A so-called human rights action plan for Turkey

In its current form, Erdoğan government's last package has nothing more to say than “we’ve just found out there is such a thing as law.” It has no credibility and its bidders are anything but convincing. 11 principles form the basis of the so-called “action plan.” The people who announced and explained those principles have previously violated all of them.

On March , the Turkish government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced a “human rights action plan.” Several principles in the action plan were presented and listed in a manner as though the AKP had newly discovered them. In fact, those principles have been enshrined in several international agreements and essential legal texts for years.

The establishment of those principles came about as the result of historic struggles. They even feature in certain constitutions (including ours) that were drafted after military coups. Those rules, which have been violated in Turkey for years, as the prevailing laws have not been enforced, were turned into a “reform package” as if they were a gift wrapped in shiny paper.

In its current form, the package has nothing more to say than “we’ve just found out there is such a thing as law.” It has no credibility and its bidders are anything but convincing. 11 principles form the basis of the so-called “action plan.” The people who announced and explained those principles have previously violated all of them. For years now, they’ve been delivering speeches that counteract those principles.

One can merely check any of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speeches to see that he tramples on principle number 8 regarding the “presumption of innocence and the right against incrimination.” Those principles have been wittingly violated and flouted.

One of the action plan’s main goals is to “focus more on our efforts regarding the European Union, especially with respect to the visa liberalization dialogue.” This of course makes a lot of sense with the fact that the government said no one had asked them to draft it. 

Erdoğan has apparently just realized that criticism cannot be a justification for imprisonment after his lawyers, who seemingly did not know of this principle, sent thousands of people to prison for defamation of the president. Just like they didn’t seem to know that arrests should not take place in the absence of concrete evidence.

Or just like the absurdity of detaining people in the middle of the night to bring them to the police headquarters and take their statements. Suddenly understanding this is bad enough, but listing them in a “reform package” as “goals” is even worse. This reform package also teaches us that “transparency” implies access to the decisions of the courts and the commissions, which are already open to public scrutiny.

“If Turkey abides by the rule of law, it must urgently shut down the [pro-minority], Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). And it should prevent it from re-appearing under another name,” said Devlet Bahçeli, the head of the ruling coalition far-right partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), at his party’s group meeting in the parliament that same day the “human rights action plan” was announced.

Yet up until recently, Bahçeli’s coalition partner, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), boasted about being the ones that “made it difficult to close down political parties” in Turkey. The pledges contained in the package should have been implemented years ago. But, again, on the same day it was introduced, Turkey’s office of the prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals launched an investigation against the HDP.

For a week or two before the action was announced, the rumor has it that hard bargaining took place between the AKP and the MHP. Some claim the MHP was swayed with policies other than the closure of the HDP. Bahçeli’s statements can be interpreted as a sign that the deal hasn’t been finalized yet. Yet it might also be a final move to try and sway the court of the justice system.

Bahçeli’s speech suggested that the closure of HDP is a legal issue rather than a political move. The tone of “we will do what we have to” has turned into “they should do what is necessary.” But while the MHP’s tactics may have changed, their overall strategy hasn’t. The HDP remains the target and the opposition is put under pressure. 

Moreover, Bahçeli is not alone in this regard and Erdoğan has made clear where their fundamental political focus lies. Both are in a quest to find the right mechanisms to use and how to use them, which reflects some hopelessness. The summary of proceedings about HDP deputies to be debated in parliament to decide whether their political immunities should be lifted has been postponed. The reason for this delay was the announcement of the “legal reform.” But the debate remains on the table as a powerful alternative. 

The promise of a “reform,” which coincided with the resignation of Erdoğan’s son-in-law, former Finance Minister Berat Albayrak four months ago, contains almost no concrete proposal. The government has also promised a new electoral law. The whole package is to be completed within two years, which provides time until the next elections.

The package is associated with a constitutional change as the ultimate goal. It does not seem like this tactic will help the government to set up a new agenda and divert the public’s attention. It is also doubtful that this will gain them time. Even the official spokespeople and organized social media efforts seem to lack persuasion.

Now that the reform package has been put forward and that it has not revealed any significant changes, as some have claimed, we can look at what will actually happen. The government predicts that the public will be convinced of a process of normalization, without the government actually doing anything. And if it fails to convince, it wants to gain some time.

The upcoming party conventions and some cabinet reshuffle moves might determine some of this month’s agenda. Yet the so-called “homeland fire” as Bahçeli put it will take up most of the agenda. By the expression, Bahçeli refers to the entire country being in trouble, as opposed to “kitchen fire”, i.e. households having trouble making ends meet.   

With regards to the parliamentary aimed at lifting the parliamentary immunities of certain MPs, the opposition İYİ Party (Good Party) said it would “look into the content of the summary of proceedings.” And a mere social media post, which addressed the former chair of the HDP Selahattin Demirtaş – who has been in jail since 2016 – and began with “Dear Demirtaş,” was criminalized. Most of the investigations against HDP MPs have been kept on the shelves for years. Today, those files are used to carry out investigations.

These days, everyone is discussing the repression of the opposition and the lifting of the parliamentary immunities of certain MPs. Yet the moves against the HDP do not stop here. Recent polls indicate that is it now impossible for the AKP to get large shares of the Kurdish vote. This is one of the main reasons behind this new strategy. Amendments planned for the electoral law are tied to this. We now know very well how the mind of the ruling party works. They try to incapacitate whatever they cannot win or get ahold of and remove that portion out of the equation. They have tried this tactic in other fields.