On 9 March, there was a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall on “human rights and the political situation” in Turkey. In it, MPs insisted that Theresa May’s government was not doing enough to hold the current Turkish regime to account; and that the government appeared to be putting business deals ahead of human rights concerns.
It has now been more than four and a half years since Members have had a full debate in Parliament on issues relating to Turkey… the slide to authoritarianism in Turkey is not a new development. Last summer’s failed coup attempt was not the starting point of this descent, but instead has served as a catalyst for anti-democratic trends that have been apparent under President Erdogan for some time… our Government should take the situation much more seriously.
Business deals before human rights?
In late January, Theresa May met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and signed a much-criticised £100m fighter jet deal. On this visit, May said “it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do”.
But Labour MP David Winnick slammed these weak comments from May in the 9 March parliamentary debate, saying:
The Prime Minister did make a reference to human rights, but she could not very well have said less. It was a passing reference with no emphasis, and the general impression was that, those few words having been said, the UK Government were willing to make the commercial deals in question with Turkey, and that human rights in Turkey are not really on the UK agenda.
Joan Ryan, meanwhile, insisted that:
Valuable as our trading relationship is, human rights issues should never play second fiddle to commercial diplomacy.
In fact, even Conservative MP Sir Edward Garnier had strong words on Turkey. He stressed that:
The fact that Turkey is a useful military ally… does not, however, excuse its abusive behaviour towards its own citizens, its neglect of the rule of law and its wholesale abuse of human rights.
Europe and Turkey clash, but the UK government stays quiet
As The Canary reported on 13 March, governments across Europe have been clashing with the Turkish regime in recent days and weeks. This is in large part because President Erdoğan is currently seeking to further empower the office of the Turkish presidency. And ahead of a referendum on the issue, his government is trying to increase its likelihood of winning by reaching out to Turkish people living in Europe.
A number of European countries, however, have cancelled events sponsored by the Turkish government; or they’ve stopped Turkish officials from attending them. One reason for this may be that Europe has a number of tense elections coming up itself. Another may be the ongoing civil conflict in Turkey, with the UN recently slamming Erdoğan’s regime for its crackdown on freedom of speech; and for the devastating effect its war has had on human rights in the country.
The British parliament, however, can only seem to bring itself to ‘consider’ human rights in Turkey in a debate. And as Joan Ryan summed up on 9 March:
We need to say and do so much more to be a critical friend of Turkey… I do not think we are a friend to Turkey if we do not speak up loudly now, while it matters. When we do finally speak up, it may well be far too late and we may well deeply regret the fact that we are not now taking the responsibility that we should be taking… it does not have to be a case of trade or human rights; there needs to be both.
Ryan is right. The UK government has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in Turkey for too long. And it is about time it finally spoke up.
– See the full 9 March debate here.
Featured image via Flickr