Bedia Özgökçe: The UN must set up a mechanism to carry out a thorough investigation of all rights violations in our dismissals

Our Van co-mayor Bedia Özgökçe Ertan participated in the 42nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council via video conference:

Esteemed participants,

I am Bedia Özgökçe Ertan co-mayor of Van Metropolitan Municipality, elected to office by the people of Van in the March 31st municipal elections.

I wish I could be there to talk to you face to face about the lawlessness in Turkey which has led to the confiscation of the Kurdish people’s right to elect, and our right to be elected.  However, immediately after our dismissal from office, the Ministry of Interior has banned me from leaving Turkey even though there is no such court decision or arrest and in spite of my 2-years as an MP.

I am addressing each and every one of the participants because the United Nations is not an organization that came together on its own but a body set up by states and societies coming together with the maxim “Never Again” in the aftermath of one of the most tremendous crimes of the 20thcentury, the World War 2 which was theatre of innumerable war crimes and cost the lives of millions of people. 

This body, the UN, ratified one of the most important accomplishments of recent history, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. And my country Turkey has declared itself a party to this Declaration. However, Turkey has been obstructing the practice of the basic civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed by the UN and the UDHR, and thus violating the convention.

Esteemed participants,

As adherents of a political view and a political party we have grounded our local government policies and practice on an approach which enables the direct participation of people in local governments through a mechanism called people’s assemblies and provides for the preparation of city budgets on the basis of gender mainstreaming and particularly on the basis of auditability, transparency and participation. This is the promise we made to the peoples of Turkey.

We have further strengthened the model of democratic government handed down to us from our previous experiences of local government. Our perspective of local democracy has always grounded itself on democratic, ecologic and women’s liberationist practices.

The co-mayor system which we have been implementing in local governments since 2014 is a system that intensifies and spreads women’s struggle for freedom and equality. This system aims to build a participatory, pluralist, horizontal and democratic social life and social structure on the basis of women’s politically transformative power. However, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, which today stands in alliance with the racist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), when initiating hostilities against our party and our model of local government has always first attacked women and the gains and achievements made by women.

Esteemed participants,

As the international public will remember the AKP led government in Turkey had previously usurped 96 municipalities through decrees violating international conventions and even Turkey’s own anti-democratic constitution. And they appointed trustees in place of people’s elected mayors.

Thousands of workers and employees were dismissed. 93 co-mayors, hundreds of aldermen and city councilors were arrested.

The first thing these trustees did was to impinge on women’s hard won achievements and women’s will.

The trustees which are the manifestation of male-dominance and violation of will, put our system of co-mayorship on their target and arrested our co-mayors, they closed down women’s centers, women’s shelters, women’s marketplaces, women’s policy departments. They also went on to dismissed the women employed in these centers and filed court cases against them.
Operating in total contradiction of local democracy these trustees acted on the basis of central instructions from AKP, either closed down the vital centers for prevention of violence against women  or turned them into “family centers” removing the word “woman” from their title. The women’s centers which were places where women sought refuge to get away from their homes where they faced violence and were empowered through women’s solidarity, were transformed into institutions legitimizing violence against women in the name of “preserving the so-called unity of the family”. The government that was trying to de-womanize spheres of life, directly targeted the local mechanisms that waged women’s struggle.

As you will remember, the UN High Commissariat of Human Rights published a report titled “The State of Human Rights in Turkey” in March 2018. The report was on the human rights violations and violations of the right to life above all, that took place in the Kurdish cities of Turkey between June 2015 and December 2016. The report covered many violations including the right to life, restriction of liberties, judiciary processes not grounded on legal principles, arrest of elected party co-chairs and MPs, the dismissal and arrests of elected mayors and the appointment of trustees in their place.

In spite of this report which particularly invoked the obligations of member countries and warned them, Turkey continues to be governed by an increasingly totalitarian regime which ignores universal values instead of trying to become a democratic country. I believe especially the UN and the representatives of member states should know and be aware of this. If the international community, international institutions and bodies like the United Nations continue to preserve their silence in front of the protracted deadlock situation in the Kurdish issue in Turkey and the ensuing rights violations that take place as a direct consequence of this situation, the destruction of the universal values that constitute the essence of the United Nations, and attacks on basic rights such as justice, freedom, human rights will ever-increasingly become customary routine world over.

These anti-democratic practices obstruct the path of democratic struggle for Kurds, push Kurds outside the sphere of politics and ignore the Kurdish people’s right to elect and be elected.
TheInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Turkey is party to lays down the responsibilities of signatory states clearly: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

We, as the democratically elected co-mayors of three Kurdish cities have been dismissed from office in the absence of any court decision. The government’s pretexts for replacing us with trustees were based on false statements devoid of any corroboration. These false statements were leaked to and published in media outlets. It is very important for us that the international community closely follows the entire process and that abidance by principles of law and international human rights conventions that bind Turkey is secured throughout the whole process in its entirety including the administrative and judicial levels In this context, the UN must set up a mechanism consisting of country representatives to carry out a thorough investigation of all rights violations that took place in this process. This is what we expect in the name of democracy, in the name of law and in the name of all universal values.