In June 2013, Turkey grabbed the world’s attention when an unprecedented massive protest movement that started in the Gezi Park in Istanbul rapidly evolved into a protest against the government’s policies, demanding democratic reforms. In this context, violations of freedom of peaceful assembly demonstrated the Turkish authorities’ inability to handle non-violent demonstrations.
The Anti-Terror Law (ATL) and provisions of the Penal code criminalise peaceful activism by assimilating certain actions and messages to propaganda or membership of terrorist organisations, and allow for hefty prison sentences.
In December 2013, the EU signed a readmission agreement with Turkey. This agreement does not provide protection against human rights violations against third-country nationals who are sent back from the EU to Turkey. It also undermines the right to asylum in the EU for intercepted irregular migrants who could now be deported to Turkey. Moreover, the implementation of the agreement is mired in intransparency and accountability.
Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, “Istanbul Convention,” in 2012. Despite legislative reforms in line with UN standards and EU accession requirements, the country witnessed a sharp increase in violence against women over the past decade. Özgecan Aslan’s attempted rape and gruesome murder in February 2015 and the ensuing mass protests highlighted both the entrenched culture of violence against women and the government’s failure to meaningfully combat it.
Despite the geographically restrictive application of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to European refugees, the 2014 law on International Protection and Foreigners has provided better legal safeguards for the rights of migrants and refugees. Yet, effective access to justice, economic and social rights, as well as the effective implementation of this new law remain important challenges. Turkey is one of the largest host countries of refugees from Syria, with over 1.7 million in 2015 according to UNHCR, leading the authorities to close the last border-crossing point in March 2015.