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The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey

Doc. 15272: collection of written amendments | Doc. 15272 | 21/04/2021 | Final version

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ADraft Resolution

1Since Turkey was put under the parliamentary monitoring procedure in April 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly has been closely following the developments in this country in a spirit of dialogue and co-operation with the authorities. Regrettably, a number of issues of concern have remained unaddressed by the Turkish authorities despite the recommendations based on the findings of the Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms. Notably, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) had identified structural deficiencies encompassed in the constitutional amendments that established the presidential system in 2017. The most serious issues of concern include the lack of independence of the judiciary, the lack of sufficient safeguards for the separation of powers and checks and balances, restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, the abusive interpretation of the anti-terror legislation, non-execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, restrictions applied to the protection of human and women’s rights and infringement of the fundamental rights of politicians and (former) members of parliament from the opposition, lawyers, journalists, academics and civil society activists.
2In the past years, the Assembly has been concerned about the constant deterioration of the rights of opposition politicians and of their ability to exercise their elected mandates, thus seriously undermining the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey. The Assembly resorted to organise three urgent procedure debates entitled “The worsening situation of opposition politicians in Turkey: what can be done to protect their fundamental rights in a Council of Europe member State?” (Resolution 2260 (2019) of January 2019), the “New crackdown on political opposition and civil dissent in Turkey: urgent need to safeguard Council of Europe standards” (See Resolution 2347 (2020) of October 2020) and the present debate on “The functioning of democratic institutions”. This debate was triggered by worrying developments over recent months, notably the lifting of parliamentary immunities, the attempt to close the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No.210, the Istanbul Convention) announced by the President.
3On 20 March 2021, the President of the Republic signed a presidential decision withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention. This convention was opened for signature during the Turkish Presidency of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul ten years ago. The Grand National Assembly was the first parliament in Europe to ratify it in 2012 by a unanimous vote, thus playing a pioneering and leading role in promoting this convention across Europe, which has become the gold standard in the fight against violence against women and domestic violence. In Turkey, the ratification of the convention was a push factor leading to the adoption of Law No. 6284 on Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women in 2012 by the Turkish parliament.
4The Assembly deeply regrets that this presidential decision was taken without any parliamentary debate and on account of misleading narratives which run counter to the very objective of the Istanbul Convention. It underlines that it is urgent to hold a discussion on the Istanbul Convention that is based on facts – not on politically motivated misconceptions and myths. The Assembly stresses that parliaments are the place where societal and human rights issues must be debated in Council of Europe member States. The Istanbul Convention has therefore ensured that parliaments are directly involved in the monitoring of the convention, as well as its implementation. In respect to Turkey, the Assembly notes that all major opposition parties, including the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Good Party (IYI), women’s organisations and individual citizens have expressed their attachment to being part of the Istanbul Convention by seizing the State Council to annul the presidential decision of 20 March 2021.
5Without prejudice to the decision of the State Council, the Assembly encourages the Turkish Grand National Assembly to engage in a meaningful debate in parliament, liaise with civil society organisations active in this field, remain committed to the fight against violence against women and domestic violence and ensure that all measures are taken to protect the victims, prosecute the perpetrators, prevent violence against women and promote gender equality, as required by the positive obligations of member States under the European Convention of Human Rights (ETS No. 5). In this respect it welcomes the creation, on 9 March 2021, of an ad hoc parliamentary committee on “Researching the causes of violence against women to determine the necessary policies”.
6The Assembly underlines that even though the Turkish national legislation may be sufficient to combat violence against women, withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention implies that Turkey can no longer benefit from its provisions relating to international co-operation in criminal matters and seek co-operation from other States parties to bring the perpetrators of crimes against women to justice. The withdrawal also sends a message to the international community about a deprioritisation of the fight against violence against women. The Assembly sincerely hopes that a way will be found for Turkey to reintegrate the convention.
7The Assembly recalls that violence against women is widespread in all societies and cannot be justified on any grounds. It concerns all segments of society, beyond political and societal lines. Recalling its Resolution 2289 (2019) on The Istanbul Convention on violence against women: achievements and challenges, the Assembly reaffirms for its part its commitment to promote the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Europe, and beyond, notably through its “Network of Women free from violence” and reiterates its full support to civil society organisations promoting and protecting women’s rights. For the Assembly, withdrawing from a human-rights based convention (unanimously) ratified by the parliament constitutes a step backwards for the country. At the European level, it weakens the multilateral co-operation promoted by the 47 Council of Europe member States and prevents the country benefiting from the added-value of an independent monitoring mechanism (the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence – GREVIO).
8The Assembly notes with concern that the unilateral decision of the President to withdraw from an international treaty without any consultation of the parliament or the society has triggered speculative debates about possible withdrawals from other international treaties, including the European Convention of Human Rights. This could affect the country’s legal stability and predictability. While the ratification and denunciation of treaties are a matter of national sovereignty, the Assembly notes that the unprecedented withdrawal from a major Council of Europe convention has raised many questions and concerns about its democratic processes. In light of these developments, a reflection should be launched about standards that should govern the ratification and withdrawal from international treaties in democratic societies, beyond the minimal legal and constitutional conditions. The Assembly therefore asks the Venice Commission to prepare a comparative study and possible guidelines about the modalities that should govern the ratification and withdrawal from Council of Europe conventions.
9Another adverse development relates to the weak framework for the protection of parliamentary immunity in Turkey, already highlighted in previous Assembly resolutions. The Assembly notes with concern that one third of the parliamentarians are currently targeted by legal proceedings and could see their immunity lifted. Opposition parliamentarians are overwhelmingly concerned by these procedures, and parliamentarians from the HDP Party are disproportionally targeted – they account for 75% of the proceedings, mostly under terrorism-related charges. Three members of the HDP lost their mandates in 2020 and 2021 following final convictions for terrorism, while nine HDP parliamentarians currently face aggravated life sentences for their alleged organisation of the "Kobane protests" in October 2014.
10On a positive note, the Assembly welcomes the return to the parliament of CHP parliamentarian Enis Berberoğlu following two rulings of the Constitutional Court which found that his rights to be elected and engage in political activities had been violated. The Assembly recalls that in a country governed by rule of law, lower courts must abide by rulings of the Constitutional Court. It deplores however the new proceedings which were launched in the meantime to again strip Mr Berberoğlu’s immunity.
11At the same time, the Assembly is appalled by the conviction of HDP parliamentarian Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu to 2,5 years in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” after re-tweeting a news article – who was not incriminated – in August 2016. This conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Cassation in February 2021 and the execution of the sentence was not suspended until the end of Mr Gergerlioğlu’s mandate – contrary to customary practice. As a result, Mr Gergerlioğlu lost his mandate after the sentence was read out in parliament on 17 March 2021 and he was detained on 27 March 2021.
12The Assembly regrets that the Constitutional Court did not have the possibility to review the pending individual application lodged by Mr Gergerlioğlu before the execution of the sentence became effective, thus resulting in a loss of parliamentary mandate with immediate effect. The Assembly asks the Turkish authorities to ensure harmonised judiciary practice pertaining to the execution of convictions of MPs with due respect to their parliamentary immunity and to ensure a speedy examination of individual applications by the Constitutional Court which, in the past, has been instrumental in redressing the violation of rights of parliamentarians and allowed their return to parliament.
13The Assembly is concerned that opposition parliamentarians seem to be subject to a possible stripping of immunity on a routine basis for their statements or publications. The Assembly notes with great concern that one third of the parliamentarians, including the leaders of the two main opposition parties in parliament, are subject to such procedures. This is highly problematic and creates prejudice to ensuring the sound functioning of a parliament. In addition, it has a chilling effect discouraging dynamic debate, which is essential for a properly functioning democracy. The Assembly therefore urges the Turkish authorities to put an end to the judicial harassment of parliamentarians and refrain from submitting numerous summaries of proceedings seeking the undue lifting of their immunity which gravely impedes the exercise of their political mandate.
14The Assembly cannot but reiterate its concerns about restrictions to freedom of expression, which impedes the exercise of political mandates. It regrets that no progress was made regarding the interpretation of the anti-terrorism legislation which is not in line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. As a result, a high number of convictions are pronounced based on a too wide interpretation of this legislation or of controversial provisions of the Criminal Code. The Assembly urges the Turkish authorities to address the “pervasive problems regarding [the] independence and impartiality” of the judiciary system noted by the Committee of Ministers in March 2021 – and prevent politically motivated rulings that contradict Council of Europe standards.
15The Assembly underscores the primordial role played in a democratic regime by political parties. It is therefore extremely concerned about the steps taken by the Supreme Court of Cassation, at the request of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to close the second largest opposition party in Turkish Parliament and to ban 687 HDP members for their alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The Assembly notes that the indictment of 17 March 2021 was returned by the Constitutional Court to the Supreme Court of Cassation for serious deficiencies on 31 March 2021.

