Monday, March 8, 2010

Plans for a National Human Rights Board

The mini-democracy reform package the government is planning to introduce to parliament by the end of March is said to include plans for a National Human Rights Board, which will reportedly involve a re-structuring of the Office of the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency. The organization is designed to be an answer to repeated EU calls for an office of ombudsman, which would investigate human rights violations committed by the state. However, as Today's Zaman's Ayse Karabat reports, plans for the new institution are being sharply criticized by human rights groups as falling short of the Copenhagen political criteria and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights's Paris Principles designed to guide national institutions setup to protect human rights. The government's plans for the board would have its members appointed by the government rather than elected in an independent process and would requires that members not have criminal convictions. The latter requirement is difficult in that many human rights activists and officials have and routinely do fall prey to complainants and prosecutors using criminal laws restricting freedom of speech. From Karabat:
The Human Rights Association (İHD), the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HYD), the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) and Amnesty International Turkey, which acts as İHOP, argued that the bill was drafted without seeking any opinions or contributions from human rights activists in Turkey and that the board will not be independent either in function or financially and will not fulfill the criteria of the European Union.

“Although the government claims that the board will be established as part of the democratization initiative, it had to be established due to the harmonization process with the EU. But if the draft is approved by Parliament, such a board will not answer the demands of the EU and will continue to be the subject of criticism as was its predecessor, the Human Rights Presidency of the Prime Ministry,” Öztürk Türkdoğan the chairman of the İHD, told Today’s Zaman.

He added that the bill was written with the mentality of “establishing a new state body” but not with the mentality of “establishing an autonomous body that will work as an institution which will mediate and monitor between the state and the public.”

. . . .

İHOP suggested that according to the draft, the board would have the authority to advise the relevant state bodies, but it does not point out the mechanisms for sanction if the advice is not taken. From the point of view of financial independence, according to the draft, the board would be financed with “aid from the budget,” but İHOP claimed that the scope, amount, continuity and process of the “aid” were not defined.

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