Turkey’s human rights plan ‘ignores attacks on freedoms’

President Erdogan announced a series of reforms aimed at improving human rights in the country on Tuesday, but critics questioned their effectiveness in improving standards. (AP)
President Erdogan announced a series of reforms aimed at improving human rights in the country on Tuesday, but critics questioned their effectiveness in improving standards. (AP)
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Updated 03 March 2021

Turkey’s human rights plan ‘ignores attacks on freedoms’

President Erdogan announced a series of reforms aimed at improving human rights in the country on Tuesday, but critics questioned their effectiveness in improving standards. (AP)
  • High-profile detentions a litmus test for Erdogan proposals, legal experts say

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-awaited human rights action plan fails to acknowledge a significant deterioration in individual freedoms over the past decade, critics claim. 

The plan, which was prepared with EU funding of 1.3 million Turkish liras ($177,000), was unveiled by the Turkish leader on Tuesday.

Erdogan said that the ultimate aim of the action plan “is a new civilian constitution.”

The plan seeks to strengthen freedom of expression, international human rights standards and the judicial system, but neglects to detail specific measures concerning arbitrary detentions, long-term imprisonment or restrictions on demonstrations.  

However, legal experts and ordinary citizens expect not more words, but deeds from the country’s rulers in light of Turkey’s weak record on human rights, with the imprisonment of thousands of journalists, politicians and rights activists on terror-related charges.

These include philanthropist Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician and former leader of the third-largest parliamentary party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.

The two high-profile cases will be a litmus test for the government’s willingness to meet its pledges on stronger rights and freedoms.  

On Feb. 10, the US State Department urged Ankara to immediately release Kavala, who has been detained for more than three years without a conviction. 

Turkey’s failure to release Kavala — ignoring European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments — is expected to trigger infringement proceedings by the Council of Europe against Ankara.

Both Washington and Brussels have urged Turkey to comply with the ECHR rulings on the release of Kavala and Demirtas. 

Although Erdogan on Tuesday promised that no one could be deprived of freedom because of their thoughts, Kavala’s detention has been repeatedly prolonged by local courts, with Turkey’s Constitutional Court having flouted the ECHR ruling on his right to liberty. 

“We will not water every flower we see. While watering a flower with its head bent means justice, watering a thorn means cruelty,” Erdogan said on Tuesday, hinting that the reforms will be implemented in a selective manner. 

Turkey will also release an annual human rights report, and a specific committee will be charged to monitor human rights conditions in prisons. 

“Without action, Turkey’s rule of law promises only point to its leadership’s own wrongdoings, like systematically labelling dissent and protest as ‘terrorism,’ arbitrary detentions, verdicts pronounced at the political level, ignoring European Court of Human Rights,” Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now an analyst at Carnegie Europe, tweeted. 

Sezgin Tanrikulu, an MP from the main opposition CHP, criticized the plan, saying that it shows the government has been violating human rights and is now trying to restore violations committed in the past. 

Turkey is still a leading jailer of journalists in the world.

“In a January communication to the Committee of Ministers on the Kavala judgment, the government made explicit references to the work underway for the human rights action plan to convince the committee of its willingness to improve the human rights situation in the country,” Ayse Bingol Demir, a human rights lawyer and co-director of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project, told Arab News. 

Demir said that the government’s launch of the human rights action plan comes days before the Committee of Ministers’ March 9-11 meeting during which Turkey’s compliance with the European Court over Kavala and Demirtas judgments will be reviewed.

“This meeting is particularly important as the committee will also consider whether to trigger infringement proceedings against Turkey in relation to the Kavala case due to his detention despite the committee’s two previous decisions and an interim resolution calling for, among others, his immediate release,” she said. 

Demir expects Turkey to continue its efforts to prevent or delay “this exceptional step.” 

“No need to say that the perspective presented to the outside world in the action plan does not correspond at all to the dire reality on the ground and the crisis facing the rule of law in the country resulting from the policies and practices of the very same person who presented it,” she said. 

Although this latest move from the government might receive some “diplomatic welcomes” from the European Council, Demir believes that as long as Kavala and Demirtas remain in detention, “I do not expect any shift in favor of Turkey at the committee level.”

On the same day the action plan was unveiled, the Court of Cassation launched an inquiry into the HDP in relation to a recent indictment against party members. 

This move, which is backed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist ally MHP, is seen as another step toward the party’s closure over terror-related accusations that escalated after Ankara claimed Turkish hostages were killed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq last month.

