The Turkish government signed bilateral security cooperation agreements with multiple states that were phrased ambiguously to allow for the expulsion or abduction of Turkish nationals living abroad, a joint UN letter has underlined.
UN rapporteurs Luciano Hazan, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment sent a joint letter to the Turkish government to express their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple States to Turkey.”
In the letter they also conveyed their concerns about the personal safety and integrity of the deported individuals as well as those at imminent risk of deportation from third countries.
The UN rapporteurs asked the Turkish government to provide further information about its operations in coordination with authorities in Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Gabon, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Pakistan for the abduction, arbitrary arrest, detention, enforced disappearance or torture of at least 100 individuals suspected of involvement with the “Hizmet/Gulen movement,” a group critical of the Turkish government that appears to be the latest victim of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğa. In addition, they accused the Turkish government of curtailing independent and effective investigations into these abuses.
“The Government of Turkey, in coordination with other States, is reported to have forcibly transferred over 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey, of which 40 individuals have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly abducted off the streets or from their homes all over the world, and in multiple instances along with their children,” the letter said.
Nordic Monitor previously reported how the content of Turkey’s security agreements has changed in parallel to the transformation of national legislation and that the new documents contained ambiguous copy-paste phrases designed to suppress government opponents outside the country. According to research conducted by Nordic Monitor, President Erdoğan’s Islamist government considers international security mechanisms a convenient tool for political persecution abroad.
“[The Turkish] Government has signed bilateral security co-operation agreements with multiple States allegedly containing broad and vague references to combatting terrorism and transnational crime. Sources claim that the agreements have been phrased ambiguously to allow for expulsion or abduction of anyone deemed to be a ‘security risk’ from third countries party to the agreements. There appears to be a clear link in the timing of the alleged operations – most, if not all, have been carried out within two years since the agreements entered into force. For instance, allegations are made that Turkey has signed secret agreements with several States, including Azerbaijan, Albania, Cambodia and Gabon, where several operations are reported to have taken place,” the letter stated.
According to the letter they asked those countries to investigate responsible officials for their role in Turkey’s abduction operations and reveal the secret agreements signed with Turkey in that regard. “Turkey appears to have concluded a series of secret security co-operation agreements with other States, with the aim of facilitating expedited capture and arrest of Turkish nationals suspected of affiliation with the Hizmet/Gülen movement. Invoking the principle of legality, we stress that any inter-State agreements or arrangements the execution of which may result in substantial interference with human rights, must be publicly accessible so as to allow individuals to take cognizance of the terms of such agreements and regulate their conduct accordingly.”
The joint letter also revealed the fraudulent use of diplomatic facilities by Erdoğan’s envoys and their tactics in plotting the deportation of Turkish nationals, saying, “Parallel to these agreements it appears that with the aim of facilitating expeditious arrests abroad, Turkish authorities have reportedly revoked citizenships or annulled passports of targeted individuals.”
Furthermore, rapporteurs, with reference to statements by Turkish officials, exposed the fact that over 100 alleged members of the Gülen movement have been abducted abroad by Turkish intelligence and brought back to Turkey as part of the Turkish government’s systematic global manhunt.
“Turkish authorities have not only acknowledged direct responsibility in perpetrating or abetting abductions and illegal transfers, but have also vowed to run more covert operations in the future. On September 21, 2018, it is alleged that Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson stated during a press conference that the Government would continue its operations against the Hizmet Movement, similar to the one in Kosovo (March 29, 2018).”
According to the UN letter, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) established a separate department tasked with conducting or abetting the operations abroad, and Turkish nationals began disappearing in large numbers from several countries following the establishment of the department.
“In 2017, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) allegedly established a separate department tasked with conducing or abetting the operations abroad, to which the Government is believed to have allocated five million US dollars, also to be allegedly used for payments to various criminal and other illegal groups in achieving the stated “objectives”. It is further indicated that following the establishment of the department, Turkish nationals began disappearing in large numbers from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Gabon, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine and other countries/territories,” the letter stated.
According to the UN document, “[S]tate-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from third countries may result in serious violations of the individuals’ rights to liberty, personal security, integrity and fair trial in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 3, 5, 9 and 14), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, Articles 7, 9, 13, 14, 18, 19 and 22) and the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT, in particular Article 3), as well as the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance (Articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, 14 and 20).”
The UN rapporteurs also referred to “Article 7 of the Declaration [on enforced disappearance] stipulating that no circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances.”
In addition to Turkey, the UN rapporteurs also accused several states of carrying out coercion, torture and degrading treatment aimed at obtaining the consent of those people for voluntary return: “Faced with increasing pressure to comply, host states conduct around-the-clock surveillance, followed by house raids and arbitrary arrests in undercover operations by law enforcement or intelligence officers in plainclothes. The individuals’ names are cross-checked against prepared lists, before being taken to unmarked vehicles by force. They remain forcibly disappeared for up to several weeks in secret or incommunicado detention before deportation. During that period they are often subjected to coercion, torture and degrading treatment aimed at obtaining their consent on voluntary return and at extracting confessions that would inform criminal prosecution upon arrival in Turkey.”
“We note in this respect that deprivation of nationality for the sole purpose of facilitating expulsion or removal goes against international law norms and standards. Finally, we wish to highlight that violations of international human rights obligations resulting from these agreements engage Turkey’s responsibility under international law as well as the third countries parties to the agreements” the letter said.
Pressure on journalists and the crackdown on Erdoğan critics throughout the country intensified in the aftermath of the corruption scandal of December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates. Immediately after the corruption investigation, Erdoğan accused the police officers, judges and prosecutors involved in the case of mounting a coup against his government and claimed they were linked to the Gülen movement, which he branded a “parallel state.”
The crackdown on critics and the purge of government officials that were initiated in the aftermath of the December 2013 corruption probes accelerated after the failed coup in July 2016, giving Erdoğan a pretext to pursue a mass purge with no administrative or judicial probes. The government has rounded up over half a million volunteers from the Gülen movement since 2016, mainly on coup, terrorism and defamation charges. The witch-hunt aimed to suppress civil society, silence critical voices and stifle the right to dissent, while Erdoğan continued to transform Turkish democracy into a dictatorship.
In May 2016 Erdogan’s Turkey designated the movement as a terrorist entity without any evidence that Gülen or people affiliated with the movement committed any terrorist acts. Then, a coup was attempted in July 2016, reportedly at Erdoğan’s direction, as a pretext for an ensuing crackdown. Following the failed coup, which was called “a gift from God” by Erdoğan, thousands of Turkish citizens were forced to flee their homes due to his anti-democratic rule and a still-ongoing purge of government critics.
Erdoğan then moved Turkey away from the core values of the EU by using the coup to restrict democratic rights and erode the rule of law. In the aftermath of the abortive putsch , the Turkish government violated international law by arresting tens of thousands, including journalists, human rights defenders, academics, Kurdish MPs, foreign reporters, civil servants and businessmen; purging at least 152,000 civil servants from their jobs without any effective judicial or administrative investigation; investigating more than a half million people on dubious terrorism allegations; and shutting down media outlets and seizing their assets. Torture allegations have often been voiced by human rights defenders since the failed coup.
Joint UN letter on systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple States to Turkey: