More than two years after being arbitrarily dismissed in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in Turkey, almost 130,000 Turkish public sector workers are still awaiting justice and facing an uncertain future, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.
The report, titled, “Purged beyond return? No remedy for Turkey’s dismissed public sector workers” reveals that doctors, police officers, teachers, academics and tens of thousands of other civil servants dismissed from their jobs for alleged “links to terror groups” have yet to be reinstated or compensated, while the commission set up to review dismissal decisions is woefully unfit for purpose.
“Branded as ‘terrorists’ and stripped of their livelihoods, tens of thousands of people who have had their professional and family lives shattered are still awaiting justice,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey strategy and research manager.
“Despite the clear arbitrary nature of these dismissals, the Commission responsible for reviewing the decisions has failed to uphold international standards and is acting as a de facto rubber stamp for the initial flawed decisions. The whole process is a shameful affront to justice.”
Under the state of emergency that followed Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, almost 130,000 public sector workers were arbitrarily dismissed through executive decrees.
Innocuous – and at the time entirely lawful activities — have been used by the commission to retroactively justify the dismissals and decisions to permanently bar these people from working in the public sector or even in their professions. Actions such as depositing money in a certain bank, membership in certain unions or downloading a particular smartphone app were used as evidence of “links” with proscribed “terrorist” groups, without any further proof of such links or evidence of wrongdoing.
In January 2017, after mounting political pressure, the government in Turkey set up a “State of Emergency Inquiry Commission” to review dismissal decisions taken by executive decrees. Out of approximately 125,000 applications made by dismissed individuals, the commission had issued decisions in only 36,000 cases as of Oct. 5, 2018. Of these, original decisions have been overturned in less than 7 percent [2,300] of cases.
The report, which involved a review of the commission’s procedures and 109 of its decisions as well as interviews with 21 dismissed individuals and their families, reveals that the commission is not set up to provide an effective remedy. It is deeply flawed by a lack of institutional independence, long waiting periods, the absence of safeguards allowing individuals to effectively rebut allegations and weak evidence cited in decisions upholding dismissals.
A teacher whose appeal against his dismissal for depositing money into the then-government-controlled Bank Asya was rejected by the commission told Amnesty International, “They dismissed us without reason and now they are trying to find excuses for our dismissals.”
Among the decisions Amnesty International reviewed, applicants had to wait for the commission to decide – in the best case – for more than seven months following their dismissal, and 21 months in the worst. However, the vast majority of applicants are still awaiting a response, many for more than two years.
People making applications to the commission face a Kafkaesque ordeal. When they were dismissed, public sector workers were not given reasons for their dismissal beyond a generalized justification that they were assessed to have “links to terrorist organizations.”
Without knowing the specific allegations they were facing or evidence that was used against them, people submitting appeals had to speculate about the reasons for the termination of their contracts, making it difficult to rebut such allegations and mount effective appeals.
The wife of one dismissed civil servant told Amnesty International: “The grounds for dismissal were not disclosed and we were not given even the slightest chance of making an effective appeal. We made an appeal without knowing exactly what we were appealing against.”
Some commission decisions also lacked sufficient information on the evidence that led it to conclude that an individual applicant had links to proscribed groups, once again making it extremely difficult for public sector workers whose appeals had been refused to mount a subsequent appeal at the administrative courts.
Those public sector workers who are lucky enough to be reinstated are often left in a position that is materially worse than the one they had been in prior to their wrongful dismissals.
One civil servant who has been reinstated told Amnesty International: “Our right to bring compensation proceedings through the courts has been taken away. We went through a lot of difficulties while I was out of work. My wife is still in therapy because of the psychological trauma she has suffered.”
Despite the clear breaches of international law, the government is persisting with its deeply damaging strategy. While Turkey’s state of emergency has come to an end, a new law was passed in July 2018 to allow summary dismissals of public sector workers deemed to have links to “terrorist” organizations — or other groups posing a threat to national security — to continue for another three years.
One academic, dismissed after signing a petition, told Amnesty International: “In Turkey, the justice system is in thrall to the politicians. It changes according to the political climate.”
“More than two years since the first dismissals began, tens of thousands of public sector workers are living in limbo without effective remedy. Rather than providing a mechanism for justice, the Commission has merely rubbed salt into their wounds,” said Gardner.
“Where there is reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, misconduct or of a criminal offence, workers should be dismissed through regular disciplinary procedures. However, the authorities should reinstate all public sector workers summarily dismissed by executive decrees and compensate them for damages, including loss of earnings and the devastating psychological toll such dismissals had on their lives.”
Turkey is party to International Labour Organization Convention 158, which protects against arbitrary dismissals without due process. Among the protections contained within the convention are those that prohibit the termination of employment for reasons other than legitimate ones related to the worker’s capacity and their conduct in their role, and require that individuals’ employment is not terminated without their first having the opportunity to defend themselves against the allegations made against them.
The procedures surrounding such dismissals, and in particular a lack of a fair and effective appeal procedure, threaten the rights to a fair trial in civil proceedings guaranteed under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and in Articles 14 and 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Turkey’s failure to provide an effective means by which those whose rights are violated can obtain a remedy for these violations is also a violation of its obligation to ensure the right to a remedy under Article 2(3) of the ICCPR and Article 13 of the ECHR.