Blog: Solidarity with Turkey on Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day, when we commemorate the signing of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Sadly, what should be a celebration of our hard won rights, is inevitably a day when we campaign against human rights abuses across the world.

Since the global banking crisis in 2008 human rights across the world have been eroded in the name of austerity. Here in the UK we have seen our rights undermined by the trade union act, cuts to social protection for the most vulnerable in society and a rise in xenophobia and racism rising from the divisive rhetoric around the decision for the UK to leave the European Union.

In June this year the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised ‘serious concerns’ that the UK government’s austerity policies are in breech of international human rights. Amongst these concerns were the damaging impact of cuts to social protection which disproportionately affects women, young people, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

As an internationalist union, in an interdependent world, we recognise the importance of working collectively with trade unionists all over the world to defend our rights.

In 1948, following the atrocities of the second world war, Turkey supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but today President Erdogan’s government is systematically undermining almost all of its international human rights obligations.

Since the failed coup on 15 July and the imposition of a state of emergency, the government of Turkey has arbitrarily dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 public sector employees, in most cases without evidence of wrong doing. Workers who have been sacked are banned from future employment in the public sector. Those working for the departments of education, health and justice have particularly been targeted, causing significant challenges for already overstretched key public services.

Many media outlets critical of the government have been closed down and the journalists who work for them arrested. MPs representing the HDP party, mainly from Kurdish areas of south east Turkey have been detained and local mayors replaced by government appointees.

For Turkey’s trade unions the denial of fundamental rights is nothing new. In October UNISON submitted evidence to the UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry on Turkey highlighting how freedom of association and assembly are denied and how trade unionists are subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention and violence when trying to conduct legitimate trade union business. Police have routinely used teargas and water cannons to prevent May Day rallies, and trade unionists have even been arrested for sharing messages on social media, distributing leaflets or attending press conferences. Is it any wonder the International Trade Union Confederation gives Turkey a rating of 5, no guarantee of rights, in its annual global rights index, placing it amongst the worst countries to be a trade unionist in the world?

In this context you would hope that world leaders would speak out, but few have dared challenge President Erdogan’s position of power in the refugee crisis. Our own government in particular have prioritised cooperation with Turkey over highlighting concerns at the erosion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Whilst many decision makers appear to be turning their backs on the situation in Turkey, it is vital that we stand in solidarity with trade unionists who continue to bravely speak out against a crackdown by an increasingly authoritarian government.