Kurds, observant Muslims losing faith in European court


The European Court of Human Rights has contributed much to the improvement of human rights in Turkey and the country’s reform process as it works to join the European Union, but has seen its reputation plummet among Kurds and observant Muslims, a report, titled “The supranational rights litigation, implementation and the domestic impact of Strasbourg Court jurisprudence: A case study of Turkey” suggests.

The report prepared over the course of three years, claims that the Kurds have benefited most from the European court’s decisions while pious Muslims have been disappointed, though both groups are losing their faith in the court but for different reasons.

The report prepared by Dilek Kurban of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and Ozan Erözden and Haldun Gülalp of Yıldız Technical University.

Since the Turkish government granted its citizens the right to petition the European court, the court has been kept busy by applications from Turkey. According to an annual report put out by the court, over the last 10 years it has received 24,945 applications from Turkey, of which 13,615 were declared inadmissible.

The case study report points out that the European court’s case law demonstrated not only the dismissive attitude of legislative and executive authorities toward human rights but also the absence of an impartial and neutral judiciary upholding the principles of the rule of law and human rights.

The report in addition underlines that the EU played an indispensable role in terms of the political impact of the European court’s decisions. In monitoring Turkey’s compliance with the Copenhagen criteria, the EU treated European court judgments as benchmarks in measuring progress:

“… the [Justice and Development Party] AKP was convinced that the EU membership was the only remedy against the army’s interference into politics in Turkey. This motive was the principal factor behind the pro-EU stand of the AKP which undertook radical legal reforms during its first term in the government, particularly between 2002 and 2004. Nonetheless, human rights reforms have been a means for EU accession rather than an end of themselves. The AKP’s stand on the issue has been quite pragmatic, willing to take the absolute minimal steps to fulfill the EU’s political criteria for accession and to avoid having to pay high amounts of compensation in Strasbourg. Even when its reformism was at highest phase, the AKP was a half-hearted reformer in the area of human rights. Stuck between the stringent accession criteria of the EU and a political establishment that fought to maintain the status quo and preserve its power, the AKP sought to achieve the impossible goal of appeasing both sides,” the report claimed.

According to the study, the first group to take advantage of the individual petition mechanism was the Kurds, though they started to file cases in Strasbourg five years after the right to petition was granted. Until then, the European court mechanism was unknown to Kurdish lawyers, but they were assisted and trained by the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP).

The report suggests that religious Muslims sought favorable rulings from the European court in order to challenge the Turkish model of secularism but lost several critical cases, including those regarding a ban on wearing headscarves at universities, the closure of the Welfare Party (RP), and the dismissal of military personnel deemed too religious. This situation led to a loss of faith in the pursuit of their objectives through the European court, which they began to see as a political body, rather than a legal one.

“Freedom of religion is a rare area where the European court has by and large upheld domestic law and ruled in favor of the government. With the exception of a case brought by an Alevi minority, the cases in this area were brought by individuals belonging to the Sunni Muslim majority precluded by the secularist state from fulfilling their religious duties or penalized for trying to do so. In these cases, the European court endorsed Turkey’s policies on state-church relationship and its understanding of the principle of laicism, where the state exerts a tight control over the interpretation and practice of Islam,” the report states and suggests that both observant Muslims and Kurds no longer see the court in a favorable light.

Kurdish lawyers have a strong conviction that the court started to issue inadmissibility decisions or rule in favor of the government as a nice gesture for its EU membership process, to give Turkey a chance and to facilitate political relations between Turkey and the EU.

The case study claims that Alevis and non-Muslims are the newest litigant groups in Strasbourg and that they have faith in the impartiality, independence and objectivity of the European court. The latter group feels increasingly confident in their enterprise, as they have won several landmark property rights cases against the Turkish government.

The EU process proved to be a turning point for minorities resorting to the European court. The strengthening of domestic human rights mechanisms and the public debate generated by the democratization and reform processes encouraged the hitherto much less vocal and visible groups to adopt the emerging rights discourse. The self-confidence and awareness they gained encouraged minorities to litigate in Strasbourg.

Today’s Zaman – by Ayse Karabat