21 April 2021

Tabled by Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ, Mr Halil ÖZŞAVLI, Ms Arzu ERDEM, Ms Serap YAŞAR, Mr Ahmet BÜYÜKGÜMÜŞ

Votes: 18 in favor 65 against 27 abstentions

In the draft resolution, paragraph 15, delete the words:

"at the request of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)".

Explanatory note

The case regarding the closure of the HDP was not initiated upon the request of MHP. It is a factual mistake as the Chief Prosecutor filed the application on his own.

21 April 2021

Tabled by Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ, Mr Halil ÖZŞAVLI, Ms Arzu ERDEM, Ms Serap YAŞAR, Mr Ahmet BÜYÜKGÜMÜŞ

Votes: 23 in favor 72 against 24 abstentions

In the draft resolution, paragraph 15, before the words "the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)", insert the following words:

"the terrorist organisation,"

Explanatory note

The PKK is a terrorist organization, which massacred more than 40.000 people in 40 years. It is recognized by the EU and the US as a terrorist organization. Therefore, it should be described as a terrorist organization in the resolution as well.

16The Assembly recalls that it had opposed the closure of the ruling party (namely the AK Party) in its Resolution 1622 (2008) “Functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey: recent developments” in which it had stressed that “the dissolution of political parties should be regarded as an exceptional measure to be applied only in cases where the party concerned uses violence or threatens civil peace and the democratic constitutional order of the country”.
17The Assembly also recalls that political parties enjoy the freedoms and rights enshrined in Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights. Closures of political parties are a drastic measure which should only occur as a last resort in strictly defined situations. The Assembly remains confident that the Constitutional Court will be guided by the strict regulations governing the closure of political parties in Turkey, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights – where exceptions set out in Article 11 need to be strictly construed, with a limited margin of appreciation of Contracting States – and by the 1999 Guidelines on prohibition and dissolution of political parties and analogous measures of the Venice Commission.
18Whatever the outcome of this pending procedure, the Assembly underscores that the launch of a lawsuit against the second largest opposition party combined with continuous harassment and arrests of its members, elected representatives and leaders is an alarming signal in itself reflecting the difficulties faced by the opposition. This seriously undermines the functioning of democratic institutions and political pluralism at national and local levels. In this respect, the Assembly regrets the lack of any progress in the re-instatement of the 48 dismissed mayors (out of 59) from the HDP elected in March 2019, in contradiction with the Council of Europe standards, or in revising the legislation so as to ensure its compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government (ETS No.122).
19The Assembly recalls that the proper functioning of democratic institutions in a representative democracy requires fair election procedures, a sound legal basis and safe environment for the functioning of political parties, guaranteed freedom of expression and media that allow for the expression of opposition viewpoints and for democratic transitions of power. The Assembly notes that reforms of the Law on the political parties and electoral legislation are envisaged. It encourages the Turkish authorities to seize this opportunity to address the long-lasting issues of concerns raised by the Assembly and the Venice Commission in previous years:
19.1concerning the electoral law, the Assembly welcomes the intention expressed by the authorities to lower the election threshold (presently 10%) which is the highest in Europe. This has been a long-lasting request from the Assembly. The Assembly asks the Turkish authorities, when revising the election legislation, to take into account the need to ensure fair electoral processes conducted in an environment conducive to freedom of expression and freedom of the media;
19.2at the same time, the Assembly recalls that a genuinely pluralistic democracy requires that parties across the political spectrum are able to operate and reflect the opinions of the voters in their diversity, including minorities;
19.3in order to increase good governance and a level playing field in politics, the Assembly encourages the Turkish authorities, in line with the recommendations contained in the two compliance reports published by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO, Third and Fourth Rounds of Evaluation) in March 2021, to improve the legal and regulatory framework and in particular to:
19.3.1take resolute action to strengthen transparency in the financing of political parties and election campaigns, where considerable progress is yet to be made;
19.3.2improve the prevention of corruption in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors, in particular by adopting a law on ethical conduct for members of parliament, enhancing the transparency of the legislative process;
19.3.3introduce structural changes which would ensure judicial independence, including the revision of the composition of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors which does not comply with European standards with regard to the independent self-governing body of the judiciary, and allows the executive to have a strong influence on a number of key matters regarding the running of the judiciary.
20The Assembly recalls the concerns already highlighted with respect to freedom of expression and the media, and to the situation of journalists. The Assembly remains concerned about the high number of journalists who remain in prison, are prosecuted for working as journalists or resolve to self-censorship. In this context, the Assembly draws attention to some meaningful developments:
20.1the Assembly welcomes the decision of the Constitutional Court of 8 April 2021 repealing a statutory decree article that set the basis for the closures of media outlets on the ground of “posing a threat to national security” and reversing a provision that paved the way for the seizure of the properties that were shut down;
20.2the Assembly welcomes two Chamber’s rulings (not final) of the European Court of Human Rights of 13 April 2021 related to the cases Ahmet Hüsrev Altan v. Turkey and Murat Aksoy v. Turkey, concerning two journalists arrested after the failed coup due to their publications, their alleged membership to the Gülen Movement and their alleged preparation of a coup. While Murat Aksoy has been released from pre-trial detention in 2017, renowned journalist and novelist, Ahmet Altan, has been in jail since 2016. The Court found, notably, a violation of their rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security of the two plaintiffs due to lack of evidence, lack of reasonable suspicion and lack of access to their files. The Assembly welcomes the swift decision taken by the Supreme Court of Cassation to release Ahmet Altan on the following day.

