Education key to speeding up rights progress, says Kuçuradi
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Philosophy and human rights professor Ioanna Kuçuradi (R) has placed a lot of emphasis on educating civil servants on human rights, saying this is their ‘mission.’ DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜRELHuman rights in Turkey are improving, but such progress can only be solidified with compulsory education on the subject and the creation of a human rights institution on a constitutional level, according to a leading rights scholar.
“In Turkey there is progress but I see a lot of zig-zagging. We take three steps forward but then two steps backward,” said Ioanna Kuçuradi, a philosophy and human rights professor at Istanbul’s Maltepe University, adding that human rights courses should become basic and compulsory courses starting at an early age.
Turkey also needs to institutionalize human rights in a new constitution so that rights initiatives cannot be halted at the whim of every new administration, she said. “We [got a taste of this] when the High Advisory Council for Human Rights was established [in the 1990s]. The government changed and it was dissolved,” she recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.
What do you see when you look at the issue of human rights in Turkey after having observed it for nearly three decades?
There is a lot of difference in many areas in the positive sense. But education on human rights remains extremely important. When it is done properly and continuously, without interruptions, then we see very good outcomes. But when it is interrupted for this or that reason, then we are back to square one and there are steps backward. Education on human rights, especially for all civil servants, should be uninterrupted. And when I talk about education on human rights, I am talking about teaching ethics. My claim is that human rights are above all ethical principles. It is not just about law.
Do you think that ethics come secondary after law in the education on human rights in Turkey?
In 1995, we introduced
human rights as a course
in the basic education
for grades 7 and 8. A few
years ago, this course was
Between 1994 and 1996, when I was the chairperson of Turkey’s High Advisory Council for Human Rights, which was established by the minister then responsible for human rights, we introduced human rights as a course in the basic education for grades 7 and 8. That was in 1995. Actually, some elements that we did not approve of were introduced in the course like “internal enemies, external enemies.” We don’t teach the concept of enemies in human rights. But in 1995 it became a compulsory course. A few years ago, this course was eliminated quietly, becoming optional. It is at the discretion of the school principal to have the course. Human rights need to be a compulsory course. That is very important.
You also seem to put a lot of emphasis on educating civil servants on human rights.
That’s simply because the mission of the civil service is the mission to protect human rights. What do they teach us: Human rights are about protecting the individual from the state. No, not at all! What you call the state is there to protect human rights. Now think of a civil servant that serves with this understanding and think of a civil servant that serves saying, “I am protecting the state.”
How can there be education for civil servants? Can we expect them to attend post-graduate programs on human rights?
Of course not, but there could be programs. Not for just one or two days. The program should last at least a few weeks.
When you look at Turkey, what are the other problematic areas you see?
There still is a problem with the law. Legal education needs to change. Usually laws are taught in faculties. The general approach is to have laws based on cultural understandings but the basis of law should be human rights. [You see this in cases] such as “honor killings.” Such approaches have been removed from the law, yet there are still many laws remaining. The problem is that there are still many aspects in our laws that are against human rights, but we are not even aware of them.
Another observation I have is this: People want to talk in favor of human rights. But there are such things ingrained in our talk that sometimes people use discriminatory rhetoric but they are unaware of it. The family of the patient that shared the room in hospital with my mother came to extend condolences after my mother passed away. They wanted to say something good to me. They said, “We had a neighbor, she was Armenian, but she was a very kind person.” This is so common, but people are not aware of it.
One of the issues you insist upon is the establishment of a human rights institution.
People want to talk in
favor of human rights.
But there are such things
ingrained in our talk that
sometimes people use
without being aware of it
What is very important here is that while it is said that it should be independent of the state, what matters is that people that will work on that council should have an independent mind. If they don’t have an independent mind, you cannot get a successful outcome. The institution should also have an effect – it should be influential. It should, for instance, take cases to court. Everything can be discussed about the institution, and the basis of these discussions should be knowledge on human rights. Even those who are dealing with human rights do not know the concept of human rights.
You talk very often about a lack of knowledge on human rights.
I don’t see bad intentions but a lack of knowledge. If people know and have awareness, they would be keener on protecting human rights. That, of course, does not happen in one day. In Turkey there is progress but I see a lot of zig-zagging. We take three steps forward but then two steps backward. We could have speedier progress. That’s why I keep saying education, education, education. I have been teaching for 41 years and I see how important it is.
A visit to grasp controversial trıals
Two years ago, philosopher and human rights advocate Ioanna Kuçuradi went to Silivri, an outlying Istanbul district where some of Turkey’s most controversial trials are continuing.
“I still don’t really understand,” she said in reference to cases that involve suspects suspected of plotting to topple the government.
“There are some positive as well as negative things taking place. It is important to pursue unresolved murders but it is weird to detain some people based on the Anti-Terror Law. We need to look at the law on terror, which is quite problematic,” she said.
“I see that things are very random in Turkey. It seems people are rather looking at intentions. But it is difficult to read intentions,” she said.
Despite the problems, Kuçuradi does not feel she is swimming against the tide in her fight for human rights. “Positive things are taking place,” she said. “We have to stubbornly continue. I have police officers and members of the gendarmerie among my students. I feel something is changing through these courses. And I tell my police students: ‘It is thanks to you that I feel hopeful.’”
Philosophy in education is very important, she said. “Everyone does not need to learn philosophy. But an education that has philosophy as a basis is very important [in terms of thinking about] concepts, connections and seeing the implications.”
Relating one anecdote, she said: “A prosecutor told me, they are handed five big dossiers and asked to decide whether to arrest [a person] or not in one hour. You see, the police should provide the essentials and give a summary. This year, I have been asking my students to make summaries. Actually, this is supposed to be taught in high school. But even making a summary is problematic in our education system.”
As part of the Greek minority which has diminished from over 100,000 to a bare 1,500 in Istanbul, Kuçuradi said minorities’ rights had improved but added that they had not reached the desired level.
Who is Professor Ionna Kuçuradi?
Ioanna Kuçuradi is a figure who is important in the fields of both philosophy and human rights in Turkey. A philosophy professor at Istanbul’s Maltepe University’s Department of Philosophy, Kuçuradi is also the director of the Center for Research and Application of Human Rights at the same university.
Born in 1936 in Istanbul, Kuçuradi studied at the Zapyon Greek High School for girls. In 1959 she graduated from Istanbul University’s Department of Philosophy; 10 years later, she founded the Department of Philosophy at Ankara’s Hacettepe University. She acted as head of the department from its foundation until 2003. Kuçuradi, meanwhile, has also been a UNESCO chair on Philosophy and Human Rights since 1998.
Kuçuradi served as the chairperson of the High Advisory Council for Human Rights between 1994 and 1996 also served as a member of the National Advisory Council for Human Rights between 2002 and 2005.
Since 2008, Kuçuradi has been the honorary president of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, where she has also served as president as well as secretary-general.
In 2004 she received the Diyarbakır Medical Association’s Prize for Peace, Friendship and Democracy; one year later, Kuçuradi received the Council of Secular Humanism’s Planetary Humanist Philosopher’s Award. She is also the recipient of the Goethe Medaille (1996), Doctor honoris causa from the University of Crete (1996), the Journalists Association of Turkey’s Freedom of the Press Prize for 1999, as well as the UNESCO Aristotle Medaille (2003).
Kuçuradi is the author of numerous publications; “Ethics, Human Rights: Concepts and Problems,” “Nietzsche’s Conception of Man” and “Schopenhauer’s Conception of Man” are among her most well-known books.