Erdogan Visit Continues Disturbing Trend of Engaging with Authoritarians
New York City-–Human Rights First today urged President Trump to raise Turkey’s abysmal human rights record and erosion of democratic institutions when he meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tomorrow at the White House. Erdogan’s trip comes amid tense negotions between the United States and Turkey over military operations in Syria, international criticism over a disputed and narrowly-won referendum in April that gave Erdogan near-dictatorial powers, and the Turkish government’s crackdown in the wake of an attempted coup last summer. Human Rights First notes that the White House’s invitation to the Turkish president continues a disturbing trend of the Trump administration showcasing its willingness to engage uncritically with human rights violators and authoritarian regimes.
“The United States and Turkey have plenty to discuss, including the fight against ISIS and the global refugee crisis. While vital, these discussions can’t come at the expense of making clear to Erdogan that his steady undermining of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey is likely to lead to a less capable, less stable U.S. ally in the the long run,” said Human Rights First’s Rob Berschinski. “Given Trump’s clear fondness for autocrats and disinterest in upholding human rights norms at home and abroad, Turks who look to the United States to support their aspirations for a democratic future have little reason for optimism that they have a friend in the White House.”
Since entering office, Erdogan has systematically eroded the country’s democratic institutions, restricted a free press, and undermined the rule of law. In response to last year’s attempted coup, Erdogan initiated a massive crackdown, jailing nearly 50,000 people without due process and firing more than one hundred thousand public sector employees. Turkey reportedly imprisons more journalists than any other country on earth.
Last month, the country narrowly passed constitutional amendments concentrating greater powers in an executive presidency, and allowing Erdogan to serve up to an additional 15 years in office. Critics of the referendum noted widespread reports of voting fraud. Following passage of the amendments, President Trump called to congratulate Erdogan on his victory.
“Turkey is an important ally, but granting Erdogan an Oval Office photo op is unnecessary, and sends an unmistakable message to human rights defenders around the world,” added Berschinski. “Just as in the cases of Duterte, al-Sisi, and Lavrov, Trump’s inevitable back-slapping with another authoritarian will undermine America’s moral standing and long-term global leadership.”
Human Rights First notes that Turkey has been an important contributor to alleviating human sufferning by providing refuge to over three million Syrian refugees. It will be important in the upcoming meeting for President Trump to urge President Erdogan to keep his southeastern border open as the the Syrian conflict drags on. President Trump should also pledge to increase humanitarian assistance to support refugees already living in Turkey and any new ones who arrive. Maintaining an adequate response to the continuing crisis, however, should not preclude addressing the alarming human rights concerns occurring under Erdogan’s leadership.