21 April 2021

Tabled by Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ, Mr Halil ÖZŞAVLI, Ms Arzu ERDEM, Ms Serap YAŞAR, Mr Ahmet BÜYÜKGÜMÜŞ

Votes: 22 in favor 73 against 24 abstentions

In the draft resolution, paragraph 20.2, replace the words: "the Gülen Movement" with the following words:

"the FETÖ terrorist organisation".

Explanatory note

FETÖ is a terrorist organization, which is the perpetrator of the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016 which targeted democratic institutions, the rule of law and the legitimate government in Turkey. Furthermore, it is responsible for the death of 248 people and 2193 wounded.

21The Assembly expect the Turkish authorities to undertake the necessary reforms to address the above-mentioned concerns. It takes good note of the launch of the Human Rights Action Plan on 2 March 2021 prepared in consultation with Council of Europe and other relevant international bodies. It aims notably at strengthening the right to a fair trial, protecting and strengthening freedom of expression, association and religion and promoting legal predictability and transparency. The Assembly encourages the authorities, to fine-tune the scope of this action plan so as to address pressing human rights and rule of law issues, including the strengthening of the independence of the judiciary, the revision of the too widely interpreted anti-terror law and the protection of human rights defenders, in co-operation with the Council of Europe. The Assembly also invites the authorities to ensure that the action plan will be accomplished by a detailed roadmap with specific actions to be taken to achieve its goals.
22In the meantime, the Assembly expects the Turkish authorities to take concrete and meaningful steps and thus abide by its Council of Europe obligations. The Assembly in particular urges the immediate release of former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala in application of the rulings of European Court of Human Rights of 2020 and subsequent decisions of the Committee of Ministers which is supervising their implementation. The Assembly recalls that the Court ruled that there was, in both cases, a violation of article 18 of the Convention and that the sentences were pursuing an ulterior purpose: Mr Demirtaş’s detention sought to stifle pluralism and limit freedom of political debate, while Mr Kavala’s detention aimed at silencing him and acted as a dissuasion to other human rights defenders.
23The Assembly also insists that civil society activists need to be able to operate in a safe and free environment. The Assembly remains concerned by on-going procedures targeting human rights activists, and calls upon the authorities to:
23.1drop the charges against the members of the “Büyükada trial”, Öztürk Türkdoğan, Chair of the Human Rights Association and, in general, ensure that human rights activists, including LGBT and women’s activists, can exercise their freedom of expression and assembly without undue judicial pressure;
23.2refrain from incriminating, prosecuting and arresting peaceful demonstrators, students and LGBT people, in particular those protesting the appointment of the rector of Boğaziçi University or the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention;
23.3repeal the provisions contained in the 2020 “Law on the Prevention of Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, providing for the possible temporary suspension of NGO leaders facing terror-related investigations and their replacement by government-appointed trustees, which further restrict NGOs activities and freedom of association in the name of counter-terrorism, as highlighted by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 23.3.

Explanatory note

This law is a UN and OECD requirement and is legislated upon the insistence and even threat by the International Financial Action Task Force. If it is repealed, Turkey will be sanctioned by these organizations.

21 April 2021

Tabled by Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, Mr Ola MÖLLER, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, Ms Sibel ARSLAN, Mr Gerardo GIOVAGNOLI

Votes: 87 in favor 5 against 23 abstentions

In the draft resolution, paragraph 23.3, after the word "repeal", insert the following words:

"or revise, in line with the relevant recommendations of the Venice Commission,"

Explanatory note

In January 2021, the Legal Affairs Committee requested an opinion from the Venice Commission on the compatibility with international human rights standards of Law no. 7262 on the Prevention of Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction adopted by the Grand National Assembly, and amending the Law on Associations and Law on Aid Collection. This amendment takes into account the Venice Commission opinion in preparation.

24The Assembly strongly reiterates its call on the Turkish authorities to put an end to laws and practices that contravene democratic standards, to revise its legislation and constitutional framework in order to ensure the separation of powers, to restore freedom of speech and media freedom, to restrict the interpretation of its anti-terror legislation, and to implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
25The Assembly strongly encourages the Turkish authorities to make use of the Council of Europe expertise in order to elaborate and implement the reforms needed to restore the independence of the judiciary, reinstate proper checks and balances which are an essential condition in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. The Assembly expects the Turkish authorities to live up to the democratic aspirations of its vibrant civil and political society, genuinely committed to democracy, to act and speak out freely and safely.
26The Assembly also resolves, in the framework of the monitoring procedure for Turkey, to follow the developments in the country concerning democracy, rule of law and human rights. It urges the Turkish authorities to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue and to assess progress made in a comprehensive monitoring report to be presented in the course of a future part-session of the Assembly.