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International Criminal Court urged to investigate Turkey

A coalition of nonprofits and lawyers are asking The Hague-based court to look into claims of torture and persecution by the Erdoğan government.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Activists, human rights lawyers and politicians on Wednesday formally requested the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes to open an investigation into what they say are crimes committed by the Turkish state. 

The dossier submitted to the International Criminal Court alleges some 200,000 people were tortured, falsely imprisoned and discriminated against following the failed 2016 coup which attempted to oust the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Turkey is not a party to the Rome Statute, which created the ICC in 2002, but those calling for an investigation argue that government officials can still be held accountable for violations that took place in other member states. 

“We want an end to the impunity,” Johan Vande Lanotte, an international lawyer and former deputy prime minister of Belgium, told reporters at a press conference in The Hague on Wednesday. 

The group submitted their complaint to the office of ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan last month but delayed a public announcement because of the ongoing humanitarian disaster caused by an earthquake in northern Turkey.

Lanotte’s law firm Van Steenbrugge Advocaten is working with the Belgian-based Turkey Tribunal, an international people's tribunal which published a report in 2021 alleging widespread human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of people thought to be opposed to the government.

In July 2016, a group within the Turkish military attempted to overthrow Erdoğan’s government, which has become increasingly authoritarian, in a coordinated effort that included bombing parliament while it was in session. The uprising left more than 250 people dead and thousands injured. In the aftermath, Erdoğan cracked down on political opponents, arresting more than 70,000 people. 

Victims have filed thousands of cases at the European Court of Human Rights and some of the crimes overlap with the allegations before the ICC. In January, the Strasbourg-based rights court held hearings into whether the conviction of a former teacher, Yüksel Yalçınkaya, on terrorism charges was above board. Yalçınkaya is being represented before the ECHR by lawyers from Van Steenbrugge Advocaten. 

According to evidence presented to the ICC, there are 17 cases of enforced disappearance from countries including Kenya, Bulgaria, Moldova, Switzerland and others, where the court has jurisdiction. The group also claims there are more than 200 Turkish citizens living abroad who have been refused passports, rendering them stateless. 

In 2018, the ICC ruled that its prosecutors had jurisdiction to look into alleged crimes committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya minority, despite the country not being a party to the Rome Statute. Because many of the majority-Muslim group had been forcibly deported to Bangladesh, which is a member state, those crimes could be prosecuted. Activists in the Turkey case are pinning their hopes on a similar decision. 

So-called Article 15 referrals, named for the section of the Rome Statute which allows for anyone to request an ICC investigation, are a common awareness-raising tactic by persecuted groups who feel the court is their only avenue for justice. The court receives hundreds of such requests a year and rarely acts on them. 

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