Where are we 60 years on at the European Court of Human Rights?

Where are we 60 years on at the European Court of Human Rights?

Last Tuesday was the 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) President Dean Spielman said the following: “Those who deposited the instrument of ratification believed that the convention would form the bedrock of democratic Europe. Sixty years on, we strive every day to continue on the course they charted for us.” 
The convention represents the most advanced international system of legal remedies not only Europe, but the most advanced legal system that humankind has developed up to today, providing the means for citizens to take their own states to court. Turkey ratified the convention in 1954. The right of the individual to lodge an application at the court became possible in 1987.

Last Tuesday, on the day the 60th anniversary of the convention was celebrated, the court passed some judgments routinely and posted on its website its nine most recent verdicts. Interestingly, six out of these nine verdicts dealt with applications from Turkey. It is not surprising that in each of them Turkey was charged with a violation, in other words, was sentenced. 

We can take a quick look at these judgments: 

In the case of Meydin Athan vs. Turkey, the applicant complained that he had been subjected to ill-treatment while in police custody in 2006. The court did not rule any violations about ill treatment, but sentenced Turkey because the domestic authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation. 

Şadır Çadıroğlu: It was reported that Çadıroğlu had been working as a street peddler in Van. In 1999 he lost his life after falling over while running away from the police. He was 16-years-old. His family took the case to the ECtHR. The court sentenced Turkey for not conducting an effective investigation. 

Halil Durdu: In October 2008, Durdu was found dead while he was undergoing military training as a staff sergeant. The military prosecutor, in contrast with the findings of the medical reports, ruled that Durdu had taken his own life. Turkey was sentenced on account of the ineffective investigation into the death. 

Nihat Konak: He was convicted of being the leader of an armed organization in 2004. He alleged that his defense rights had been violated, as he had been denied access to a lawyer during his police custody in 1998. The court ruled that this was a violation of Konak’s right to a fair trial. 

Gülizar Tuncer Güneş: After getting married in 2005, her application to the court to keep her maiden name was rejected. She took the case to ECtHR, which decided on a violation in connection to the Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (the prohibition of discrimination) of the ECHR. 

Ümit Bilgiç: He applied to the court complaining that he was forcefully taken to mental institution in 2003 in Adana, and also that his rights were violated during a case opened against him on the grounds that he had insulted the court. The court ruled in Bilgiç’s favor, deciding that the decision to send him to the mental institution was not legal. 

For the court to rule six violations in one day is actually a routine situation, confirming Turkey’s negative record. In its 60th anniversary, Turkey is the champion in Europe for violations, with 2,521 rulings in 16,000 verdicts as of the end of 2012. 

The fact that three of the six violations in one day were due to ineffective investigation is thought provoking. In other words, the issue is not only limited to violation of the rights of citizens, for example being beaten by police. The fact that the state does not investigate violations effectively is just as serious

Coincidentally, in his speech at the International Ombudsman Symposium on Sept. 3, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said they had built the state-citizen relationships based on a new foundation. “In Turkey, the state is no longer one that patronizes the citizen, a despotic and condescending state. It is a state that is serving the citizen,” he said. 

Unfortunately, the violation rulings that are continuing at the ECtHR show that such statements from the prime minister are only nice echoes for the ear. 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept. 6. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.