Promotion and protection of human rights are among the priority policy objectives of Turkey. In this regard, Turkey has been going through a comprehensive reform process in recent years with a view to further strengthening democracy, consolidating the rule of law and ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.
The reforms aim at aligning the Turkish legislation with the Copenhagen Criteria of the European Union (EU), with due regard to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Accession Partnership Document of the EU and the National Program for the Adoption of the EU Acquis, together with the aspirations and the expectations of the Turkish people in the field of human rights are the principal elements which guide the reform process.
In the reform process, Turkey takes into account the observations and reports of the international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as those of credible local or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The reform policy has three main pillars: Screening the Turkish legislation, becoming party to international human rights instruments and taking the necessary measures for full implementation. In this process, the legislation has been screened in view of international documents, such as the UN conventions, the OSCE documents, the ECHR and other Council of Europe documents, the case-law of the ECtHR, and, last but not least, the EU acquis and the Copenhagen criteria. So far, following the comprehensive constitutional amendments of October 2001, eight reform packages and substantial sets of constitutional amendments have been adopted. The continuation of the reform process has been confirmed by the announcement of the “9th Harmonisation Package” in April 2006. Most of the issues in the “9th Harmonisation Package” have already been realised.
As amended in 2004, Article 90 of the Constitution provides that in case of a conflict between international agreements in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms and domestic law due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.
The adoption of a new Civil Code in 2002 and a new Penal Code in 2004 constitutes two important pillars of the reform process. The proposal amending the Article 301 of the Penal Code, adopted in 2008, extended the scope of freedom of expression. Moreover, Counterterrorism Law was amended in July 2010 with a view to assuring trial of children in juvenile courts.
The Constitutional Reform Package adopted in September 2010 constitutes a major step in the reform process. As a result of the provisions contained in the constitutional amendment package adopted by referendum on the 12th of September, human rights and fundamental freedoms have been expanded and the constitutional system is brought in line with Turkey’s international obligations.
The amendments eliminated several shortcomings referred to in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and enabled the implementation of several recommendations of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venice Commission, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other international monitoring bodies.
As for international instruments, one can confidently state that Turkey has made impressive progress. Turkey is now party to all the seven principal human rights conventions of the UN and 96 of the 200 Council of Europe conventions. Turkey ratified Protocol No.6 to the ECHR, abolishing death penalty in November 2003, Protocol No.13 to the ECHR, abolishing death penalty in all circumstances in February 2006 and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty in March 2006.
Turkey also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in 2005, as testimony to its commitment to strengthening its national and international human rights machinery. The ratification process of OPCAT is under way.
The Government has also taken important steps to ensure effective and full implementation. A special monitoring group at the political level, the Reform Monitoring Group, was established to overview the progress in the actual implementation of the reforms.
The ambitious reform process ensured substantial progress in, inter alia, abolishing death penalty, fight against torture, reforming the prison system, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of religion, functioning of the judiciary, civil-military relations, economic, social and cultural rights and anti-corruption measures.
From November 2010 to May 2011, Turkey conducts the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which pioneers accommodation of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law all around Europe.
COOPERATION WITH INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS:
Turkey is among the countries which extended a standing invitation to UN special procedures. Special rapporteurs and special representatives of the UN extra-conventional mechanisms pay frequent visits to Turkey.
Within the scope of Universal Periodic Review (UPR), through which the situation of human rights in all UN Member States is reviewed under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, “UPR-Turkey” was realized on 10 May 2010 in Geneva. UPR is a platform where human rights situation of all UN Member States has being reviewed since 2008, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council once every four years. Turkey undertook the commitment to carry out the recommendations accepted in “UPR-Turkey” until the Second Review to be held four years later.
Turkey maintains effective cooperation with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The reports by the CPT on its visits to Turkey as well as the responses of our Government to these reports are made public upon authorization by the Government. Detention and prison conditions have been improved fully in line with the recommendations of the CPT.
HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION:
In addition to various legislative and administrative reforms, efforts to raise awareness of human rights through education have been intensified. Optional courses entitled “Democracy and Human Rights” are now offered in high schools. New human rights centers in various universities have been established, in addition to the existing ones. Human rights courses have become compulsory at Police Academies. Last but not least, courses on human rights have been introduced in preparatory programs for civil service candidates.
Comprehensive joint projects on human rights training for security forces as well as the judiciary have been implemented in conjunction with the Council of Europe and the European Union. Bilateral programs with several European countries have also been initiated.
HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES AND MECHANISMS:
Established in April 2001 as an affiliate of the Prime Ministry, the Human Rights Presidency is mainly responsible for coordinating the work of various government agencies in the field of human rights. The Human Rights Presidency monitors the implementation of the legislative provisions related to the protection of human rights with a view to ensuring the alignment of the national legislation with the international human rights conventions to which Turkey is party.
Turkey is resolved to establish a National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the UN Paris Principles. The preparatory work on its legal framework is under way.
Human rights work within the Government is spearheaded by the Human Rights High Council. It is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister (Minister responsible for human rights) and comprises the undersecretaries of the Prime Ministry as well as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior, National Education, and Health. It considers the reports submitted by the Human Rights Advisory Council, a subordinate body which consists of high-level government officials as well as representatives of NGOs. Human Rights Presidency also carries out the task of secretariat of both Councils.
Human Rights Boards have been established in all provinces and sub-provinces throughout the country. The Boards are entrusted with investigating complaints and allegations of human rights violations, and thereafter transmitting their findings to competent authorities for administrative and/or legal action. They also launch programs for human rights education at the local level. Representatives of academic institutions, bar associations, medical chambers, trade and industry unions, NGOs, media as well as local administrations participate in the work of the Boards.
As mentioned above, a special Reform Monitoring Group at the political level has been established to overview the progress in the actual implementation of reforms. The Group, composed of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Interior as well as the Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, meets periodically with a view to addressing the issues related to implementation.
There is also a special division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, namely the Deputy Directorate General for Council of Europe and Human Rights, dealing exclusively with human rights issues. The mandate of this department covers relations with international organizations in the field of human rights (UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, etc.) as well as human rights issues on bilateral basis. Processing the applications lodged with the ECtHR also falls within its area of responsibility.
There also exists a parliamentary Human Rights Inquiry Commission, functioning basically as a national monitoring mechanism. The members of the Commission conduct on-site inspections to detention centers and prisons. The Commission maintains dialogue with NGOs. Its findings are conveyed to competent government offices for action.