July 18, 2016

Following the coup attempt on July 15, bringing back the death penalty is put on agenda once again, with the discussions regarding the punishment of the coup plotters. Turkish penal laws and regulations contain ample clauses that define the punishments to be given to coup plotters. The revival of the discussions around death penalty by the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is completely unacceptable.

The fact that the issue is brought forward by the President Erdogan, who claims to be a political follower of Adnan Menderes, the former Turkish Prime Minister executed, poses ethical problems.

In a country where prime ministers, student leaders, and many others have been sentenced to death penalty and been executed, attempts at bringing back the death penalty  will have severe legal and political consequences, both at the national and international scenes.

Most importantly, death penalty is a form of state violence that suppresses the right to life. In other words, it is a wilfull homocide committed by the state. Right to life should be protected as the first priority. Suppression of right to life by the state as a punishment causes irreversible and irreparable damages, and leads to violation of humanitarian values. Therefore, it cannot be accepted by the human rights defenders.

UN Human Rights Committee Report dated 1982, clearly expresses this:  “It is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation (article 4)..The protection against arbitrary deprivation of life which is explicitly required by the third sentence of article 6 (1) is of paramount importance. The Committee considers that States parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also to prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces. The deprivation of life by the authorities of the state is a matter of the utmost gravity.”

After a long period of struggle, Turkey has suspended all regulations related to death penalty, Article 38 of the Turkish Constitution being in the first place.

Besides, the European Human Rights Convention annexe 6 concerning the abolition of death penalty was accepted by Turkey on 26/06/2003 with the law no. 4913 suspending the death penalty. This law has been promulgated on 01/07/2003. The Protocol is ratified by the decree no. 2003/6069 dated 15/08/2003. The Protocol entered into force in Turkey on 01/12/2003 with the deposit of the ratification document to the Council of Europe General Secretariat.

Turkey is also a part to the EHRC annexe 13. This protocol is accepted by the “Law no. 5409, concerning the acceptance of the Protocol no. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Concerning the Abolition of Death Penalty in All Circumstances”, dated 16/10/2005. The ratification of the protocol has been resolved by the decree no. 2005/96849, and dated 17/11/2005. In Turkey, the Protocol No 13 that came into force on 01/06/2006. Article 1, entitled “The Abolition of the death penalty” is as follows:

“The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.”

Alongside the above mentioned protocols, Turkey has also accepted and promulgated the optional protocol no.2 annexed to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This protocol aims suspension of death penalty. For a country that has accepted the most essential codes of the United Nations and the Council of Europe, stepping back from these protocols will mean stepping out of the human rights system, and becoming a bad example at the international scene. Pact sunda servanda is an essential principle of the International Law.

Suspension of the death penalty is one of the most important requirements of the European Union. Stepping back from the gains will have severe political, economic, legal, cultural, and sociological problems.

President Erdogan, who governs the country via a de facto presidental system, and who is increasingly tending towards an autocratic government is bringing antidemocratic suggestions up for discussion. Silence of the democratic elements within the Justice and Development Party in the face of such a situation will be remembered as a shame in the Turkish democratic history. Not only Justice and Development Party, but all political parties should stand up against this kind of antidemocratic propositions incompatible with human rights.

Kurdish problem being in the first place, Turkey cannot bring solutions to its major problems. This created an atmosphere of on-going violence. In this context, bringing back the death penalty will lead to new political, sociological, and legal problems and will turn into a sword of Damocles hanging over the opponents.  Briefly, Turkey has suspended the death penalty and shall not bring it back. It should never be forgotten that human rights and democracy defender will struggle against any such attempt.


Human Rights Association

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey