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Access to Justice in Turkey 2005 - 2006

Background – the Turkish context

In Turkey, human rights have long been a divisive issue. The Turkish constitution defends the rights of the state rather than the individual, and has as a priority the maintenance of public order.

Human rights campaigners complain of a common police practice of arresting suspects before gathering evidence, about heavy handed policing of civic demonstrations, and the criminalisation of non-violent dissent. In addition, the 1982 constitution which still, in the main, governs the country (and which replaced one considered to be a model of democratic values) was drafted by the military during a period of political chaos.

Turkey’s proposed accession to the EU has created challenges for the judiciary, lawyers, prosecutors and law enforcement bodies.

In recent years, Turkey has made some profound and progressive constitutional amendments. These include abolishing the death penalty, and accepting cultural rights for minorities. There is a ‘zero tolerance’ of torture and the control of the National Security Council, the ultimate arbiter of the fate of the Republic, has been taken away from the military and handed to civilian authorities. Turkey has also recently introduced an extensive training programme in elementary European human rights law, by the Training Division of the Justice Ministry.