Sunday, May 2, 2010

Turkey's Trying Relationship with the ECHR

Though the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has played an important role in Turkey's democratization process, the Court has long grumbled that complaints from Turkey constitute too high a percentage of its total caseload. In 2009, the ECHR issued 1,625 judgements, of which 256 were against Turkey. In only nine of these cases was Turkey found not to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which the ECHR aims to consistently uphold. As is the case with other member states party to the Convention, Turkish citizens may apply to the ECHR as a court of last resort once they have exhausted all remedies available in Turkey.

In 2004, Turkey legally recognized the supremacy of the Convention over its national laws. However, despite attempts to harmonize Turkish law and the judgements of Turkish courts with the Convention and ECHR case law, the number of complaints Turkish citizens file at the ECHR continues to increase. Out of the total number of complaints the ECHR receives, the growing number of which have resulted in the ECHR facing a serious backload, complants from Turkey comprise 11%. Only Russia, with more citizens, fares worse (complaints from Russian citizens comprise 28% of the caseload). Ukraine and Romania have also proved problematic (at 8% each).

In an effort to pressure all four states to take measures to stem the number of complaints coming from their citizens, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has threatenened sanctions. The ECHR is asking Turkey to better ensure that its draft laws are consistent with the Convention, as well as requesting the Turkish parliament to adopt procedures for overseeing the implmentation of the ECHR's decisions. A significant number of the cases the ECHR receives mirror cases in which the Court has already ruled. There is also a significant problem when it comes to lower and appellate courts not properly applying ECHR case law. For an example of this, see Taraf journalist Orhan Miroglu's application the ECHR. Miroglu was convicted in 2007 for speaking Kurdish during an electoral campaign. Miroglu asserts that a ban on campaign rhetoric in Kurdish remains despite prior ECHR judgements stating that such rhetoric is protected under the Convention's clause protecting freedom of expression.

In spring 2011, Turkey will host a conference on ECHR reform that will pick up where February's conference in Interlaken left off.

As part of the constitutional amendment package, the government has drafted measures to allow individuals to file complaints at the Constitutional Court. If the amendment becomes law, some European jurists have expressed hopes that the number of Turkish cases might be reduced in future years.

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