Council of Europe is against courts with special powers

Council of Europe is against courts with special powers

Thomas Hammarberg is regarded as one of the most trustworthy names in the field of human rights in the Western world.

His life is a story dedicated to human rights. He has been the special representative of the Swedish government on children’s rights and human rights for long years and after that he has taken over important positions in the United Nations. Hammarberg has also been the secretary-general of Amnesty International (AI) for one term. The person who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 on behalf of AI was no one else than Hammarberg. In 2005, Hammarberg was elected by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly as commissioner for human rights.

[HH] Started with arrests of journalists
Hammarberg, who in a way represents Europe’s conscience in the field of human rights, in his capacity, is closely monitoring developments in Turkey.

Hammarberg, especially after the consecutive arrests of journalists last year, came to Turkey in April and made a series of contacts researching the problems in press freedom. After this visit, the commissioner drafted a highly critical report last July on the problems of freedom of expression in Turkey. This report was evaluated in my column dated July 15, titled “Severe criticism from Europe on press freedom.”

Hammarberg concluded in his report that difficulties in the field of freedom of expression stem from structural problems in media legislation and the media sector as well as systematic problems in the administration of justice. The report starts with criticisms toward the freedom of press and transforms into a criticism of the administration of justice in its final chapter.

[HH] Statist mentality of judges and prosecutors
This report prompted Hammarberg to make another visit to Turkey last October to conduct more detailed research into the problems in the field of administration of justice in Turkey. Hammarberg, in this visit of his, also met arrested journalists Nedim Şenere, Ahmet Şık and Mustafa Balbay.

The report Hammarberg was to pen based on his last trip was awaited for a long time. The report that was publicized yesterday is probably the most heavily critical report ever drafted in the Western world about the legal system in Turkey.

The commissioner, in his 31-page report, has an exceptionally detailed topographic scan of problems related to the administration of justice in Turkey and problems that stem from the judicial system. He evaluates each one by one and offers a series of recommendations at the end.

Hammarberg regards the government as having adopted a constructive stance in general. He sees the problem mostly in the legislation and more in the “statist attitudes” he said dominated the judges and the prosecutors.

A long list can be made from the problems the commissioner has listed, starting from long detention terms, very lengthy legal proceedings and members of the judiciary not adopting European judicial norms.

[HH] Specially authorized courts should be reviewed
I thought the most striking point is that Hammarberg has openly demanded the removal of specially authorized courts. Hammarberg wrote: “The commissioner remains seriously concerned about the operation of the assize courts and prosecutors with special powers, in particular as regards numerous restrictions to the right of defense, which have been detailed in this report. Any derogation from ordinary procedural guarantees must be highly exceptional. The commissioner encourages the Turkish authorities to review the need for the system of assize courts and prosecutors with special powers, and to consider having all serious criminal cases tried in ordinary, well-resourced assize courts.”
This part of the report of Hammarberg does not differ from the demand of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations for the removal of specially authorized courts.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared Jan. 11. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.