Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an announced the new Democratisation Package on 30 September 2013. The Package cannot be regarded as insignificant in terms of its content and scope. Topics mentioned in the Package are important as they are relevant to the rights and freedoms defined by international conventions and to the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Package gives the clues that certain steps will be taken for certain rights and freedoms, and these rights and freedoms will be recognized, although within a limited scope. In terms of its scope, the Package lacks a holistic approach to the problems, though it includes certain steps for solution of certain human rights problems and in this regard neither fulsome praising nor unfair depreciating would be realistic at this point. In this respect, there is a need for an objective evaluation of the Package with its positive and negative aspects.
The Package does not give place to drafts of the legal amendments. However, the way the rights and freedoms are defined, how they will be recognised, what will be the criteria if they are to be restricted and how these restrictions and criteria will be defined by legislation are very important questions which need an answer with respect to human rights and freedoms. In this regard, the Package does not provide an opportunity for criticism in its current form.
Yet, the scope of the Package as announced by the prime minister is still limited. Some of the most important human rights problems of Turkey, such as the problem of freedom of expression and long terms of pre-trial detentions or imprisonment are not included in the Package. The problematical articles of several anti-democratic laws including Anti-Terror Law, Law on the Duties and Authority of the Police Forces, Law on Meetings and Demonstrations still remain in effect.
The topics included in the Package are also impaired with several deficiencies. For instance, the problems related to the collection of aid are not limited to the formulation of how “sacrificial animal hide” will be collected. The problems related to freedom of assembly cannot be restricted to the role and authority of the government commissioner or procedures of defining the location of the meeting place. In order to make the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations compatible with international standards, the Law shall be revised as a whole or at least the articles 3, 6, 10, 14-19, 23, 26, 27, 28, 31 and 32 must be amended.
Another ambiguous topic introduced in the Package is the reference to the interferences with the life styles. Unfortunately such interferences have been experienced in Turkey in a hard way, leading to serious human rights violations. For instance, interferences with women for their dressing (other than the headscarves problem), LGBT individuals for their clothing or thoughts, youngster for their attitudes in the parks or other public spaces have been observed, and some of these interferences have taken place upon statements by governors and other public officials and the government has failed to employ preventive and effective measures against such interferences. Therefore, the government’s attempt to limit the complaints about interference with the life styles, which were highly voiced during Gezi Park events, simply to the field of religious beliefs is problematic. The issue of “life styles” shall be discussed with its all dimensions and must be put under legal guarantee. In this regard, freedoms of belief, religious practice and education and association of different segments of the society should be guaranteed with comprehensive and permanent legislation which comply with international standards. Steps to be taken to maintain these guarantees should be based on the guiding principles of the Venice Commission of the European Council.
The government’s will to bring in regulations on hate crimes is a positive development which might be regarded as an effort to fill in the serious gap in the criminal law with respect to elimination of all forms of discrimination. However, it should be noted that “hate crimes” should be clearly defined within a legal framework without leading to any ambiguity. While making the legislation on this category of crime, a definition should be made to cover all hate crimes, which shall include hate crimes against ethnic, religious groups of minorities, hate crimes against sexual orientations and gender identity, hate crimes grounded on racism or xenophobia, hate crimes raised from political opinions or hate crimes against any kind of diversity, and effective preventive measures and penal sanctions should be defined for these crimes.
Justice and Development Party governments have been in power in Turkey for the last 11 years. During this period, many of the legal amendments came into agenda in relation with the accession process to the European Union. The reform process had first started when the government led by Mr. Bülent Ecevit brought in a constitutional amendment package involving 35 articles in 2001 and three harmonisation packages in 2002. Successive governments led by Mr. Abdullah Gül and Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an kept up with this procedure. Thus, 9 harmonisation packages were adopted, 70 new laws were enacted and hundreds of articles in about 70 laws were amended until now. Nevertheless partial, selective, disorganised, imprecise and inadequate nature of the legal amendments which have been brought in relatively long period of time is indeed a handicap. Adoption of such a method leads to concerns that we will face the problem of recognition and implementation of human rights in Turkey for many other years.
With respect to the Kurdish problem, which is not only related with human rights and freedoms but also an urgent concern with regards to the armed conflict dimension, the process described above should be implemented rapidly, within a broad content and scope, and with sufficient legal guarantees and effective action.
There is no reasonable excuse for not taking the necessary steps immediately to ensure legal guarantees for all fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey as defined at the minimum level by international conventions. The Government should prepare a comprehensive human rights strategy which should include all constitutional and legal amendments with the aim of eliminating all obstacles without delay so as to ensure that all of the people in Turkey fully enjoy all human rights and freedoms. The government should consult to human rights organisations for their opinions at all stages of legislative framework under this human rights strategy.
Within this framework, we urge the government to take immediate legislative action to guarantee human rights and dignity of all the people living in Turkey by employing a comprehensive and integrated strategy which should involve consultation and public debate processes.