Human Rights

1. Human Rights: National Objectives and Developments

Turkey has put into effect a comprehensive reform process since early 2000s with a view to further strengthening democracy, consolidating the rule of law and ensuring full respect for fundamental freedoms.

There are three fundamental pillars of the reform strategy aiming at setting the necessary basis to ensure full respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms: Adherence to fundamental international human rights conventions, making legislative amendments as necessary and taking relevant measures for the full implementation of the reforms.

In this process, through a large number of legislative and Constitutional amendments since 2001, national legal framework was improved with the purpose of strengthening the democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of our citizens, by taking into account the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as well as human rights conventions of the Council of Europe (CoE) and United Nations (UN), the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documents and the European Union (EU) acquis communautaire.

According to the amendment of Article 90 of the Constitution, international agreements on fundamental rights and freedoms shall prevail in case of conflict with national legislation regarding the same matter.

Right of individual application to the Constitutional Court, which was introduced for further protecting the individual rights and freedoms and making the implementation of the ECHR provisions more effective, came into force on 23 September 2012.

The Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey and the Ombudsman Institution contribute to the enhancement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law since 2012.

The terrorist coup attempt, carried out by the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) on 15 July 2016, targeted our President, our democratically elected legitimate Government and Constitutional order, violated the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens, first and foremost the right to live, by killing 251 and injuring more than 2,000 people.

In order to take effective measures to eliminate the threats to the existence of the state and to our nation's right to democratic life, State of Emergency (SoE) was declared on 21 July 2016 in accordance with Article 120 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 3 of State of Emergency Law (Law No. 2935). This decision was approved by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) on the same date.

The SoE, which was put into effect in order to ensure the continuity of effective implementation of the measures for the protection of the rights and freedoms of our citizens, democracy and the rule of law, was lifted on 19 July 2018. Derogations to the ECHR and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were revoked as of the same date.

During the SoE, Turkey has acted in full awareness of its obligations arising from international conventions and respected the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

With the termination of the SoE, the reform process has gained momentum again. In this context, the Reform Action Group (RAG) convened on 29 August 2018 after a period of two-and-a-half years. At the fourth meeting of the Reform Action Group, the political reform process was assessed with all its dimensions. It was decided to continue reforms in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights. Fifth meeting of RAG was held on 11 December 2018 in which continuation of reform process was reiterated.

2. Cooperation with International Human Rights Mechanisms

Turkey enjoys constructive cooperation with the UN, CoE and the OSCE in the area of human rights.

A) Council of Europe:

Having gained a new momentum since the late 1990s, the ongoing reform process in Turkey has resulted in the intensification of our relations with the Council of Europe. In Turkey, comprehensive constitutional amendments and reform packages were adopted and certain amendments were introduced to the Civil Code and Criminal Code. In this context, substantial progress was achieved in cooperation with the CoE in the fields of abolition of death penalty, fight against torture, reform of prisons and detention houses, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, functioning of the judiciary, civil-military relations, economic, social and cultural rights and fight against corruption. Thus Turkey’s position in the Council of Europe strenghtened.

Turkey’s relations with the CoE have reached at its zenith since 2000s. In 2008, Yavuz Mildon, a Turkish national, was elected as the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. H.E. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, presently Foreign Minister of Turkey was elected as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) between 2010-2012. Thus, a Turkish national became the President of PACE for the first time in the history. Turkey also assumed the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE between November 2010-May 2011. Visits at the highest levels proves the importance Turkey gives to the Organization. Turkey made significant contributions to strengthening of the political role, visibility and relevance of the CoE during its Presidency at the Commitee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.

Turkey is currently party to 117 (53%) among 222 conventions of the Council of Europe. Leaving behind many European Union countries, Turkey ranks fifteen among all 47 Council of Europe member states. Preparation of the necessary legislation, becoming party to international conventions as well as the activities carried out recently for the implementation of reforms contribute to constructive dialogue and cooperation we carry out with convention-based monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe, first and foremost the CPT.

“The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)” was opened for signature on 11 May 2011 during Turkey’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Turkey became the first signatory to the Convention and ratified it without any reservations. Being a member of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Prof. Dr. Feride Acar also chairs GREVIO, the monitoring mechanism of Istanbul Convention composed of independent experts. Turkey also chairs the Committee of the Parties to Istanbul Convention.

As launched during Turkey’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, neighbourhood policy of the CoE and the Istanbul Convention are currently considered among the main activity areas of the Council.

Apart from the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey maintains close cooperation with the monitoring and human rights bodies of the Council of Europe covering various areas such as fight against racism and discrimination, prevention of torture and ill-treatment, fight against corruption, money-laundering, violence against women and countering terrorism. In this context, Turkey maintains its cooperation with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), European Committee Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) as well as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while taking into consideration the recommendations and the reports published by these mechanisms.

Through the projects carried out in cooperation with the CoE, public officials, NGOs representatives, students, individuals and the public at large are given awareness and training activities by the Ministries, including higher judiciary bodies.

