A third party intervention addressing obligations towards human rights defenders was presented to the European Court of Human Rights in January 2019 in the case of Mehmet Osman Kavala v Turkey. The case concerns the arrest and continuing pre-trial detention of a highly regarded civil society leader, publisher and human rights defender. His ongoing arbitrary detention is emblematic of disturbing trends in Turkey, where in the wake of the failed coup attempt the number of human rights defenders subject to arbitrary detention and prosecution has burgeoned. The situation in Turkey unfolds in the regional and global context of a burgeoning crisis in respect of the protection of human rights defenders, with profound rule of law implications for rights protection, democratic participation and dissent. The case therefore raises issues of broader significance in Turkey, and elsewhere, in the context of closing civil society space, and expansive approaches to criminal law as a tool to this end.
The intervention, which was presented on behalf of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project and PEN International, addresses international law standards governing the nature of states’ obligations towards human rights defenders, and the principles of human rights and criminal law that constrain overly broad resort to criminal law. The intervention is available here.