The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) is an internationally recognized and well-esteemed independent human rights organization, fighting for 30 years to eradicate torture and to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, based on the Constitution and international conventions -signed and not signed by the Turkish government. And, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a respected and independent scholar and human rights defender is the President of the HRFT. The unacceptable expressions by the President of the Republic of Turkey in the group meeting of his party yesterday qualifies as threat and pressure to hinder the human rights advocacy activities of the HRFT and its president.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his speech yesterday at his party’s parliamentary group, “Can you imagine? They take someone from a terrorist organization and put her at the head of the TTB (the Turkish Medical Association). This is the case of terrorist organizations taking over NGOs. The steps we have taken in health are obvious. One of the areas in which this government is most successful is health. Such ugly approaches to this government, which has made investments unprecedented in history, with all its physical infrastructure, are not acceptable.”
Prof. Dr. R. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who was democratically and legitimately elected as the Chair of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council recently, is not affiliated with any terrorist organization. She has been the longstanding president of the HRFT, an internationally renowned human rights organization. Hence the reason we would like to respond to Mr. Erdoğan’s unacceptable expressions.
Of course, there is a lot to be said about the content of the “steps taken” by the government in health, the marketization of healthcare, and especially the “fight” against the Covid-19 epidemic with ways and methods that are against the fundamental principles of science and public health, and the standards of the World Health Organization. However, let’s leave this to physicians, scientists and healthcare professionals who are respected members of the Turkish Medical Association.
HRFT, too, is in a sense a healthcare organization, as we help torture survivors access physical and mental treatment and rehabilitation services. However, our main area of expertise is to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, while at the same time strengthening civil society. That is to say, we advocate for human rights.
To remind briefly, human rights defenders struggle against rights violations with their own specific methods (monitoring, documentation, reporting, etc.), based on the principle that human rights are for everyone without any discrimination. The basic principles of this struggle are nonviolence and independence.
The principle of independence is of utmost importance for the struggle for human rights. A universal fact implicitly assumed by all human rights documents and conventions -some of which are also adopted by Turkey- is that the states that are charged by the international human rights law with the duty to protect human rights are at the same time the main violators of these rights. With this consideration always in mind, human rights defenders conduct their activities without taking any instructions from governments, other political authorities, or people or organizations involved in human rights violations.
The principle of nonviolence is equally important, because under all circumstances, violence is an indicator of a relationship of domination. Wherever there is a human rights violation, there is domination. Therefore, making these violations visible and objecting to them are responsibilities that derive from the principle of nonviolence. All human rights defenders who want to prevent violations and increase respect for human rights, by the nature of their advocacy, should strictly protect their independence and struggle in peaceful ways.
What lies beneath the efforts to control the civil society, and to disable protective mechanisms by putting in place dependent and controlled institutions such as the Turkey Human Rights and Equality Institution (the members and the president of which are civil servants appointed by the President of the Republic) is the desire to be exempt from supervision. Therefore, Mr. President’s expression of “taking over NGOs” for the Central Council elections of the Turkish Medical Association is quite noteworthy, particularly as it targets one of the most important professional and civil society organizations in Turkey that has insistently maintained its scientific and organizational independence.
The reason of the government’s unease seems quite clear: the desire not to be monitored and criticized. However, in a democratic society, the monitoring and criticism of political decision makers are civic duties. For this reason, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) clearly states in many of its judgments and jurisprudence that those holding political power should be supervised not only by the legislative and judicial bodies, but also by the public, civil society and the mass media.
Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı has been the president of our foundation for many years, as she is a true defender of rights committed to the universal principles of human rights advocacy, including the above-mentioned principles of nonviolence and independence. Her scientific knowledge and expertise not only in the medical field but also in the field of human rights are recognized internationally. That is why the international community has asked her to take responsibility for the opening of mass graves in Bosnia and uncovering the shameful genocide at the heart of Europe. That is why she became the voice of thousands of Palestinians subjected to torture in Palestine and Israel, and of a young person who lost his life in Bahrain. That is why she was a co-author of the Istanbul Protocol, to which the EctHR consistently refers for the documentation and reporting of torture.
To be a documenter of the violations that took place on the Mavi Marmara ship, to ensure that those who were tortured in Abu Gharib hold on to life, to defend the truth and only the truth regardless of geography, all this requires moral integrity and absolute independence.
To remind once again, the HRFT is an internationally recognized and well-esteemed independent human rights organization, fighting for 30 years to eradicate torture and to establish respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, based on the Constitution and all the existing international conventions -signed and not signed by the Turkish governments. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a respected and independent scientist and human rights defender is the president of the HRFT.
The universal human rights law -to which Turkey adheres with the conventions it has signed-deems the protection of human rights defenders as the sine qua non of a democratic society. According to the United Nations’ (UN) “Declaration on Human Rights Defenders”, the states are obliged to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration.
The unacceptable statements made by the President of the Republic at his party’s parliamentary group meeting yesterday qualify as threat and pressure to prevent the human rights advocacy activities of the HRFT and its president. It is a violation of both national and international law. And hence we call on to the relevant authorities to react accordingly.
October 15, 2020
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey