Council of Europe starts infringement proceedings against Turkey

Status: 03.12.2021 11:00 a.m.

The Council of Europe is resorting to a seldom used means: It initiates infringement proceedings against Turkey because it does not release the cultural patron Kavala. However, the road to an exclusion of the country is long.

The Council of Europe has initiated infringement proceedings against Turkey in the conflict over the imprisoned cultural patron Osman Kavala. The so-called Committee of Ministers with representatives of the 47 member states voted in favor of the procedure, as the body announced.

The background to the proceedings is Ankara’s continued refusal to release Kavala from custody. The court of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), ordered the release of the human rights activist around two years ago and classified the detention as politically motivated. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is obliged to adhere to the judgments of the court.

Kavala has been imprisoned for four years without ever being sentenced. In a trial in Istanbul, he is accused of attempting a coup in connection with the Gezi protests and of “political and military espionage” in connection with the attempted coup in 2016. The 64-year-old denies the allegations.

It would be a long way to expel Turkey

Before the decision of the Committee of Ministers, it was unclear whether the necessary two-thirds majority would be found to initiate the proceedings. The question arose whether Turkey would succeed in mobilizing enough states to vote against it. Observers feared that the Council of Europe could lose its credibility in this way.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, monitors compliance with human rights and is not an EU institution. Turkey has been a member since 1950 and has implemented more than 3500 decisions of the ECHR.

With the initiation of the proceedings, Turkey will first be formally notified of the new development and should take a position by January 19th. With a two-thirds majority, the Committee of Ministers could then refer the case to the ECHR for reconsideration. Should the latter find that the Kavala judgment has not been implemented, the Council of Ministers would then have to decide on further steps – which ones would be is not stipulated. In any case, the way to an exclusion of Turkey from the Council of Europe would still be very long.

But the very step of initiating the process is unusual: it has only been triggered once, in 2017 against Azerbaijan.

Turkey: proceedings politically motivated

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara accused the body of bias. “We call on the Council of Europe to avoid further steps that would mean interference in the independent judiciary.” It is considered an inconsistent approach to keep Kavala on the agenda while other states fail to implement judgments. The Council of Europe does not act on the basis of legal and just criteria, but on political considerations.

The SPD member of the Bundestag Frank Schwabe, who also sits in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, welcomed the infringement proceedings. “That is the only logical decision,” he told the news agency dpa. “Anyone who does not implement the court rulings cannot be a member of the Council of Europe.”

Turkey is also in conflict with the Council of Europe in the case of the pro-Kurdish opposition politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has been imprisoned for five years. The Committee of Ministers has now also called for his release once again.

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