Turkey - European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Relations

The European Court of Human Rights constitutes an important dimension of the cooperation between Turkey and CoE. In 1987, Turkey accepted the right to individual application to the ECtHR for a review based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Turkey recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the ECtHR in 1990.

According to Article 90 of Turkish Constitution, international agreements duly put into effect have the force of law and no objection of unconstitutionality shall be raised with regard to these agreements. Moreover, in the case of a conflict between international conventions concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the laws, due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

Furthermore, the Constitutional Court also stated in its judgment dated 7 February 2008, that the ECHR has become a part of the domestic law within the framework of Article 90 of the Constitution; that the provisions of the Convention have the force of law and that the judgments of the ECtHR are binding.

Therefore, the ECHR and the ECtHR case-law have been acknowledged among the sources of the Turkish legal system.

Furthermore, under the constitutional amendment adopted by the public referendum in 2010, the right to individual application to the Constitutional Court has been introduced. Accordingly, since 23 September 2012, every person may lodge an application to the Constitutional Court on the grounds of allegation of violation by public authority of any of his/her fundamental rights and freedoms safeguarded in the Constitution within the scope of the ECHR.

In accordance with the “Cooperation Protocol” between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that came into force on 1 March 2012, applications arising from domestic law issues and execution of the judgments rendered on these applications are followed by the Ministry of Justice. Applications communicated to the Government prior to the effective date of the Protocol or applications and execution of judgments related to the foreign policy and international relations of Turkey are followed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

B) UN Human Rights Mechanisms:

In 1948, the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, regarded as the “constitution of human rights” has defined the civil rights and freedoms all human beings are entitled to by birth, emphasizing that everyone is equal before the law and no one can be subjected to torture, ill treatment and degrading punishment. The Declaration continues to serve its function to guide the international community in their efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights. The day on which it was adopted in 1948; December the 10th is celebrated as the “Human Rights Day”.

Approaching human rights from a broad perspective and having established the respect for human dignity as a priority element of its foreign policy, Turkey attaches particular importance to the UN legal instruments and its cooperation with the said organization in the field of human rights. Turkish representatives actively participate in the Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions held three times every year in Geneva, where issues related to human rights are discussed.

Turkey is party to sixteen UN human rights conventions. Compliance with UN conventions by the State parties are reviewed by the relevant committees (treaty-based bodies).

The UN also has thematic and country-specific mechanisms, known as UN special procedures (special rapporteurs, special representatives, working groups), which monitor states’ compliance with international human rights norms in various fields and make recommendations. Since 2001, Turkey has been one of the countries which extend standing invitations to these special procedures. Special Rapporteurs and Representatives occasionally pay visits to Turkey within this framework.

In line with the efforts for making Istanbul a regional center for the UN and as a reflection of importance attached to the rights of women, Turkey decided to host the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) Europe and Central Asia Regional Office in Istanbul. The related Agreement was signed on 28 February 2014 in New York and came into force on 1 December 2014.

C) The Human Dimension of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE):

In addition to its primary function of being a regional security forum, OSCE assists the efforts of the participating States in the field of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Along with Permanent Council and Ministerial Council meetings within the OSCE, each year Human Dimension Implementation Meetings (HDIM); and Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDM) are organized.

The OSCE has three specialist institutions to contribute to participating States in the implementation of their human rights obligations. These are the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) and the Representative on Freedom of the Media.

In accordance with the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security, while ODIHR works on a wide range of areas such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, tolerance and non-discrimination, its most visible activity is election observation. ODIHR monitors national elections held in the OSCE participating States upon the invitations of these countries in line with their OSCE commitments. ODIHR deployed an Election Observation Mission to Turkey to observe the Presidential and 27th Parliamentary Elections held on 24 June 2018.

The HCNM was established to identify ethnic tensions involving national minorities, make early warnings and find solutions to conflicts which could undermine stability, peace and friendly relations among states in the OSCE region.

The Representative on Freedom of the Media was established to observe media developments in the OSCE region as part of early warning function, ensure the formation of a free, independent and pluralist media and cooperate on these matters.

Actively contributing to the human dimension activities of the OSCE, Turkey particularly prioritizes the topics of xenophobia, Islamophobia, intolerance and discrimination in the work of OSCE human dimension.

In this regard, Turkey supports the work of the Chairperson-in-Office Representatives who have been appointed since 2004 in the field of anti-discrimination on religious basis (Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims; Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions; Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism).

The mandate of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, which inter alia is responsible for monitoring closely the intolerance and discrimination matters against Muslims in the OSCE region, coordinating the efforts initiated in those areas, making cooperation with the OSCE participating states as well as the OSCE Chairmanship, OSCE institutions, related international organizations and the civil society organizations, visiting the OSCE countries and preparing reports is carried out by Ambassador Mehmet Paçacı since 9 January 2019. Ambassador Paçacı took over this task from Prof. Dr. Bülent Şenay, who held the Personal Representative position during the three previous OSCE Chairmanships.