Back Launching Conference of the project “Supporting the Implementation and Reporting on the Action Plan on Human Rights”

Istanbul , 

As delivered


Minister of Justice,

Minister of Foreign Affairs,

Ambassador of the European Union,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,



It is a pleasure to be here at your invitation, Minister Gül.

Your presence today, alongside yours, Minister Çavuşoğlu, and so many high-level representatives of Turkey’s justice-related institutions, is testament to the importance that we all place on our joint co-operation, now and in the months and years ahead.

The Action Plan on Human Rights will be drawn up together:

By Turkey’s national authorities, with the expertise of the Council of Europe, and the political and financial support of the European Union, whose presence here today is greatly appreciated.

The Action Plan will of course take into account the needs, experiences and input of many actors and stakeholders in Turkey, some of whom are in this room today.

And I want to be very clear that when it comes to the all-important implementation, the Turkish government will continue to have our practical and technical support.

Of course, when we talk about human rights-related reform, we cannot do so in isolation:

It is important to reflect for a moment on the context of what we are now doing together.

The failed coup attempt of three years ago was an illegitimate attack on the democratic institutions of this country.

For our part, the Council of Europe was swift to say so and my predecessor was the first high official to visit Ankara in the wake of the violence and during the state of emergency declared in its aftermath.

Throughout, we have been clear about the importance of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in this country, as we are for all member states.

This includes the fight against terrorism.

It is important also to give due recognition to what has been achieved in Turkey over recent years.

Council of Europe projects have provided the judiciary and authorities with technical expertise for a number of specific projects over the past decade.

And these have yielded positive results.

Among other things, we have supported legislative changes in the field of criminal justice;

We have backed increased awareness and dialogue among high courts on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the case law of the Constitutional Court;

And we have provided judicial training on the standards of the Strasbourg Court relating to criminal justice, freedom of expression, and cybercrime, and the fight against ill treatment of detainees.

Indeed, more than 6000 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers from across Turkey have benefited from this training on human rights.

Within the country, there have been some notable developments.

The Turkish Constitutional Court makes more frequent reference to the European Court of Human Rights’ standards, notwithstanding the need for an enhanced mechanism to ensure that lower Courts implement the Constitutional Court’s judgments. 

The Judicial Reform Strategy launched this year is a positive step and has led to the adoption of a first package of judicial reform amendments, under Law No 7188.

In particular, amendments have been made to the Anti-Terror Law to secure better protection for media freedom and freedom of speech, which are of fundamental importance -

Though it is now for the judiciary to interpret these in line with European Court of Human Rights’ case law, ensuring proportionality and preventing arbitrariness.

Additionally, the finalisation of the new Action Plan on Human Rights will be a supportive, results-oriented tool to address remaining shortcomings in the law and its practice, and to monitor progress.

Certainly, there are outstanding issues on which we should make progress.

After the events of July 2016, legislative changes were made affecting, for example, the length of time spent in police custody, access to a lawyer and to case files, and the rules around interventions in the communication between suspects and their legal counsellors.

And the post-2016 situation has resulted in concerns, including those explained by our Venice Commission and by the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, who is expected to publish a new report in the coming months.

Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights has identified gaps and shortcomings including in the areas of criminal justice and freedom of expression, the ambiguity of some legislation and the limited interpretation of standards, and the undue limitation of rights and freedoms.

With regard to the execution of these judgments, is also true that Turkey has a high number of groups of cases pending before our Committee of Ministers.

To resolve some of these, changes in judicial interpretation and further legislative amendments are needed.

For example, when it comes to issues around the prosecution and pre-trial detention of journalists, or internet freedom and the blocking of websites.

Moving forward, the new Action Plan on Human Rights will enable more progress.

And the Council of Europe will not only assist with its design and implementation but with the reporting process too, so that success is measured and clear.

In 2015, an Informal Working Group was established at the joint initiative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Turkey’s Minister of Justice.

That Group has played an important role in supporting the implementation of the Action Plan on the Prevention of Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, which expired earlier this year.

With expert insights, it provided concrete advice, consultations and recommendations and was central to the co-operation between Turkey and the Council of Europe.

So, we stand ready to continue this important dialogue when it comes to the new Action Plan too.

The Council of Europe has recently celebrated its
70th anniversary.

For the last 69 of those years, our Organisation has benefited from Turkey’s membership and the Turkish people have benefited from being part of this family too.

Our aim is that this new joint Action Plan will further embed individuals’ rights in Turkish law and practice.

Its major goals feature on our agenda today.

The Action Plan must first and foremost reinforce domestic tools to ensure human rights protection in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I therefore welcome the participation of the leadership and judges of the three superior courts of Turkey in this event.

Your personal commitment to the European Convention and your support for our joint action will be most important.

The Action Plan must furthermore ensure better compliance with principles which are frequently invoked both before your courts and the Strasbourg Court.

First, any deprivation of liberty must be strictly lawful and justified on well-reasoned, Convention-compliant grounds.

Second, any limitation of democratic rights, including the right to freedom of expression, must not only be lawful, but also strictly proportional to the legitimate aim pursued by the authorities.

I trust that our discussions today, which will be complemented by more technical work in Strasbourg next week, will help Turkey’s authorities to develop a results-oriented approach, with a demonstrable and measurable impact.

Achieving maximum effect will require political drive, intensive judicial interaction between Strasbourg and Ankara, inclusive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders including civil society and media organisations, and the determination of the Turkish authorities at the highest level to ensure that change is put into practice.

I greatly welcome your decision to take the next steps forward.

In this endeavour, you will have the Council of Europe’s support.

Thank you.