In a decision that concerns more than 150,000 people who were dismissed by government decrees in Turkey, Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected an application by a Turkish teacher on the ground that he failed to exhaust all domestic remedies.
The court unanimously declared “the application inadmissible.” The decision is final, it said in a statement released on Monday.
Gokhan Koksal, a primary school teacher in the eastern province of Erzurum was sacked by the government on Sept. 1, 2016. He lodged his application to the court on Nov. 4.
The court dismissed the application on the ground that Mr. Koksal has yet to exhaust all domestic remedies provided by the government, citing Legislative Decree No: 685. The decree proposed setup of a commission tasked with overseeing applications by public workers for reconsideration of their dismissals and reinstatement of their rights.
After months of wrangling, the government finally named 7 members of the commission in May. But the commission has yet to become fully operational, and when it will begin to oversee applications of the purged officials remains to be seen.
Using the state of emergency measures, the Turkish government has sacked over 150,000 public officials since the failed coup.
Purged Turks Feel Betrayed
For victims of Turkey purge, the ECtHR’s decision that Mr. Koksal first has to appeal to the commission was shocking and disappointing.
“Koksal v. Turkey will be remembered as one of the worst decisions of the ECtHR,” tweeted Kerem Altiparmak, a human rights law expert who rightly predicted in an analysis on Saturday that the court would highly likely reject Mr. Koksal’s application.
“ECHR’s faith in TR’s commission defies both experience+logic. Is insult to 100K arbitrarily dismissed workers. Re-assessment must come soon,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher, said on Twitter.
In reaction to the court’s decision, Turkish citizens poured their dismay in social media.
“Both domestic remedies and decree victims are exhausted, can’t you see?” Candan Badem, a dismissed academic, wrote on Twitter, expressing his indignation over the decision.
“Why don’t you consider that the commission does not belong to domestic law? It is just an executive organ,” Ilhan Dogus of the University of Hamburg who specializes in post-Keynesian economics on labor, international finance, and EU tweeted.
He also questioned the court’s proposal that domestic remedies have yet to be exhausted with regard to dismissals of civil servants in Turkey. “Secondly, Turkish Constitutional Court has declared that these dismissals are beyond its authority,” he said in a series of tweets.
“What a justice? I have no job, no food. Nobody gives me job due to the situation. 150k people are still waiting. This is no JUSTICE,” said an engineer who worked at the state-run oil company in Turkey. He was dismissed last year.
ECtHR Overwhelmed by Backlog of Cases
One of the vexing problems the European court faces today is the overwhelming number of pending cases.
The ECtHR is “sinking under the number of cases that are pending before it,” Nuala Mole, a senior lawyer of international human rights law, said at the International Law Workshop (ILW) at Law School of Michigan University last year.
Ms. Mole, the founder of The Advice on Individual Rights in Europe (The AIRE) Centre, said the ECtHR has been going through an ongoing reform process for 10 years to reduce the caseload, to establish priorities among cases. The welfare of children and individuals deprived of liberty appeared as the urgent priorities to be dealt with; she told the audience at Michigan University on Oct. 31.
In an analysis he wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday, Mr. Altiparmak offered a sober assessment of reform efforts at the ECtHR. He grounded his forecast of the rejection two days before the decision on the ECtHR’s systematic efforts to reduce the backlog of cases, and how Turkey constitutes an obstacle to that.
The ECtHR, after long efforts, succeeded reduction of the cases when the number of applications from Turkey saw a steady decline in the pre-coup era. Turkey, along with Russia, has been the main source of applications in Europe.
When Turkey granted citizens individual application to Constitutional Court in 2012, numbers of applications to the ECtHR saw a significant drawdown, as it fell to 1584 in 2014. The total number of cases pending against the Turkish state were reduced to 8,450 by the end of 2015, Mr. Altiparmak wrote on Facebook. Turkey’s overall case rate was then 13 percent of all cases pending at the court.
But all of that has changed after the July 15 failed coup.
Thanks to 5 years of efforts, the number of cases at ECtHR shrank to 64,850. But Turkey again changed all the equation, brought a reversal of the long-running trend. The number of files at the court at the end of 2016 reached to 79,750.
On April 30 of this year, he wrote, the number of applications stood at 93,150. He forecasts that if applications proceed at the same pace in remaining months, the number of applications would reach to 120,000 at the end of the year. The achievement of 20-year reform will fade away in a year, he noted.
His analysis proved to be prescient, shrewd and accurate. In his prognostication, he asked: Will the Court rescue the ECtHR and give up on human rights?
If it does that, he construed, the Koksal decision would go down in history as the symbol of the collapse of the human rights protection mechanism.
Turkish Commission Is No Remedy
While the European Court deferred the issue to the 7-member commission in Turkey, public trust for a functioning mechanism to review appeals from civil servants runs extremely low.
The decision by the ECtHR was even regarded as a blank check to the Turkish government to move forward with further dismissals with great impunity, without any fear of international legal backlash.
Far from offering a reassurance, the Turkish Commission amplifies people’s fears that it too would mostly be overwhelmed by the number of cases, given dismissals of more than 150,000 servants.
Speaking at an event in Istanbul in April to address the humanitarian cost of dismissals, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu punctured any illusion that the Commission would handle hundreds of thousands of cases properly in such a short time. He urged the dismissed public workers to prepare themselves for the worst, for at least 15-year struggle to gain their rights back, if only 7 members will oversee the applications to the Commission.
But time is a valuable commodity and is in short supply. People’s strength for endurance and embracing of hardships on daily basis face a moment of truth by the test of time in the absence of a proper, available job and calamitous effects of dispossession and wealth grab by the authorities.
Amnesty International report last month offers a riveting account into the shattered lives of purged workers. The upshot of the report was that there was no future for dismissed public servants who are banned from working in alternative jobs, and who are deprived of their property, basic social safety nets.
According to the majority of the sacked officials, any suggestion that the Commission would function properly seems to be unrealistic and illusory. How can 7-member who are elected by the same government, which carried out the sweeping purge, take cases of more than 150,000 dismissed officials? And will they be independent of any political intervention? What is the guaranty of its autonomy?
No plausible answers seem at hand. When Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag veered off the script months ago and offered an offhand acknowledgment about the purge, he said government employees have been removed simply by administrative decisions. The firings, dismissals did not base on a legal investigation or proceeding but took place under political whims and preferences of the government. They were political decisions, not court verdicts.
It points to a larger conundrum and complexity for the purged. Their path to legal remedy, at home and abroad, is blocked by a myriad of obstacles. And the ECtHR decision has just made their ordeal more difficult and protracted one, with no end in sight.
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