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Türkiye’s dismissal of European Court rulings sets dangerous precedent: UN expert

31 October 2022

GENEVA (31 October 2022) -- Türkiye’s failure to release human rights defender Osman Kavala from prison may have far reaching consequences for all those seeking justice in the country, a UN expert warned today.

“This month marks five years since Osman Kavala was arrested and Türkiye has now twice ignored binding rulings of the highest human rights court in Europe for his release,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“Türkiye’s continued disregard for the court’s decision is a dangerous attack on the regional human rights mechanism,” she said.

Lawlor was referring to Kavala’s case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has repeatedly considered evidence presented by Türkiye to be insufficient to support the allegations against him.

Kavala, an activist and philanthropist, has been imprisoned since October 2017, and charged with espionage and using violence to disrupt constitutional order. Earlier this year he was convicted of attempting to overthrow the Government and sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. The ECtHR considers the true purpose of his detention is “reducing him to silence”.

Turkish courts have repeatedly ignored the ECtHR’s original 2019 judgment ordering the release of Kavala.

“Decisions of the ECtHR are final and binding over all Turkish courts. The decision to not abide by its ruling is a decision to reject the very human rights instruments that Türkiye has signed and committed itself to,” Lawlor said.

Following the continued detention of Kavala, the ECtHR initiated infringement proceedings against Türkiye. This would be the second time in its 63-year history that the European court has initiated this process. On 11 July 2022, the proceedings found that Türkiye had failed in its obligation to abide by the previous judgment in KAVALA v. TÜRKIYE and re-stated its final judgment ruling for Kavala’s release. To date, Kavala has not been released.

“Mr. Kavala has been unfairly forced to remain in prison for five years now. He should be freed immediately and unconditionally,” said Lawlor. She noted that the ruling was a blow not only to the imprisoned activist but to all human rights defenders seeking accountability for violations.

“The ECtHR is a one of the few remaining avenues available to human rights defenders seeking justice for violations. Don’t take that away from them,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Lawlor’s call was endorsed by Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Chair-Rapporteur), Mumba Malila (Vice-chairperson), Elina Steinerte, Priya Gopalan, and Matthew Gillett, Working Group on arbitrary detention.


Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Renato Rosario De Souza ([email protected] ) or Dharisha Indraguptha ( [email protected])

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