Turkish diplomat who hushed up torture report won a seat on the UN Committee Against Torture

Erdoğan Şerif İşcan (third from the left)

Nordic Monitor 

 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced that Erdoğan Şerif İşcan, Turkey’s former permanent representative to the Council of Europe (CoE)  who prevented the publication of the CoE’s 2016 torture report on Turkey, was elected as a member of the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) for the 2020-2023 term.

Elections for five seats on the CAT were held in Geneva on October 3 on the sidelines of the 17th meeting of state parties to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Following the election, İşcan thanked President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government for the nomination, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported. “I am honored that my government nominated me as a candidate,” he said.

İşcan’s presence on the CAT will provide a significant opportunity for Erdoğan’s regime to hush up its systematic torture in detention centers and the abductions it has carried out as part of a widespread campaign of intimidation targeting critics and opponents of Erdogan’s policies.

The CAT is a body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the UN Convention on Torture by its state parties. Committee members, who are supposed to be persons of high moral character with recognized competence in the field of human rights, are elected for a term of four years by the party states in accordance with Article 17 of the convention. In addition to İşcan, Claude Heller Rouassant of Mexico, Ilvija Puce of Latvia, Sébastien Touze of France and Ana Racu of Moldova were elected for the CAT.

The five members elected to the CAT starting January 1, 2020 for a term of four years are:

 

Name of candidate Nationality
Mr. Claude HELLER ROUASSANT Mexico
Ms. Ilvija PUCE Latvia
Mr. Sébastien TOUZE France
Mr. Erdoğan IŞCAN Turkey
Ms. Ana RACU Republic of Moldova

 

Against the backdrop of his track record of vetoing publication of the torture report, his silence in the face of the government’s purge of hundreds of diplomats on dubious charges, his coordinating role between Turkey and Strasbourg on the process of establishing the State of Emergency Inquiry Commission (OHAL Commission) and his advocacy for Erdoğan’s regime on international platforms, İşcan’s election as a CAT member has attracted harsh criticism.

İşcan had served as the permanent representative from Turkey to the CoE in Strasbourg during which time the government came under increasing criticism for human rights violations at the council and was accused of conducting a systematic, deliberate campaign of torture and ill treatment of detainees under a two-year-long state of emergency declared after a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Since 2016, at least 75 cases of suspicious deaths as well as suicides have taken place either in detention centers and prisons or outside such facilities with the involvement of, or under pressure from, Turkish government officials.

In addition, the approximately 200 journalists, dozens of current and former MPs and academics and thousands of judges imprisoned and more than half a million critics of President Erdoğan detained by the police were labeled as “terrorists” by the Turkish government.

Ambassador İşcan was not only a vocal supporter in Strasbourg of the anti-democratic rule of the Erdoğan regime but also vetoed CoE initiatives to explore the political atmosphere in Turkey after the 2016 coup attempt. Due to his persistent efforts and stance in line with Erdoğan’s politics, the report of a Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visit to Turkey in 2016 was not published at the time and still has not been published by the CoE.

A CPT expert delegation conducted a visit to Turkey from August 29 to September 6, 2016. The purpose of the visit was to examine the treatment and conditions of detention of persons who had been taken into custody in connection with the coup attempt. To this end, the delegation interviewed in private several hundred people in various prisons and police facilities.

The CPT experts visited the Ankara police headquarters (Counterterrorism Department, Law and Order Department, Anti-organized Crime Department and a temporary detention facility at the Başkent Volleyball Hall), the Gölbaşi district police headquarters and the Sincan, Silivri and Izmir F-type prisons. According to various reports by human rights organizations, the deaths of prisoners and detainees under “suspicious circumstances” are suspected to be tied to human rights abuses and torture at these centers.

 

Turkish teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who was tortured to death in police custody in the wake of a controversial military coup attempt over alleged membership in the Gülen movement. He was found innocent one-and-a-half years later.

 

Ambassador İşcan also remained silent when his former colleagues from the Foreign Ministry were reportedly tortured at the Ankara Police Department. On May 20, 2019 a Turkish court issued warrants for 249 former personnel of the Foreign Ministry on terrorism charges based on which the Ankara Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit detained 111 former diplomats. According to a report by the Ankara Bar Association, five detainees were removed from their cells and taken to a dark room where they were tortured. The victims testified to lawyers that they were beaten, kicked and threatened with sodomy with batons if they did not confess to their alleged crimes.

Since 2016 more than 130,000 public officials have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation. Six hundred six of them were Foreign Ministry personnel who were jailed in Turkey or forced to seek asylum abroad to escape wrongful imprisonment, torture or ill treatment in prison and detention facilities.

After a purge of civil servants in large numbers and mass arrests on fabricated terrorism charges, a growing number of victims started to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to receive some sort of justice for their grievances. In a flawed deal with the CoE, the Turkish government set up the OHAL Commission in January 2017 as an interim mechanism to review dismissal decisions taken by executive decrees. However, the OHAL Commission functioned merely as a kind of formality and rubber-stamped the government’s executive decisions in most cases. In the meantime, the ECtHR’s requirement of the “exhaustion of domestic remedies” in order to accept applications has delayed the justice victims have sought as most applications to the ECtHR were rejected. İşcan played a pivotal coordinating role between Turkey and the ECtHR in that process, helping to prolong the victims’ suffering.

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