“Europe particularly has double standards. Now they want something from Turkey, they turned a blind eye to human rights problems inside Turkey” he said referring to the controversial refugee deal with the European Union (EU), in an interview with Doğan News Agency (DHA) on Tuesday.
“The overall concern on the refugee problem is less with Turkey; it is much more with Europe who is outsourcing its problem to Turkey” he urged, reiterating that Europe was a signatory of the refugee convention. “Europe has to take each asylum seeker case by case… They lecture the whole world about human rights and the first time there is a real test for them, they are not living up to all their claims.”
“Turkey’s policy to Syrian refugees completely changed”
Secretary General of Amnesty International noted that Turkey has been “generous” by keeping borders open for several years. However, “The problem started in the last part of 2015, when policy to Syrian refugees has completely changed” he added.
“Now the borders are closed, they in fact shoot at people who are coming across; pushing people back and if anybody gets through, they put them into detention centers, even after the refugee deal… The EU is pushing refugees to Turkey but you cannot anymore say that Turkey is a safe country for refugees.”
Shetty also commented on “violations to Kurdish population” in Turkey’s southeast, following his two-day-long visit to southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
“We managed to gain access to the curfew zone of historic city of Sur. I must say what I saw there was shocking; the area was razed to the ground, people have lost their houses, there has been excessive use of tanks and heavy artillery to very densely populated areas and round-to-clock curfews” he said. These acts “violate the Turkish national law and international human rights law” according to Shetty.
“Turkey cannot ‘punish an entire community’ for violence in the southeast”
“We have no question about the security problem faced by the Turkish government. But the issue is how you deal with it” said Shetty, who described the security interventions in the region as “disproportionate”. “Half a million people have now been displaced in Turkey southeast, and there is no clarity on whether they will get their houses and properties back.”
“You cannot have collective punishment against the entire community, if a few people are involved in some kind of violent activity” he added.
The killing of Tahir Elçi, renowned human rights lawyer and founder of Amnesty Turkey, has been a “mysterious case” without a credible investigation despite some procedures, said Shetty. Salil Shetty has met Diyarbakır Bar Head Tahir Elçi’s wife, Türkan Elçi, along with lawyers and experts in the Bar, within his visit to the area ahead of the summit.
“Why aren’t they allowing Amnesty International and other independent observers if they have nothing to hide?” asked Shetty, pointing to UN and other organizations’ challenge of access to the case of Cizre and other areas in Diyarbakır, where operations and curfews are taking place.
The governor has told Amnesty officials “they were welcome to Sur” but for other areas, they were “told to address Ministry of Foreign Affairs” for access, he told DHA.
“Shrinking space for democratic institutions”
Amnesty’s Secretary-General also criticized Turkey’s “shrinking space for democratic institutions” including media, judiciary and academia. Out of the four journalists he has met during another visit in Turkey were either pushed out of their newspaper, has lost their job, or have gone to a pro-government newspaper, he noted.
Freedom of expression is “not a new problem” in Turkey, said Amnesty’s chief. However, the unique part of the situation is that “not only critical journalists, but also ordinary people who are present online have been threatened with anti-terror law” Salil Shetty said, describing the situation as a “judicial harassment” against media institutions and journalists.
“More than a thousand academics who actually signed a petition for peace are intimated, prosecuted, charged” he added, underlining the significance of Turkey’s “respected” global image made up of credible institutions. “If these institutions are being crushed, then we are facing a difficult future” he said.
Amnesty has been addressing the Turkish government with several questions on alleged human rights violations including “illegally returning of Syrian refugees”, “immense pressure on the media”, “violence against civilians” and “excessive use of force” by security forces in curfew-d southeastern areas.
“Until now the access has been in the local level, but the relationship on national level has been more difficult” Amnesty’s Salil Shetty told DHA, while praising the government’s welcoming stand during Amnesty observers’ visit to Diyarbakır and the curfew area of Sur.
“International humanitarian laws ‘completely forgotten’ in conflict zones”
Amnesty’s message during the first-ever UN Humanitarian Summit was that “In the last few years, international human rights law have been completely forgotten” in the world, especially in conflict zones, he said.
“Civilians have become pawns in the political game of national governments and political actors. We do not need rules, there are laws already. Governments are just floating those laws. Of course armed groups are also doing this. But governments are the ones who are primarily responsible as they signed up to the refugee convention and international humanitarian law.”
“Human rights a question of leadership”
The world is dealing with a “historic record” of 60 million forced displaced people across the globe, he reiterated, while calling for a “system of global re-distribution” for refugees. Although this was not achieved during the Humanitarian Summit, Amnesty will be following the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting that will take place in September, he said.
The issue of human rights in the case of refugee crisis was a “leadership question” rather than a “legality question” Amnesty Secretary-General said.
“We need more leaders who do not only talk of human rights, but also practice human rights” he urged.