they may want to see Turkey governed by parties with different approaches. But it is only up to the Turkish people to decide that. That decision should be respected and external actors should avoid trying to shape domestic politics in Turkey.

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