Europe Newsletter March 2021

Welcome to the March edition of our newsletter. There is an Urgent Action on Turkey, a public Statement in support of the Saturday mothers in Turkey , an update on the “El Hiblu 3” campaign and a toolkit devised by the Roma support group to help those who are supporting Roma children and families to register for settled status in the UK. Particularly teachers can play a vital role in preventing a humanitarian disaster from July with vulnerable children and families cut off from healthcare and public services. Please share all the actions with your groups, networks, family and friends.

We have a presence on the following :

https://www.facebook.com/AmnestyUKEurope

https://twitter.com/AmnestyUKEurope

Please like and share posts on  the AmnestyUKEurope page and follow the Twitter account and retweeting posts would be very helpful.

We are recruiting a new Balkans coordinator and are still looking for a Western Europe coordinator.

Very best regards Ulrike and Chris

Turkey – Action Plan & Urgent Action

Failure to free Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş makes mockery of Erdogan’s “Human Rights Action Plan”

On 2 March Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled a human rights “action plan” designed to strengthen the rule of law and judicial independence in a country that rights groups say lacks both.  Its commitments include respecting the presumption of innocence and a speedier judicial process to reduce the length of pre-trial detention.

Erdogan said the plans’ ultimate goal was to lay the groundwork for a new constitution that he has promised to adopt by the time Turkey marks its centenary as a post-Ottoman republic in 2023.

“Our goal is to further strengthen the rule of law,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

Although cautiously welcomed by some Members of the European Parliament the announcement has been greeted with considerable scepticism by many organisations like Amnesty that have long experience of monitoring human rights abuses in Turkey. Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižnieks pointed out that continued detention of individuals such as Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtasmakes “makes a mockery of President Erdoğan’s government’s attempts to whitewash systemic human rights abuses by unveiling a meaningless Human Rights Action Plan last week”.

Responding to the calls by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on the Turkish government to implement binding European Court of Human Rights judgments and release human rights defender, Osman Kavala and politician Selahattin Demirtaş, Muižnieks said:

“Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş have been arbitrarily and unjustly deprived of their liberty for years, despite the binding Court decisions that they be released.

“This action plan and Turkey’s generic platitudes cannot hide the reality: the ongoing imprisonment of these two men, and scores of others, for simply exercising their rights shows that in Turkey, freedom of expression is ruthlessly punished.

“Turkish authorities must release Kavala and Demirtaş, allow human rights defenders to do their work and stop putting undue pressure on their judges. It is high time that states across Europe tell Turkey that prosecuting and imprisoning people for political reasons is unacceptable.

“The Committee of Ministers’ decision to keep Turkey under its watch on a weekly basis is a welcome step ahead of an infringement procedure.”

Ironically, the announcement of the Human Rights Action plan also coincided with the announcement that Turkish prosecutors were seeking a two-year jail term for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu for insulting a former regional governor. Imamoglu is a top member of the opposition CHP party who upset Erdogan’s candidate in a 2019 local election. Turkish courts and prosecutors

are also conducting a number of investigations into the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party that could see it shut down before Turks go to the polls again in two years’ time.

For a useful assessment of the new “Human Rights Action Plan” please read the IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange) document accessible through the following link:
https://ifex.org/makeup-on-a-bedridden-patient-rights-experts-assess-turkeys-new-human-rights-action-plan/

New Urgent Action on Boğaziçi students

Amnesty has issued a Urgent Action in relation to the protests at Boğaziçi University. The earlier UA from January was issued when at least 45 students were detained during dawn raids between 5 to 7 January after their alleged participation in a protest at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul; they are now released but many among them had alleged torture or other ill-treatment and we called for an investigation into these allegations and bring law enforcement officers found to be responsible to justice.

Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul Convention

With a Presidential decree issued on 20 March, Turkey has withdrawn from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention which is the first ever convention particularly to combat and prevent violence against women and domestic violence. Yet further evidence that the recently announced Human Rights Action Plan in Turkey is unlikely to improve the real situation as experienced by ordinary people in the country.

The Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, and the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Rik Daems, joined their voices to the Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, and made the following statement concerning Turkey’s announced withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention:

“Turkey was the first member State to ratify in 2012 the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, opened for signature in Istanbul during the Turkish Chairmanship of the Organisation 10 years ago. And it did so by a unanimous vote at the Grand National Assembly.

We thus deeply regret the decision of the President of Turkey to withdraw from this Convention widely supported in the country, without any parliamentary debate.

