UN Human Rights Committee highlights conscientious objection in Turkey

On 17–18 October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee finalised the examination of the initial report of Turkey on the country’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Hülya Üçpınar, activist and human rights lawyer from Turkey, addressed the committee on behalf of WRI. She reported on the status of conscientious objection in Turkey, telling the committee about restrictions imposed on conscientious objectors lives – the fact they can't vote, are in constant danger of being detained by security forces, and are severely hampered in finding work.

In it's concluding observations, the Committee expressed regret that conscientious objection to military service is not recognised by the State and that many conscientious objectors have been imprisoned as a result, despite findings of the Committee and the European Court of Human Rights that this is a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Committee called upon the Turkish government to adopt legislation recognizing and regulating conscientious objection to military service, and to suspend all proceedings against conscientious objectors. They require evidence of the implementation of these recommendations within a year. This is the first time ever that conscientious objection has been included in the Committee's follow up procedure, and represents an important step forward.

Also in the last week, a court in Turkey acquitted four people, including conscientious objector Halil Savda, who had been tried for their participation in a protest in support of conscientious objector Enver Aydemir. They had been charged with 'alienating the public from military service', a criminal offence under Article 318 of Turkey’s Penal Code.

In acquitting the defendants, the court ruled that their protest was protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Turkish Constitution, because they did not contain or incite violence, and that a democratic society must allow freedom of expression even if it shocks and disturbs.

Halil Savda has another, similar, conviction pending at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Sources: Press release from Centre for Civil and Political Rights (co-signed with WRI), 18 October, 2012; Concluding observations on the initial report of Turkey adopted by the Committee at its 106th session, October, 2012; Webcast of Committee meeting, 18 October, 2012; Turkey: Acquittal in conscientious objection case a win for free speech, Amnesty International, 7 December 2012.