U.N. rights boss urges Turkey to uphold rule of law, allow monitors

By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The top United Nations human rights official urged Turkey on Tuesday to uphold the rule of law as it brings to justice those involved in a failed coup, and voiced "serious alarm" at the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also called for independent observers to be able to visit places of detention in Turkey to check on conditions, and for detainees to have access to lawyers and their families. "I urge the Government of Turkey to respond by upholding the rule of law, by strengthening the protection of human rights and by reinforcing democratic institutions," Zeid said in a statement. "Those responsible for the violence must be brought to justice with full respect for fair trial standards,” Zeid said. The presumption of innocence, due process and transparency in the administration of justice must be respected, he added. Turkey purged its police on Monday after rounding up thousands of soldiers in the wake of the failed military coup, and said it could reconsider its friendship with the United States unless Washington hands over a cleric Ankara blames for the putsch. Nearly 35,000 members of the police, civil service, judiciary and army have been detained or suspended since Friday night's coup, in which at least 232 people were killed when a faction of the armed forces tried to seize power. "Certainly we unequivocally condemn the attempted coup and any kind of military interference that is in breach of democratic principles, we deplore the loss of lives," U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing. Judges play a very important role, especially in the aftermath of an attempted coup, and there are stringent criteria for their removal or suspension under international law, she said. "The threshold is very high, each judge's case needs to be independently and individually assessed before they are suspended or removed from their posts." In a separate statement, five independent U.N. human rights experts said that 2,745 judges and prosecutors were suspended within hours of the failed coup, with up to 755 arrested so far, including two judges of the Constitutional Court. "According to international law, judges can be suspended or removed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence after fair proceedings," said the experts, who included the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Zeid voiced deep regret that high-level Turkish officials have suggested that the death penalty, abolished in 2004, may be reinstated. Noting that capital punishment had not been carried out in Turkey for 32 years, he said: "Reintroduction of the death penalty would be in breach of Turkey's obligations under international human rights law – a big step in the wrong direction." (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)