“God willing, we will shut down the HDP in the eyes of the people,” Cahit Ozkan, a deputy parliamentary group chairman for AKP, said on Tuesday after Erdogan’s speech, again sparking concerns about the sincerity of the pledged reforms. 

Thousands of HDP officials and members have already been arrested, while dozens of its elected mayors have been dismissed. 

Turkey ranked 107 across 128 countries in the latest Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project that concentrates on corruption, fundamental rights, regulatory enforcement and civil justice. 


Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
Updated 18 sec ago

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
  • A top government source told AFP the plotters had attempted to take over the state media building but “they failed”

KHARTOUM: An attempted coup in Sudan “failed” early Tuesday, state media reported, without identifying the plotters.
“There has been a failed coup attempt, the people should confront it,” state media reported.
A top government source told AFP the plotters had attempted to take over the state media building but “they failed.”


Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
Updated 3 min 32 sec ago

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
  • Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war

DUBAI: Former Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has died on Tuesday aged 85 after suffering from health problems for the past three months, local daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war.

He further assumed the presidency of Egypt in his capacity as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the resignation of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 of 2011.


French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
Updated 21 September 2021

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
  • Le Drian lauds August’s Baghdad Convention but warns Iran has repeatedly breached its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA
  • Minister laments ‘breach of trust’ by the UK and US over scuppering of a French submarine deal with Australia

NEW YORK: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has celebrated progress in diplomacy in the Middle East and promised that France will continue to take an active role in ensuring the region remains stable.

In a wide-ranging press conference held on Monday and attended by Arab News, Le Drian also lamented the recent “breach of trust” by the UK and US over the sale of submarines to Australia.

France had originally been slated to supply submarines to Australia as part of that deal, but Canberra did a U-turn in favor of an agreement with the US and UK, in what some have called an embarrassment for the French.

“In the Middle East, stability and security shall be the heart of our priorities. These require a regional dialogue, including in the unprecedented format of the Baghdad Conference on Aug. 28,” Le Drian said.

The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership brought together many of the key powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Iran for dialogue aimed at easing security tensions in the region. France also attended the summit and has taken an active role in mediating conflict and disputes in the Middle East, in some form, for centuries.

“It was an exceptional meeting because those who attended were not used to sitting at the same table,” said Le Drian, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s week of high-level meetings.

“We managed to launch some sort of new spirit and to gather some support for a willingness to reduce regional tensions in an unprecedented format.”

Iran’s presence at the conference, he continued, may be seen as a “positive signal,” but he said that he would convene a meeting of the joint commission of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) because, “regarding Iran, we note that the negotiations were interrupted at the request of Iran and we need to make sure that, this week, we try to launch some positive momentum or negotiations to resume.”

The JCPOA, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, saw heavy restrictions and monitoring placed on Tehran’s nascent nuclear program in return for much-needed sanctions relief. Iran and the US, which also left the deal, have been in negotiations for years over a bilateral return to the deal, but those have stalled in recent months.

“In the meantime, Iran keeps breaching some commitments that they made within the JCPOA,” said Le Drian, who also warned that “time is playing against the potential (nuclear) agreement because, as time goes by, the Iranian authorities are speeding up their nuclear activities.”

The minister also addressed the latest developments in Afghanistan, recently seized by the Taliban after 20 years of US presence in the country.

He said that France and its European partners had sent across a number of “very clear requirements” of the Taliban. Those include allowing people to leave the country if they wish, preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, and ensuring the rights of minorities, women, and journalists are upheld.

“Should the Taliban fail to meet these requirements, they will ban themselves from the international community,” Le Drian said.

He also supported the allocation by the UN of €100 million ($117,289,000) to Afghanistan and pointed out that the Europeans had already pledged over €600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Much of Le Drian’s attention throughout the conference, however, was focused on the recent news that Australia would scrap a lucrative deal with France to buy French-made submarines, and instead form a pact with the UK and US to purchase nuclear submarines.

That deal has proved highly controversial in France and across mainland Europe, and resulted in a diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Le Drian said that Presidents Macron and Biden will “discuss the matter very frankly” when they speak.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lebanon’s new government said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel

BEIRUT: Iranian fuel shipments imported into Lebanon by Hezbollah constitute a breach of the country's sovereignty, Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated on Monday.

Lebanon’s new government, which was backed by a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel.

Hezbollah has stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al-Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to the Iranian-backed group.

It began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran last Thursday, a move it says would ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. 

A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.

“The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting last week.

He added: “But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area, populated mainly by Shiite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”