Two years ago, Turkey kicked off a series of reforms in its legal system in an attempt to enhance democracy in the country while promoting human rights and liberties. Recently, one of the most crucial steps in the process was taken as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the Human Rights Action Plan. Now, all eyes are on the new constitution that is to be prepared in the upcoming two years, the final step in this reformation period.
Legal security is "the most important principle" in Turkey's groundbreaking new Human Rights Action Plan, designed in response to the wants and needs of the Turkish public, the nation's justice minister said Wednesday.
Abdulhamit Gül told Anadolu Agency's (AA) Editors' Desk that the Human Rights Action Plan is a reminder not only to courts, judges and prosecutors but to the public in every field.
"Since it concerns all our citizens, we have worked on the issue with all segments of the society," he said.
We will set our goals and share them to our nation's discretion, he added.
Turkey on Tuesday announced its new action plan on human rights, which has 11 main principles set to be carried out over the course of two years.
The new action plan is a step in its reform journey that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been carrying out continuously and uninterruptedly since the day it was founded in 2001.
Erdoğan on Tuesday unveiled Turkey's long-awaited Human Rights Action Plan, noting that "broad-based consultations were a part of every activity in the plan prepared according to our nation's expectations."
Initially mentioned during the announcement of the first Judicial Reform Package, the plan is based on the vision of "Free Individuals, Strong Society: More Democratic Turkey." Its motto, however, is the following: “Let people live so the state will live!” The plan originates from the state’s "obligation to protect, in all of its affairs and acts and with all of the state institutions and organizations, the physical and moral integrity and the honor and dignity of individuals."
Around the 11 main principles that constitute the backbone of the plan, a total of nine aims, 50 goals and 393 activities have been set. The activities envisioned within the framework of each goal under the relevant aims are organized as tangible “measurable and monitorable” actions.
The plan focuses on the topics of freedom, the right to security, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech as well as the rights of women and the disabled. The enhancement of these rights and liberties has seen setbacks in the bureaucracy that have prevented these rights and liberties from being implemented properly. The plan has been prepared in accordance with the observations and reports of the international mechanisms that monitor human rights in cooperation with several human rights groups.
Some of the other principles of the plan are human dignity, as the essence of all rights, under the active protection of the law; the equal, impartial and honest provision of public services to everyone; the rule of law shall be fortified in all areas as a safeguard for rights and freedoms, and no one may be deprived of liberty due to criticism or expression of thought.
The nine aims of the plan are designed to provide a stronger system for the protection of human rights; strengthening judicial independence and the right to a fair trial; legal foreseeability and transparency; protection and promotion of the freedoms of expression, association and religion; strengthening personal liberty and security; safeguarding physical and moral integrity and the private life of the individual; more effective protection of the right to property; protecting vulnerable groups and strengthening social wealth, and last but not least, high-level administrative and social awareness on human rights.
"This is not a law text, but a goodwill document," Gül said on the issue, adding that it is not a text just for political parties, but for all people.
On the criticism of the plan, he said they will examine all arguments "with great care" and treat them as constructive and serious criticisms.
The plan was generally welcomed by Turkish society, while minority groups especially appreciated the move due to its emphasis on religious freedom. The plan enables public- and private-sector staff and students to take time off for religious holidays they observe regardless of their faith. The president underscored that public and private employees and students of all religions will be granted a leave of absence on their religious holidays.
Speaking on the issue to AA, the head of the Sait Susin, head of the Istanbul Syriac Ancient Foundation said that he attended the consultation meeting on the plan during its preparations and now see that their suggestions were taken into consideration.
"We have always been saying that the children should be able to take a break during their religious holidays...Thank God the authorities, especially the President, considered this and added to the plan," Susin said.
Another statement came from the Chief Rabbinate of Istanbul, which shared the tweet on its Twitter account, saying that they "welcome" the plan with "enthusiasm" and "hope."
The plan also has a technological aspect, in which it attempts to establish an ethical framework for artificial intelligence and protecting human rights. In this respect, a limit will be put on the usage of personal information by artificial intelligence platforms in an attempt to secure personal data.
Additionally, efforts to fight cybercrimes and bullying will be accelerated and international partnerships will be established in this respect. The violation of human rights on social media will be prevented in a way that will not limit the freedom of speech.
While announcing the plan, Erdoğan highlighted one topic heavily: "The ultimate aim of Turkey's action plan is a new civilian constitution."
Since 1982, the current Constitution, drafted following a military coup, has seen a number of amendments.
The bloody 1980 coup, which led to the detention of hundreds of thousands of people along with mass trials, torture and executions, still stands as a black stain in Turkish political history.
Erdoğan on Feb. 1 had announced: "It is time for Turkey to discuss a new constitution again." Talk of a new Constitution came amid the government's new democratic reform initiative. The president referred to 2021 as the “year of reforms” and pledged that his party would overhaul the economy and judiciary.
The president’s proposal came four years after the 2017 constitutional referendum asked voters to decide on an 18-article bill to switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system, among other changes. The amendments to the Constitution were jointly introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Erdoğan was elected president under the new system in 2018.
The president wants Turkey to have a civilian-drafted constitution by 2023, coinciding with the centenary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
So far, the opposition parties, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), have opposed the calls, claiming that the president’s initiative to reform the Constitution equates to the “failure of the presidential system.” The CHP, the Good Party (IP) and a few other parties argue that Turkey should return to the parliamentary system.
Regarding the issue, the deputy head of the CHP Muharrem Erkek said on Wednesday that a "mentality that does not respect the rights of the European Court of Human Rights of the Constitutional Court cannot make reforms on human rights." Erkek also criticized the usage of the word "reform" and said that any step that is taken in the country has been referred to as "reform" by the ruling party, which is not always correct.
The head of the Felicity Party (SP), Temel Karamollaoğlu, on the other hand, expressed that if the mentality and approach don't change then the number of reforms do not mean anything.