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Evidence of Turkey’s abductions abroad will be sent to ICC prosecutor: lawyer

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Bünyamin Tekin, Geneva

A human rights lawyer who prepared a report on Turkey’s enforced disappearances for a civil society-led, symbolic international tribunal established to adjudicate recent human rights violations in Turkey, told Turkish Minute on Tuesday that his law firm is preparing to file a complaint with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that includes evidence of abductions carried out by Turkish officials.

Speaking to Turkish Minute, Johan Heymans, a lawyer from the Belgian-based law firm Van Steenbrugge Advocaten (VSA), who prepared the report for the Turkey Tribunal, said that even though Turkey is not a party to the treaty that established the ICC, VSA lawyers will argue that some crimes against humanity committed by Turkish officials have taken place in countries that ratified the treaty.

Turkey is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome in 1998. Currently, 137 states are signatories, but only 123 are considered parties to the treaty, which establishes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crime of aggression as four core international crimes.

“Enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity,” Heymans said. “An act has to have three elements to be regarded as enforced disappearance.”

“Firstly, what takes place has to be an abduction,” Heymans said. “Secondly, state officials or people working at the behest of the state need to be involved. And thirdly, the state must refuse to communicate the whereabouts of abductees.”

“What happened in Myanmar with regard to the Rohingya and the ICC’s reaction to the crimes there will form the basis of our application,” the lawyer stated.

In November 2019, a chamber of the ICC authorized the prosecutor to launch an investigation of the alleged crimes committed against the Rohingya. Despite Myanmar not being a party to the Rome Statute, the fact that displaced Rohingya ended up in Bangladesh, a state party to the statute, was regarded as sufficient for ICC to consider the case to be within its jurisdiction.

“What we will present is the opposite. The crime starts in a country party to the Rome Statute, Gabon or Cambodia, for instance, where the Turkish government carried out renditions. And it ends in Turkey. That is what we will go for in the case file we will send to the ICC prosecutor,” Heymans said.

According to a recent report by Freedom House on transnational repression, Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014. The Turkish government has pursued its perceived enemies in at least 30 host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since July 2016.

The report sheds light on the corruption and co-optation of some host country institutions including local police or security services that arrested Turkish citizens, who are then held in detention for a short period before being secretly transferred to Turkish custody and immediately taken to Turkey on Turkish aircraft.

“Turkey’s top officials openly claim credit for the kidnapping offensive against the Gülen movement, and praise the role of the MİT (Turkish National Intelligence Organization) in the renditions,” the report stated.

At its peak, the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, operated schools in 160 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has pressured allies to shut down Gülen-run institutions.

According to recent official statements by the interior ministry, more than 110 alleged members of the movement have been brought back to Turkey as part of the government’s global campaign.

“We will do the job for the ICC prosecutor before filing our complaint,” Heymans said. “We will collect all the evidence we can and present our case.”

Heymans said VSA lawyers would try to demonstrate that MİT agents were involved in crimes against humanity.

“We will reconstruct the entire chain of command to explain who is executing these abductions,” the lawyer said.

Turkey’s presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın publicly stated that operations abroad against the Gülen movement were being carried out “under clear instructions” from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement following corruption investigations in late 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Erdoğan’s close circle.

The war against the movement culminated after an attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016 because Erdoğan and his AKP government accused the movement of masterminding the abortive putsch and initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

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