UN expert condemns killing of Kurdish rights lawyer in Turkey

A United Nations judicial freedom expert today strongly condemned the recent assassination of Kurdish human rights lawyer and head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association Tahir Elçi, and called on Turkey’s government to carry out a full and impartial investigation.

“I urge the authorities to carry out a thorough, independent and transparent investigation and bring those responsible to justice, in full compliance with Turkey’s international human rights obligations,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto said. “I am also concerned about the ‘chilling effect’ Mr. Elçi’s death may have on lawyers, their independence, and the exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

“As one of the three main actors of an independent justice system, lawyers have an essential role to play in protecting human rights, in particular due process and fair trial guarantees, and ultimately contribute greatly to ensuring respect for the rule of law and democracy,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

“Governments have an obligation to guarantee that lawyers can work without intimidation and risk to their lives and security and that of their families,” Pinto stated, recalling the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

“The Turkish authorities must guarantee adequate protection to all lawyers whose security is at risk,” Pinto concluded.

Pinto’s statement is endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.

Elçi, a lifelong advocate for Kurdish rights in Turkey who was known for defending victims of human rights abuses carried out by Turkey, was gunned down by an unknown assailant on Saturday, minutes after delivering a speech calling for peace in Syria.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) labelled the shooting a “planned assassination,” and protesters took to the streets accusing Ankara of being behind the lawyer’s killing.

[Photo credit: UN]