Targeted sanction regulations can and must be used as a deterrent against a culture of impunity over rights violations in Turkey, lawyers said at an event in the UK’s Parliament on 26 June.
The event, hosted in the House of Lords by Baroness Kennedy, director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, brought together international lawyers and experts, including the Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative (ALI), for a discussion on ‘The Deterrence Potential of Multilateral Sanctions for Human Rights Abuses in Turkey’.
Nearly one in three of all prisoners in Europe are in a Turkish jail, with the country currently detaining over 340,000 individuals, including tens of thousands of political prisoners. Following a 2016 coup attempt and subsequent crackdown on the civil sphere, 529 lawyers have so far been sentenced to a combined total of 3,242 years in prison for trumped-up terrorism charges, according to the ALI. Many of those arrested have been Kurdish lawyers.
During the panel, it was emphasised that more pressure should be put on the British government and other countries to impose sanctions on officials involved in torture, using ‘Magnitsky’-style sanctions. Inspired by the United States’ implementation of such measures following the death of a Russian lawyer while in custody, the UK has also begun issuing government sanctions against foreign individuals responsible for human rights abuses or significant acts of corruption.
Speaking at the event, British lawyers Kevin Dent QC and Michael Polak, who made an application to the British Foreign Office in 2021 under the UK’s Magnitsky Act, urged for sanctions against those accountable based on three separate cases of torture. Canadian lawyer Sarah Teich, who applied to the Canadian Government for 12 Turkish state officials held responsible for abductions and torture to be included in that country’s sanctions list, also gave a presentation.
Opening the event, Baroness Kennedy, who sits in the UK’s House of Lords on behalf of the Labour Party, reminded attendees that Turkey had been brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) many times, in comments reported by the Nupel news site. She further noted that the Council of Europe was currently evaluating the possibility of taking action against Turkey.
Michael Polak, who submitted a request for Magnitsky sanctions to be introduced on perpetrators of torture in Turkey to the British government two years previously, stated that he had submitted 500 pages of evidence to the British Foreign Office. Highlighting that no step has been taken yet even though two years have passed since the application, Polak added, “However, I send an e-mail to the ministry every two months and ask, ‘Have you read it?’”
“When I talk to people who criticise Turkey’s human rights record, they say that sanctions against Turkish citizens are very complex,” said Kevin Dent QC, adding, “this feeling that sanctions cannot be imposed on a friendly country needs to be overcome.”
In a statement, the ALI said, “The Turkish government used ill-treatment and torture at detention centres as an instrument to instil terror, hoping those arrested would turn against each other and those who had any links, however small it might be, to report others to the government. This also caused public officials like judges, public prosecutors, police officers, prison staff, doctors etc., who served as part of the Turkish prison service to either actively participate in the torture and ill-treatment of arrested victims at worst or at best to unlawfully ignore their suffering.”