We recall that the purpose of the Convention is to prevent violence against women, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. It upholds women’s fundamental human right to a life free from violence.

Leaving the Convention would deprive Turkey and Turkish women of a vital tool to counter violence.

We therefore call on the Turkish authorities not to weaken the international system to protect women against violence put in place by the Istanbul Convention”.

Amnesty Turkey said “Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention will have catastrophic consequences for millions of women and girls, considering that domestic abuse and gender-based violence are already on the rise. As Amnesty International Turkey, we find Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention unacceptable. Violence against women & girls is a human rights violation.”

Despite the obvious dangers posed by the human rights situation in Turkey women in several cities across Turkey bravely gathered to say #IstanbulConventionSavesLives.

 

TURKEY: AUTHORITIES SHOULD SEEK ACQUITTAL OF ALL IN THE SATURDAY MOTHERS/PEOPLE TRIAL

Joint  Public Statement by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line defenders

 

5th Anniversary of EU-Turkey Deal

The 18th March brought a sad Anniversary. The 5th Anniversary of the shameful EU-Turkey deal, designed to stop Refugees asking for asylum in Europe. It left thousands , including very vulnerable women and unaccompanied children in inhumane, overcrowded , unhealthy and dangerous conditions.

What’s the EU Turkey deal all about?

In an attempt to stem the large number of arrivals of asylums seekers in Greece during 2015 (mostly from Syria via Turkey), in March 2016, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey which aimed to return all people arriving irregularly to the Aegean islands, including asylum-seekers, to Turkey. As part of the conditions of the deal, Turkey also agreed to prevent people from leaving its territory for Europe. In return the EU has given Turkey billions of Euros to support refugees living in the country.

The very premise of the deal, that Turkey is safe for asylum seekers, has proven to be false, for example Turkey has forcibly returned people to Syria last year. Nonetheless, Greece’s asylum bodies have ruled in many cases that Turkey is a safe third country and provides effective protection to Syrian refugees and as a result, many have been returned there (over 2000 people until March 2020 when the returns stopped due to COVID 19 restrictions). In January 2021 however, Greece proposed that readmission to Turkey resume)

July 2020, the EU committed an additional 485 million euros for the continuation of two projects in the area of cash assistance and support to education for refugees.

What was the impact of the EU Turkey deal on asylum-seekers in Greece?

The last five years have exposed the human cost of the deal. To enforce the implementation of the deal Greece has introduced what is called a ‘’containment policy’’ whereby asylum seekers remain trapped in in camps on the Greek islands in the Aegean while they wait for a decision on their asylum claims. This has caused severe overcrowding and inhumane living conditions on the islands. During that period, they can’t move to mainland Greece. This was made worse, in 2019 and 2020, by domestic legislative changes that reduced safeguards for asylum-seekers in Greece. While in September 2020 a fire burned down entirely the notorious camp of Moria leaving more than 12 000 people without shelter for days.

The human cost of the deal is harrowing: during the past five years, thousands of people have endured inhumane conditions and insecurity. At least six people, including children, have died in the camps of the Greek islands while reports of self-harm and sexual abuse continue. At least 847 people have gone missing while trying to cross from Turkey to Greece since 2016.

 What is the situation of asylum seekers on the Greek islands today? As a result of the EU Turkey deal, today about 15 000 women, men and children remain trapped in the Greek islands, the vast majority in overcrowded camps while they wait for a decision on their asylum claims. Many are forced to sleep in tents for months on end, braving cold weather and unsafe

conditions. In Lesvos, the Mavrovouni camp, established to replace Moria after the later was burned down, itself has gaps in the provision of water, sanitation, health and hygiene services. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, limitations to their freedom of movement (often discriminatory) have exasperated their daily hardships. The vast majority of people in the camps come from traditional countries of origin of refugees (about 86% come from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, DRC, and Palestine) while one out four are children (26%). Despite fewer arrivals, access to asylum in the country is too often obstructed by continuous, dangerous pushbacks.

What is Amnesty International’s main calls?

To EU and it’s member states and Greece

  • Stop trapping people in the Greek islands: end the policy of containment on the islands;
  • Step up solidarity efforts by increasing relocations to other Member States;
  • Ensure humane reception conditions in open and accessible facilities;

To Greece:

  • Halt the practice of push-backs at sea and land borders with Turkey and conduct effective, investigations into all allegations of push-backs and ill-treatment
  • End the criminalization of activists and human rights defenders.

