Turkey needs action to validate human rights plan

Turkey needs action to validate human rights plan

A much-anticipated human rights action plan was announced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday. As can be recalled, the government had first mentioned its intention to announce and implement an action plan concerning human rights in late 2019 in the context of the resumption of the works of the Reform Action Plan.

It has come to the fore once again in November 2020 as President Erdoğan vowed to upgrade Turkey’s judicial and economic infrastructure to lure more foreign direct investments. It did also coincide with the change of economic management.

The Justice Ministry has long been working on the plan whose vision was explained as “free individuals, stronger community, a more democratic Turkey.” The text details nine objectives and 11 fundamental principles to increase the human rights standards in Turkey as Erdoğan described it as the main policy paper for the country’s centennial in 2023. That’s why President Erdoğan suggested that this Action Plan will also lay the groundwork for a brand-new and civilian constitution as he repeated his call for all the political parties to join the efforts to this end.

The principles outlined by the Action Plan are unquestionably universal and no different from similar human rights declarations. It highlights human dignity and the state’s role in protecting and improving the rights of each citizen without discrimination.

The objectives are depicting a more concrete picture: The action plan foresees a more effective human rights protection system, strengthening judicial independence and fair trial, judicial predictability and transparency, improving freedom of expression, assembly and religion, enhancing individual liberties and security, further securing all the citizens’ right to property, reinforcing societal prosperity and protecting fragile groups, creating a high-level administrative and societal awareness on human rights.

In general, it’s hard to say that the action plan has generated excitement as many of the items announced by President Erdoğan were discussed in the past as well. The plan is more about technical adjustments rather than introducing a new mindset on how to tackle the democratic deficiencies. Plus, on key issues like freedom of expression and judicial impartiality, the Action Plan offered a rather vague road map. The steps announced on judicial matters were a sort of repetition of the first judicial reform package. Similarly, Erdoğan was not that clear on how the government will proceed in a bid to expand the freedom of expression in the country.

It does also foresee expanding the scope of the individual application to the Constitutional Court while the government is introducing new bodies for the protection of individual human rights. This also brings to minds to what extent the lower courts will abide by the verdicts of the high court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the coming period.

Two points are important: Even the need for such a plan is enough to show that the government is aware of the problems concerning the poor democratic and human rights standards in Turkey. Turkey’s tarnished image in the West has been complicating the country’s ties with its allies and has the potential to further ruin them in case these deficiencies are not repaired.

Therefore, the second point is more vital: As the text is called “Action Plan,” it’s expected that all the items raised through the plan will be put into practice. EU diplomats in Ankara and Brussels were long waiting for the announcement of this plan, but more importantly, they are looking forward to seeing all these principles and objectives implemented to the full.

It is still important that the government unveiled such a plan as it could be seen as a contribution to ongoing efforts for the reconciliation of Turkey’s ties with the EU and the United States. Obviously, it should be seen as just a beginning. The real value of this plan and similar reforms will be observed should they be implemented without any discrimination and when they lead to a mentality change in the entire country on human rights and democracy.

Serkan Demirtaş,