Proposed National Human Rights Institution Lacks Independence
(Istanbul) – The Turkish government should withdraw its draft law for the establishment of a national human rights institution because the proposed body would lack impartiality and independence from government, Human Rights Watch said today. A draft law establishing the institution was approved by the Parliamentary Human Rights Investigative Commission on June 13, 2012, and is expected to be submitted to the General Assembly of Parliament within days.
“Turkey needs an effective and independent human rights body capable of holding the government to account, and these plans fail that test,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey has a history of government-controlled human rights bodies and every one of them has been dysfunctional.”
Plans for creating a Human Rights Institution of Turkey (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Kurumu, TIHK) have been on the agenda since 2009. However, the Justice and Development Party government has refused to revise in substance a draft law establishing the institution, despite repeated criticism from domestic and international human rights groups, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Commission over its lack of independence from the government.
The United Nations has a well-developed set of standards for national human rights institutions, known as the Paris Principles. The Turkish government’s draft fails in many ways to conform with the spirit and letter of the Paris Principles, Human Rights Watch said. Most notably the draft provides for the director, vice-director, and members of the board running the institution to be direct government appointments, selected by the Council of Ministers, and for the whole institution to be connected to the prime minister’s office, although the specifics are unclear in the law.
The proposed law does not include guarantees that candidates for appointment to the board will be representative of civil society and that the board will “ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights.” There is no guarantee that the institution will be financially independent, and the draft law has little detail about all matters relating to its budget.
Human Rights groups in Turkey, among them the Human Rights Association, Mazlum Der, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Amnesty International Turkey, and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey have repeatedly offered detailed commentary on the law and attempted to engage actively in the process of drafting the law. The government has largely ignored their input.
“The government’s consistent failure to respond to human rights groups’ concerns about the proposed Human Rights Institution of Turkey signals that the protection and promotion of human rights in Turkey is not a government priority,” Sinclair-Webb said. “The flawed approach to the law and its content is at odds with the purpose of establishing such a body.”
The UN has advised countries around the world to create national human rights institutions with powers to provide independent advice to the government and parliament on all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights, to investigate human rights violations, to issue recommendations, and to ensure conformity of national laws with international human rights instruments and their effective implementation.
The Paris Principles outline the responsibilities, composition, operation, and status of such bodies. At the core of these principles is the stipulation that the body should be representative of civil society by including representatives of civil society groups working on human rights, academics, qualified experts, and members of parliament, with an advisory role for people drawn from government departments. Independence from the government, including financial independence and not being subject to financial control that might affect its independence, is a central principle.
The European Commission criticized Turkey’s draft law in its 2011 progress report on Turkey’s advancement of steps to meet the criteria for EU accession. The Regional Representative for Europe of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Jan Jarab, has emphasized to the Turkish government that, in accordance with the Paris Principles, the independence of a national human rights institution must be understood as independence from the executive, not as the attainment of an administrative status within the executive.