Boris: Stop ignoring human rights in Turkey

Since the failed coup a year ago, Turkey has experienced an unprecedented erosion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The ongoing state of emergency, imposed immediately following the coup, has been used by the government to silence its actual and perceived critics, including trade unionists, public service workers, journalists, the judiciary and academics.

Public service workers have been amongst the worst hit, with well over 100,000 dismissed for alleged terrorist offences, with little or no evidence. Public service unions in the federations DISK and KESK have been placed in an impossible situation, as they demand the reinstatement of thousands of members with few prospects of a fair hearing.

UNISON and our sister unions in Public Services International have repeatedly demanded the reinstatement of these workers. We are also providing practical assistance through the ITUC/ ETUC solidarity fund, helping unions defend their members at a local, national and European level.

Those who have dared to criticise the government, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists, have also come under a sustained attack. The chair of Amnesty International Turkey was arrested and detained for terrorist offences on 6 June, following the publication of a series of critical reports. On 5 July the organisation’s director and nine other human rights defenders were also detained for terrorist offences.

Earlier this month UNISON joined Amnesty International supporters outside the Turkish embassy in London to demand the release of all human rights defenders. We are also supporting Amnesty International’s call to the European Union to demand their release. You can support the call by emailing the EU’s High Representative via the Amnesty International website. 

Sadly the Conservative government’s response to the situation has been abysmal. Rather than speaking up for human rights, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has focused all his efforts on a “jumbo trade deal” with Turkey. Last November he shocked fellow ministers when he urged the EU to stop pushing Turkey “into a corner” over the death penalty. In January Prime Minister Theresa May visited Turkey to sign a £100m arms deal with President Erdogan’s government.

Whilst the UK government has consistently condemned the attempted coup because it undermined democracy, they have remained consistently silent on the subsequent state of emergency, mass detentions and dismissals, and the erosion of democracy and rights. Only on 19 July did they finally comment on the detention of the chair and director of Amnesty International Turkey, an organisation founded in the UK.

Today I wrote to Boris Johnson to reiterate our demands for:

  • The reinstatement of public service workers;
  • The release of workers and human rights defenders, unless there is clear evidence of wrongdoing in which case a fair and impartial trial needs to take place;
  • The termination of the state of emergency;
  • And the suspension of arms sales to Turkey until international human rights standards are respected.

I also highlighted our concerns about the government’s inaction on Turkey, and calls for democracy, social justice and workers and human rights to be embedded in any future trade deal with Turkey. You can read the letter here.