About half of all imprisoned journalists around the world are incarcerated in Turkey, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussain said on Monday.
When asked by The Globe Post about the massive crackdown against the opposition in Turkey, the high commissioner said the country faces enormous human rights challenges.
“The attacks on various Kurdish and many leftist communities has been very pronounced,” Mr. al-Hussain said, speaking at a human rights event in Washington, DC.
“Half of the imprisoned journalists are in Turkey,” he added.
The high commissioner also expressed regret about the nature of the relationship between his office and the Turkish leadership, which he described as complicated.
Mr. al-Hussain voiced concern over the Turkish government’s use of counterterrorism and national security laws to justify the crackdown against the opposition.
“If counterterrorism legislation is used as a means of score-settling with opposition parties, with civil society that expresses dissent, it actually does a service in the long run to those who are really a part of the violent, extremist movement, because you are turning so much of the public against you,” he said.
Mr. al-Hussain noted that he recently participated in a ministerial meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in New York City that addressed violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. He said, however, that he doesn’t have a dialogue with the Turkish leadership.
This lack of communication has affected his ability of to visit southeastern Turkey, the region where the Turkish security forces are fighting with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Mr. al-Hussain said he has been asking to access the region and the southeastern cities of Cizre, Diyarbakir and Nusaybin for two years, but his requests have been denied. Turkish authorities invited the high commissioner to Ankara instead, but he turned down the invitation.
Speaking along with William J. Burns, President of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Mr. al-Hussain also touched upon other challenges of his job, the human rights agenda of the U.N., and the shifting approach of the new U.S. administration toward his office.
The high commissioner said the administration of President Donald J. Trump began to show interest in human rights issues, transitioning away from its earlier skeptical and indifferent attitude.