‘UN does not want Turkey’s democratic gains to backslide'

‘UN does not want Turkey’s democratic gains to backslide'

Barçın Yinanç - barcin.yinanc@hdn.com.tr
‘UN does not want Turkey’s democratic gains to backslide

Turkey wants to play a major role in the UN, says the international body’s representative in Ankara. ‘Turkey is seen by us as a strong supporter of multilateralism,’ Kamal Malhotra tells the Hürriyet Daily News. HÜRRİYET photos, Levent KULU

Turkey-U.N. relations have moved from a “traditional” to a “strategic” level according to Kamal Malhotra, the U.N.’s resident coordinator and U.N. Development Program (UNDP) resident representative to Turkey.

Despite increased cooperation on regional and global issues, the U.N.’s priority remains focused on Turkey’s challenges, Malhotra told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that the U.N. has voiced concerns over a number of recent developments in the country.

“We are concerned about checks and balances in the system, the need for strong independent institutions and the separation of powers,” he said.

Where do U.N.–Turkey relations stand, as of today?

Over the last five years there certainly has been a strategic shift in the level of the relationship. What we have tried to do is recognize Turkey’s important role in this region, but also more globally. We have been doing this with other countries as well, with strategic partnerships changing from a more traditional relationship because these countries have an important and growing role in the rest of the world. Our relationship is therefore trying to encompass those dimensions. Istanbul is now a growing regional hub for the U.N. Turkey has been very generous in making this happen.

So has Turkey also been working to intensify this relationship?

We are pleased that Turkey is prioritizing its relationship with the U.N. Turkey wants to play a major role in the U.N. Turkey became a part of Geneva group this year, which is made up of the top 16 donors to the U.N. It therefore has a greater say over the administrative, financial decisions of the U.N. as a whole. Our own development cooperation strategy with Turkey has also moved to a more strategic level. We are in the process of discussing the second development cooperation strategy for the 2016 -2020 period. We are also trying to see how we can support Turkey’s role in its own international development cooperation strategy.

Can you elaborate on the bilateral dimension?

We have four priority areas. One is inclusive and sustainable growth with three different legs: Social, economic and environmental. The second area is democracy and human rights; the third area is gender equality and women’s empowerment; and the fourth area is migration and international protection.

What is the level of cooperation in the human rights and democracy area?

The U.N. has played a role, particularly through the UNDP, in areas such as judicial reform and civilian oversight of the military. We have some projects ongoing from the earlier phase. We are now trying to see how we can continue to support Turkey in these areas. On the human rights issue, Turkey has its universal periodic review - a review that all countries go through every four years - in January 2015. This will be Turkey’s second review under the U.N.’s human rights committee. We have sent our own report and Turkey has prepared its own report. We will see how best we can support Turkey on the recommendations coming out of the review.

How is Turkey seen from the U.N.’s perspective?

Turkey is seen by us as a strong supporter of multilateralism. Turkey has been putting its money where its mouth is. It is contributing to the U.N. system not just by increasing its contribution to the overall budget. It has also, for example, been supportive in helping us set the global center on the role of the private sector in development here in Istanbul. Recently the UNDP moved its regional center for Europe and Central Asia from Slovakia to Istanbul. That would not have been possible without Turkey’s support. So we look very positively to Turkey in the U.N. system.

But there are also many criticisms about Turkey sliding to authoritarian rule. Has Turkey’s image been eroded lately?

We see that over the last 10 years there has been a lot of progress in new judicial regulations, as well as in terms of democratization at the level of new laws and institutions. The last year-and-a-half has been more challenging. We hope that the overall record of the last 10 years will not backslide. We hope that the overall gains made will be consolidated and taken forward. But there have been challenges.

Can you talk about those challenges?

The U.N. has spoken out about some of the new laws, such as the Internet law. The U.N. issued a strong public statement that what Turkey was doing at that point was not consistent with international best practice in this area. Also after the Gezi Park protests we were concerned about the excessive use of police force. In addition, we are obviously concerned about checks and balances in the system, the need for strong independent institutions and the separation of powers. The U.N. has been straightforward, in country after country, about the need for strong checks and balances in the system.

These are all areas where we feel more progress needs to be made; and we hope that a lot of the legislation that has been put in place over the last 10 years can be built on. We don’t want to see any backsliding.

The Syrian refugee issue is one of the big items currently on the Turkey–U.N. agenda.

Turkey has been an extremely generous host to over 1.6 million Syrians. In the midst of this, Turkey has legislated a new asylum law - it is quiet unusual for a country in the midst of taking in such large numbers to also promulgate a new asylum law and start implementing it. Turkey should be commended for that, as well.

As the U.N. system we are trying to support Turkey, which is justifiably concerned that there has not been adequate international burden sharing. We agree on that, but there are important reasons, of course, for more resources going to Jordan and Lebanon.

Perhaps the U.N. is not doing enough to mobilize support for Turkey?

I disagree. Looking at where the priority is in terms of limited resources, Lebanon and Jordan have to figure as a higher priority. In a way, Turkey is a victim of its own success. It is a country that said initially it did not need support. Now it recognizes that this is a medium to long term crisis, and that it will need support.

We still believe there is more scope for burden sharing. There is going to be a new appeal launched next week for 2015- 2016 for resilience and resilience and refugee regional response. The resilience part is new; this is in recognition of the fact that this is not just a humanitarian crisis, but a development crisis.

Your final remarks?

We have a fairly unique relationship with Turkey. We have three hubs: A Syria response hub; a traditional, Turkey-focused hub, with the general partnership moving from the traditional to the strategic level; and we have an emerging regional hub, focused on Central Asia and the Balkans, based in Istanbul. The quality of the relationship is very different from many other countries, because we have these three very different hubs. I think that as long as we keep moving to a more strategic partnership, we will find that this relationship will be mutually beneficial.

But central to this is that we need to continue to prioritize Turkey’s own challenges, which are still
considerable, and so my role is still Turkey-focused even though there are all these other hubs.

It seems that Turkey’s own challenges make it difficult to match its global aspirations.

Even though Turkey is keen to project its regional and global aspirations through the UN and with the UN; which we welcome, we must not forget that our primary reason for being here is still to deal with Turkey’s own challenges. In the balance of priorities between what Turkey wants to prioritize and what we want to prioritize, Turkey is obviously keen on its role in the region and the world. We are happy with this, but our priority is Turkey itself.

Perhaps Turkey is saying, ‘I’m fine. I only need your support for regional issues’?

This is a challenge we are facing not just with Turkey, but also with other emerging countries, saying “we are fine.” The same is true about my home country, India, which said to the UNDP some time ago:
“The amount of money that the UNDP can bring us is peanuts, so why don’t we use it to achieve what India wants to do in Africa?” But we can’t do that. India has got its own challenges too. The same is true of Brazil, China, and other countries.

Who is Kamal Malhotra ?


Kamal Malhotra assumed his position as U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for Turkey on April 8, 2013.

Prior to his appointment, Malhotra was the U.N. resident coordinator for Malaysia, and the UNDP resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. From 1999 to 2008, he worked in the UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy, as a senior adviser on inclusive globalization, a civil society empowerment adviser, and a senior civil society adviser. Before joining the UNDP, Malhotra was co-founder and co-director of Focus on the Global South (1995-1999), a global policy research organization in Thailand.

Malhotra is widely published with over 75 journal and other articles on the multilateral system and development cooperation. He is also the lead author or co-author of more than five books, including the UNDP-led “Making Global Trade Work for People”