 Please read the statement and open letter issued by Amnesty EU and signed by several NGO’s including Oxfam and Caritas Europa

https://www.amnesty.eu/news/five-years-after-the-eu-turkey-statement-european-civil-society-demands-an-end-to-containment-and-deterrence-at-the-eus-external-borders/

Take Action for the “El Hiblu 3”

The “El Hiblu 3” are still awaiting trial Please take action to support three teenagers whose are criminalized for helping to communicate between the captain of the ship and desperate refugees facing return to Libya , to detention, torture, rape, extortion and exploitation.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/w4r-2020-malta-el-hiblu-3/

In March 2019, in the central Mediterranean, two teenage children and one teenage adult, from Ivory Coast and Guinea, were rescued from a deflating rubber boat by the El Hiblu, an oil tanker.2 They were trying to reach Europe, with over 100 other people. Just when they thought they were safe from drowning and from the suffering they had experienced in Libya, the captain of the El Hiblu tried to take them back there. This would have been unlawful, because Libya is not a place of safety. The desperate protests of the rescued people led the captain to take them to Malta instead. Upon arrival there, on 28 March 2019, Maltese authorities arrested the three teenagers on suspicion of having hijacked the El Hiblu. They were charged with grave offences, including under counter-terrorism legislation, although no evidence has emerged of any injury to people or damage to the ship in connection with the protest. Two years on, the lives of the ‘El Hiblu 3’ remain on hold as they await their trial in Malta. If found guilty, they face life in prison.

Amnesty International is concerned that after surviving the unlawful attempt to return them to Libya, they are being unjustly criminalized for opposing that attempt, which if successful, would have exposed them and over 100 other people to grave risks to their lives. Amnesty International calls on the Maltese authorities to drop the case against the El Hiblu 3 so they can get on with their lives. No-one should have to face life in prison for opposing their return to torture and suffering in Libya. Amnesty International stands in solidarity with the El Hiblu 3. Everyone can demand justice for the El Hiblu 3 at

https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/w4r-2020-malta-el-hiblu-3/

The El Hiblu 3 are grateful to all the people around the world who have sent them thousands of messages of solidarity: “The support makes me happy. All I can say is thank you for all you are doing for us. Without you and the solidarity of others we may be still in jail. For those who send us messages all we can say is thank you because these messages give us hope and courage to overcome this problem. Thank you for the words of encouragement”.

What happened on the El Hiblu must be understood in the context of the cycle of serious human rights violations and abuses in which refugees and migrants are trapped in Libya, including prolonged arbitrary detention and other unlawful deprivation of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killings, rape and other sexual violence, forced labour and exploitation at the hands of state and non-state actors in a climate of near-total impunity.

Roma in Europe

The Balkan wars saw many deaths and destruction, but the Roma population of Kosovo, who didn’t take part in the civil war  was almost entirely (violently) displaced at the end of the war, when ethnic Albanians seized their homes. Many fled abroad or to Serbia where Roma from Kosovo are living a quasi stateless existence in squalor.  Hundreds of Roma families were forced for more than a decade in squalid United Nation camps built on toxic wasteland that leached lead and poisoned the children. High levels of lead in the blood of camp residents led to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and developmental disorders. Only in 2011 the camp was closed. Many of those who found refuge are deported to Kosovo now, for example from Germany and Canada. But there is nothing for them to return to, the remaining Roma population in Kosovo still lives in fear.

Paul Polanski who tragically died this week, has been campaigning for justice  for Kosovan Roma for the last 2 decades. Here is  a short documentary but powerful documentary that he produced :

 

World Romani Congress

On 8th April 2021, the World Romani Congress will mark 50 years since the 1971 founding event in London.

This year to mark the jubilee anniversary you are invited to join a series of diverse online events that will offer the opportunity to connect communities across the globe to celebrate Romani history and culture but also critically reflect on the ongoing challenges that are still faced by Romani people worldwide. There will be one day (I think 9th of April but check the programme) devoted to Kosovo. You can watch the lectures and events that are streamed publicly from the Romanistan website.

The online congress will start on April 8th and will be stretched over a month starting in London and moving to Berlin joining cities as far apart as Belgrade and Buenos Aires, activists from Barcelona to Bangalore, in India

Events can be enjoyed via a live stream at www.romanistan.com a virtual place that crosses all continental borders and connects Romani people worldwide.

The full online conference programme will be available soon here: www.romanistan.com