UN experts: Empowering Erdogan in referendum may exacerbate rights violations

Erdogan poster calling for a 'Yes' vote in the referendum flanked by police officers. (YDylan Martinez/Reuters)

United Nations experts have warned that a ‘Yes’ vote in the constitutional referendum on Sunday could exacerbate existing rights violations in the country.

A team of UN special rapporteurs has released a statement voicing “serious concerns” that empowering President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lead to the further violation of “economic, social and cultural rights.”

“Given the arbitrary and sweeping nature of the emergency decrees issued since July 2016, there is serious concern that such powers might be used in ways that exacerbate the existing major violations of economic, social and cultural rights”, the experts said in a statement published on the website of the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

The UN has been critical of the Turkish government for the blanket crackdown on opposition groups, media and voices.

“The dismissal of up to 134,000 public servants, without due process, compensation, or access to a proper remedy, for alleged links with organizations that the government has chosen to proscribe, cannot be justified by reference to Turkey’s longstanding international human rights obligations,” said the experts in the same statement.

The closure of some 200 media outlets was also slammed for undermining the possibility of an informed debate on the referendum, while the violation of the right to education was deemed as being “especially problematic”.

A UN human rights report on 10 March also accused Turkey of grave human rights violations in the country’s Kurdish majority southeast, including enforced disappearances, destruction of civilian areas and displacement, between July 2015 and December 2016. Turkey has not allowed a UN team to investigate the aftermath of clashes.

The UN experts include Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education.