Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to reinstate the death penalty in response to the failed coup on July 15. It’s been over 30 years since Turkey lawfully executed anyone, and in 2004, pursuant to a constitutional overhaul predicated on Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU, capital punishment was officially taken off the books.
But the coup attempt emboldened Erdogan and other hardliners in the AKP, Turkey’s ruling political party that has origins in religious fundamentalism, and which at times seems increasingly ambivalent to the EU. Despite monetary reforms that opened the economy, reduced national debt and increased personal spending, the AKP has dragged its feet on human rights. It has blocked social media sites, curbed the sale and consumption of alcohol, and flirted with the idea of criminalizing adultery. It sacked judges and detained journalists. It tortures prisoners.
The accession process nonetheless plodded along, showing that enough members of the EU, tentatively at least, believed Turkey would eventually come around. That bet was risky from the start, and the AKP gave Europe few assurances after the coup attempt when it summarily removed or detained more than 80,000 people from government, military and civic institutions – including relatives of individuals the AKP suspected of sympathizing with coup supporters. That number continues to grow.
Turkey declared a state of emergency on July 20, followed by an announcement that it would suspend both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [ECHR]. So what does all of this mean for the death penalty?
It’s hard to know whether Erdogan is serious or saber-rattling (though my bet is on the latter). But even if he is sincere and Turkey lawfully suspended the ECHR and ICCPR, it can’t reinstate the death penalty without violating international law. Here’s why:
- Human Rights Commitments. Turkey is a party to both the ICCPR and the ECHR. The substantive rights protected by these instruments overlap to some extent. The ECHR defines a narrower set of rights than the ICCPR, however, but is somewhat easier to enforce. Neither instrument expressly prohibits the death penalty, though both recognize a fundamental “right to life,” and prohibit “inhumane or degrading” punishment. Continue reading “Turkey and the Death Penalty: Why International Law Prohibits Capital Punishment Even After the Failed Coup”