The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for entertaining the idea of bringing back the death penalty in member state Turkey.
In its latest report, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) covered the situation of the death penalty in the OSCE area and tackled the latest discussions of reintroducing capital punishment in Turkey, a member of the organization since its inception in 1975.
The report, titled “The Death Penalty in the OSCE Area: Background Paper 2019,” detailed the commitments of OSCE member states with regards to the death penalty and noted that abolition of the death penalty is “legally irrevocable,” with reference to General Comment 36 of the UN Human Rights Committee on Article 6 (Right to Life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ODIHR paper also includes an introductory essay by Christof Heyns, a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, which, citing the committee, describes capital punishment as cruel and inhuman treatment.
According to the ODIHR report, Turkish President Erdoğan suggested that Turkey would like to reintroduce the death penalty, and he “vowed to approve legislation to restore the death penalty if parliament passes it, and openly stated his objection to providing food for those serving life sentences following the coup attempt in July 2016 and expressed his regret for abolishing the death penalty.”
“We have done wrong by removing the death penalty. It offends me to feed those in prison, those who martyred 251 of our citizens, police officers and soldiers on the night of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, even though they are serving life sentences,” Erdoğan said on March 19, 2019 at an election rally. “I have been saying this all the time, if parliament passes such legislation, I will approve it,” he added.
The ODIHR background paper also exposed the attempts from Erdoğan’s coalition partners in the Turkish parliament, saying: “In August 2018, it was reported that capital punishment would be restored for ‘terrorism offences and the murder of women and children.’ In October 2018, a member of Parliament from the BBP party [Grand Unity Party, an ultranationalist party] submitted a draft legislative proposal on this matter to parliament.”
On October 1, 2018, the only elected member of parliament from the BBP submitted a draft legislative proposal to parliament asking for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey. The proposal was aimed at reintroducing the death penalty for the murder of women and children who were victims of sexual assault and for killings carried out as part of individual or organized acts of terrorism. The two coalition partners of President Erdoğan in the 2018 parliamentary election, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the BBP, have also been public about their desire to bring back the death penalty.
The ODIHR report also referred to a “debate [that] rose in the aftermath of the attacks on two Christchurch mosques in New Zealand which killed 50 people.” President Erdoğan had called on New Zealand to restore capital punishment for white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, warning that Turkey would make the attacker pay for his act if New Zealand did not.
“You heinously killed 50 of our siblings. You will pay for this. If New Zealand doesn’t make you, we know how to make you pay one way or another. … If the New Zealand parliament doesn’t make this decision, I will continue to argue this with them constantly. The necessary action needs to be taken,” Erdoğan told a local election rally.
In similar to the ODIHR, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also highlighted the situation in Turkey and some UN member states and expressed concern at the pronouncements of countries. The 2019 report of the OHCHR urged all leaders to exercise caution in rhetoric around the death penalty. Moreover, the EU has repeatedly made clear that any move to restore it would torpedo its membership bid.
The ODIHR, the human rights body of the OSCE, provides support, assistance and expertise to participating states and civil society to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights and tolerance. In accordance with its mandate, the ODIHR monitors trends and new developments regarding human rights standards and practices among OSCE participating states related to the death penalty.
Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, although no executions have taken place since 1984.