Human rights action plan of Turkish gov’t: Sham or for real?

The government’s Human Rights Action Plan comes at a time when Turkey faces strong criticism on rights and free speech. (Illustration: Human Rights Association)

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül is scheduled to announce the new Human Rights Action Plan of the government on March 2 at the presidential palace.

President Tayyip Erdogan will also attend the “presentation ceremony,” an event that organizations such as the Human Rights Association (İHD) or the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) are not invited to. One can criticize the İHD or TİHV, it is a legitimate right but you should also be fair to those who have made significant contributions to the human rights struggle in the country. Unfortunately, we are getting used to such practices.

Rights diplomats not invited

Separately, the Ankara Policy Center held an important online meeting titled “Human Rights and Diplomacy” on Feb. 28, with moderator Özlem Akarsu Çelik hosting three key speakers. Oğuz Demiralp, one of the speakers, is retired a diplomat, who took responsibility in many posts related to human rights and democratization, including Turkish Foreign Ministry seats at the European Union and the United Nations. Another speaker was Rıza Türmen, one of the most prominent names in rights and freedoms in the state system, who also served as a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judge on behalf of Turkey, and a lawmaker. The third speaker was Prof. Rona Aybay, a leading figure in human rights law in Turkey.

I asked the three speakers –Demiralp, Türmen and Aybay– if they were invited to the ceremony at the presidential palace.

Bingo. They were not.

Türmen even laughed at the question, ironically asking “Why should we?”
Still, there are some others who were. For example, the dean of the faculty of law of one of our universities. “I was invited,” he said. The invitation had arrived last Friday. “I have never been called to a meeting before, and my contribution was not asked,” he added. “I suppose they are inviting us to make a crowd at the ceremony.”

Are reforms for real?

Will the Action Plan, which according to the website of the Justice Ministry is consist of 11 principles, 9 goals and “many goals,” prevent human rights violations that have already started to get worse?

Among the clues by the ministry, the amendment of article 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Law is highlighted. “Expression of thoughts made for the purpose of criticism within the boundaries of reporting cannot be criminalized.”
Turkey has been facing Western criticism over its anti-terror law and press freedom. Perhaps, this amendment with be presented as “progress.”
On the other hand, the new U.S. administration is in a bid to teach everyone a lesson on human rights by pushing on Saudi Arabia, the darkest dictatorship of the Middle East, over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey on Oct. 2, 2018. Honestly, I also evaluate this bid very cautiously.

According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, most of the “reforms” are about administrative regulation rather than human rights and freedoms. This is acceptable if the “reforms” include improvements in the appointment of judges and the principle of legal judge. Yet, we are not in a position to dare to hope for the better; we are tired of disappointment.
Let’s see what will come out on March 2.


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