We have just received the finding of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), which fully validates defendants’ arguments about violations of due process in the Sledgehammer trial. What is important is that the U.N. tribunal reached this decision despite the Turkish Government’s lengthy submission attempting to justify the manner in which the trial has unfolded.
UNITED NATIONS: DEFENDANTS IN OPERATION SLEDGEHAMMER COUP TRIAL HELD IN VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
Today, the defendants in the Operation Sledgehammer coup trial in Turkey released Opinion No. 6/2013 (Turkey) of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD). In its 66th session held from 29 April – 3 May 2013, the UNWGAD found that the detention of the defendants violates the relevant provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The defendants have long argued that the digital documents pertaining to coup plans used by the prosecution are forged. A petition had been filed to UNWGAD on their behalf by the NGO Vardiya Bizde (”We Are On Watch”) after the Turkish court refused to examine evidence substantiating the forgery claims, among other violations of due process. In its opinion, UNWGAD found that the Turkish Government had not responded to the specific violations put forward in the petition and rejected the Government’s argument that UNWGAD had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The UNWGAD has asked the Government of Turkey “to remedy the situation of these 250 persons in accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
“This is a clear victory for justice in what has been a sham trial,” the noted international human rights lawyer Jared Genser said. “The Government of Turkey appeared before the Working Group and vigorously contested our submission with both a 45-page written brief and thousands of pages of evidence. Having lost its case on every point of law, the Turkish government should immediately release the defendants,” he added. Genser, who was recently awarded the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award, prepared the petition.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a five-member international tribunal with representatives from Chile, Norway, Senegal, Pakistan, and Ukraine. It is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to be strictly independent and impartial and to hear and render judgments on cases where petitioners allege they are being held in violation of international law.
Summary of UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s Opinion on the Sledgehammer Case
In Opinion No. 6/2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) found the detention of all 250 Sledgehammer defendants to be in violation of international law. In the 16-page Opinion, the Working Group first discussed at length the long list of due process violations experienced by the defendants in the trial. These included: excessively lengthy pre-trial detention; a lack of the presumption of innocence; inculpatory and exculpatory evidence not being provided to the defense; the defense’s inability to call witnesses, the court’s refusal to appoint experts to assess the validity of the digital evidence, and the lack of confidential attorney-client communications. The UNWGAD then discussed the Turkish Government’s response to the case. It had argued that because General Çetin Doğan has an individual case before the European Court on Human Rights, and because the domestic appeals process in Turkey has not finished, that the Working Group could not hear this case. The UNWGAD rejected these arguments saying these rules do not apply. Crucially, the UNWGAD then stated, “the Working Group notes that the Government does not avail itself of the opportunity of offering an explanation of the various allegations in relation to the due process violations either by acknowledging that these have indeed taken place as identified by the source or by rebutting or otherwise disputing them.” As such, the UNWGAD concluded the “deprivation of liberty of the 250 detained defendants in the Balyoz or Sledgehammer cases in arbitrary, in contravention of articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as articles 9, 10, and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The UNWGAD therefore called on the Government of Turkey “to remedy the situation of these 250 persons in accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”