Strasbourg, 1 October 2009
REPORT by Thomas Hammarberg Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
Following his visit to Turkey on 28 June – 3 July 2009
Issue reviewed: Human rights of minorities
. Overview of minorities in Turkey in relation to European and international instruments: Whilst the Commissioner appreciated the positive signs of good will shown by the Turkish authorities for resolving a number of issues concerning human rights of minority groups, he remains concerned by the authorities’ refusal to recognize the existence of any other minorities except for the tripartite non-Muslim one (Armenians, Greeks and Jews), following an over-restrictive interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty. The Commissioner recommends that the authorities create an effective framework of consultations that would ensure a real dialogue with all minority groups in the country and pursue reforms with a view to fully aligning law and practice with the Council of Europe human rights standards concerning minorities. The Commissioner recommends in particular the prompt establishment of an effective national human rights institution, the creation and implementation of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and the ratification of Protocol N° 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Accession to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is also highly recommended.
2. Minority languages and the right to freedom of expression: Despite certain efforts made in this area, the Commissioner remains very concerned at a number of persisting restrictions imposed upon education of minority members, including teaching and learning of their mother tongues. The Commissioner recommends the adoption of measures in order to enhance minority group members’ education and teaching and learning of their mother tongues, a precondition of enjoyment by them of their freedom of expression. The Commissioner is concerned about the high number of the freedom of expression-related judgments against Turkey that have been delivered by the European Court of Human Rights and whose execution is supervised by the Committee of Ministers. He calls upon the authorities to take further measures in order to effectively incorporate the European Court of Human Rights’ case law into domestic law and practice. This should include revision of certain provisions of the Criminal Code and of the anti-terrorism law mentioned in the Report, and of their application by prosecutors and courts. It is stressed that hate crimes in general, particularly those committed against persons who have exercised their right to freedom of expression, should be effectively investigated and those responsible should be promptly identified and punished, in line with the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
3. Minorities and the right to freedom of association: Recalling the particular importance of the freedom of association, which includes the creation and operation of political parties, for persons belonging to minorities, the Commissioner notes his serious concern about the current Turkish law and practice, especially about the proceedings that were initiated in the near past against two of the major political parties with a view to their dissolution. The Commissioner commends the determination shown by the Minister of Justice to carry on efforts to fully embed the Council of Europe human rights standards in national law and practice. He urges the authorities to follow up on and implement promptly the pertinent recommendations made notably by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and by the Venice Commission.
4. Minorities, freedom of religion and property rights: The Commissioner commends the readiness to dialogue with minority religious communities that the authorities demonstrated during his visit. He remains nonetheless concerned about the uneasiness and insecurity that seems to surround still religious minority groups. The Commissioner urges the authorities in particular to develop awareness-raising activities in order to alert the general public of the benefits of a multicultural society and to create an efficient, specialised body to combat, inter alia, racial and religious discrimination. Periodic, open and substantive consultations between the authorities and religious minority groups should be established, thus ensuring dialogue and solutions to major issues affecting religious minorities’ human rights, such as the one concerning the recognition of the legal personality of religious minority institutions and communities established in the country. The Commissioner notes with interest the latest legislative measures concerning the protection of property rights of non-Muslim minority foundations. A number of shortcomings however are identified in the present Report, which call for the authorities’ attention and necessitate further action in order to fully incorporate the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in the relevant legislation and practice.
5. Forced displacement in and from eastern and southeast Turkey: The Commissioner remains very concerned about the persistent humanitarian and human rights situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and from the eastern and southeast Turkey, the majority of them being of Kurdish origin. The Commissioner recommends the prompt adoption of further measures that would accelerate and make more effective the reparation of the IDP victims, including the facilitation of exercise by IDPs of their right to voluntary return, voluntary resettlement or local integration. Whilst noting with satisfaction the Ministry of Interior’s willingness to resolve the persistent, IDP-related problems, including the positive efforts made in the context of the IDP action plan in the Van province, the Commissioner stresses the need for the authorities to promote a comprehensive, national strategy that would include improvement of living and education-related conditions in IDP-source areas. The Commissioner also urges the authorities to examine the possibility of abolishing the system of village guards and to proceed immediately to the completion of clearance of the mined areas, especially those from or near which IDPs originate.
6. Certain issues concerning human rights of Roma: The Commissioner notes with concern the social marginalization of Roma in Turkey, their serious difficulties in enjoying effectively certain social and civil rights, such as those concerning adequate housing, employment, health care and social assistance, and violence by police and non-state actors. The Commissioner recommends that Turkey adopt and implement promptly a coherent, comprehensive and adequately resourced national and regional strategy with short- and long-term action plans for implementing policies that address legal and/or social discrimination against Roma, in accordance with the Council of Europe standards. The Commissioner remains very concerned about the dislocation of Roma people, including families and children, in various parts of Turkey, in particular in the context of urban renovation projects. Of special concern have been the house demolitions, evictions and dislocation of Roma from the historic area of Sulukule, Istanbul. The Commissioner urges national and local authorities to take immediately measures in order to effectively respect and protect cultural heritage, to review urban renovation legislation and practice and to ratify promptly the 2005 Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society.