High-Level Conference on “Case-law of the European Court of Human Rights Concerning Turkey,
Difficulties and Suggestions for Solutions”
15 November 2011, Ankara
Dear Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to begin by expressing, once again, my profound sympathy to the people and the government of Turkey following the earthquake that hit the city of Van and the surrounding area last month, and again during the last few days. I would like to convey to the families of the victims, and to those who have been injured, our expression of great solidarity.
I would like to thank the Turkish Ministry of Justice for hosting this conference. It addresses a crucially important topic. This is to find solutions to the challenges posed by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey and their implementation.
The organisation of this conference is a clear sign of the political will of the Turkish authorities - particularly the Ministry of Justice - to take the matter seriously, to reinforce European human rights protection in Turkey and to modernise the judiciary.
Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe for more than sixty years, since 1949. It ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1954 and accepted the right to individual application in 1987.
During its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, Turkey launched several important initiatives. A highlight was the High-Level Conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights, held in the beautiful city of Izmir last May. The follow-up by Turkey to the process launched in Interlaken in 2010 underlined once again the subsidiary character of the Convention mechanism. Member States have indeed to take ownership of the Convention, not least by complying with the judgments of the Court. And States must be proactive: it is their responsibility to take the necessary measures to implement the European Convention on Human Rights at the domestic level and so prevent violations.
Today’s conference is an important step forward by Turkey in the implementation of the Izmir Declaration.
According to statistics recently published by the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey is the member State with the second highest number of cases pending before the Court, more than 16 000. These statistics also show that Turkey is the country with the highest number of cases pending before the Chambers that deal with serious cases in which there is the possibility that violations of the Convention could be found.
The need for action is evident.
Three important measures have been taken by the Turkish authorities and, if well used, could have an impact on reducing that number.
First, in 2004, a paragraph was added to Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution.
According to this provision, international human rights treaties have precedence over Turkish law. Prosecutors and judges have therefore the possibility of directly applying the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the Court.
Second, in September 2010, an important amendment made to the Turkish Constitution introduced the right to individual petition to the Constitutional Court. This mechanism, if successfully put in place from September 2012, will provide an effective remedy at the national level and will reduce the number of applications to the Court.
Third, the Minister of Justice took the initiative in August to create a Department of Human Rights within his Ministry. The Department will play an important role both in implementing the judgments of the Court - especially when they require amendments to the legislation - and in preventing future violations of the Convention, in particular by raising the awareness of judges and prosecutors on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. I know this Department is closely co-operating with the Council of Europe and I would encourage them to continue this collaboration.
I have noted with satisfaction that today’s second panel is devoted to the prevention of violations of freedom of expression. I look forward to the conclusions of that panel and of the working groups. A large number of cases concerning freedom of expression are pending before the Court. In more than 150 cases, the Court has already found a violation of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey. Most of these cases have been brought by writers, journalists or broadcasting companies.
It is crucial that measures are rapidly taken to put an end to these violations. If they continue, the impact on journalists and on freedom of expression can only be negative and have, as described in the words of Commissioner Hammarberg, “a chilling effect”.
Freedom of expression and media freedom as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a priority area for the Council of Europe. It is a core element of any functioning democracy and is also essential for the protection of other rights. The expression of certain ideas may offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population, but the absence of freedom of expression is always harmful to all.
Without critical voices there are no safeguards against blunders and abuses in the exercise of power, with inevitable negative political, economic and social consequences. Free speech, and other fundamental freedoms are a prerequisite for progress.
Prime Minister Erdogan invited me, during his last visit to Strasbourg, to send my Special Envoy to Turkey to look into the situation of media freedom. As a result of my Envoy’s visit to Turkey, I am happy to announce that, as from January next year, the Ministry of Justice and the Council of Europe will work together to improve the situation.
On the basis of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights and reports of the Human Rights Commissioner, a number of activities will be implemented with a view to amending legislation, especially the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Penal Code. In parallel, awareness raising activities for prosecutors and judges on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on Article 10 of the Convention will be organised, more particularly on the concept of incitement to violence.
Today’s panel and subsequent working groups might bring additional suggestions regarding these activities.
I would like to thank the Minister of Justice and his dynamic team for the constructive and open attitude they have shown in finding, together with the Council of Europe, solutions to remedy the situation.
Freedom of expression and media freedom is not the only theme for discussion during the conference and workshops. You will also look for solutions to the excessive length of proceedings in general and of pre-trial detentions in particular, as many of the applications pending before the Court concern this issue. I know that the Prime Minister takes the situation very seriously and I am convinced that political will can bring about change.
I said in Izmir that the Court is not an isolated body and cannot operate in an institutional, political or social vacuum. The Council of Europe is indispensable to the effective functioning of the Convention system.
The activities we will implement in co-operation with the Ministry of Justice in the field of freedom of expression and media freedom have to be seen in that context. The Council of Europe has to use its monitoring data and its expertise and make it operational and effective. This is the only way to support our Member States in complying with their obligations and to improve the situation on the ground, step by step.
To conclude, let me say that shortcomings exist everywhere, including in longstanding democracies. What counts is what is being done to address those shortcomings.
I hope that your work during these three days and the conclusions you reach will be remembered as a milestone in the strengthening of human rights protection in Turkey.
Thank you for your attention.