Instead of human rights, life or death rights

The most important article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the right to life, liberty and security of person. If there is no right to life, liberty and safety of the citizens in a country, all other rights become null and void.

A crucial duty of any state is to ensure the safety of its citizens and their property. Turkey’s constitution defines this vital function in its fifth article, just after the four non-amendable principles, as a liability without fault. In other words, the offender is held criminally accountable (actus reus) for his or her actions even when criminal intent is absent.

Article Five of the Turkish Constitution states: “The fundamental aims and duties of the State are to safeguard the independence and integrity of the Turkish Nation, the indivisibility of the country, the Republic and democracy, to ensure the welfare, peace, and happiness of the individual and society; to strive for the removal of political, economic, and social obstacles which restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual in a manner incompatible with the principles of justice and of the social state governed by rule of law; and to provide the conditions required for the development of the individual’s material and spiritual existence.”

Similarly, the European Convention on Human Rights, states that the High Contracting Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the first section of the Convention, particularly the right to life and protection of citizens’ property.

But to what extent does the Turkish state fulfil this fundamental responsibility?

Let's start with the protection of property. The state is the biggest proprietor in Turkey. There is an asymmetry in property ownership in Turkey and not just because of the size of publicly-owned properties. The government can seize and confiscate private property at will at any time.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) continually violates the "general welfare" clause and exploits it to bias the "protect-use" balance towards [ab]use.

The regime uses this clause to benefit its supporters and government officials, as with the imposition of mine developments in Artvin and in a multitude of spots despite the local protests.

By the way, we should mention that in Turkey, the Mining Law, with special permission can override all other laws in the country. Each piece of land in Turkey, following the principle of the sacred rent of land, is defined as a potential mine exploration site.

Henceforth, the security of public property exists only on paper and happens to be completely arbitrary. The massacre of the natural and urban spaces throughout Turkey over the last decade and a half is a direct result of this practice.

How about the security of private property? The recent operations of the government to seize control of their one-time coalition partners and now opponents' properties revealed that the security of private property in Turkey is also quite arbitrary. As a matter of fact, a considerable number of cases in the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey are linked to the state’s seizure of Turkish citizens’ private property.

Let's now take a close look at the right to life in Turkey. Both the Republic and its predecessor the Ottoman Empire have always maintained a right to "life-or-death" of its citizens and servants. In essence, the state considers its citizens its property; it can keep them alive or have them killed.

Most of the great massacres in the Ottoman and Republican periods emerged because of this unwritten rule. The Erdoğan regime is continuing this tradition but extending its coverage like an avalanche. The Turkish state today is not only neglecting to protect the rights of many of its citizens but is directly violating them.

In Turkey today there are scores of citizens killed by mass bombings, by security forces during normal controls or protests, by the ongoing war in the Kurdish provinces. Many others are killed by domestic violence, unlicensed guns, workplace accidents, traffic and railway accidents, even heavy construction trucks. Many who are not killed are maimed.

The Rights Violations of the AKP government, a report by opposition party deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu published on the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR, examines these abuses in detail.

A few numbers from the report: 14,960 women were murdered between 2002-2018; 22,224 people died in workplace accidents; 21.325 people were tortured or mistreated; 591 journalists were arrested; and 357 people died under unexplained conditions while performing their mandatory military service.

These citizens and their families have no access to justice at all.

Anti-terror laws have devoured any and all other laws, including regulations regarding the state's responsibility to protect the life and property. In the context of the ECHR, human rights in Turkey are not defined by the first 18 articles of the Convention, but by the restrictions and measures mentioned in the text: "The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.'

This is precisely why so many always-on-the-defensive Turkish bureaucrats constantly talk about "the exceptions."

But what about those people who feel safe? Either because they are close to the power circles or believe that they have safeguards against such abuses. How safe are the ones who disregard the misfortune of others to protect their own property and their own lives?

Turks are all in the same boat when it comes to the safety of life and property. Today, no citizen, no company is free from the arbitrary practices of one-man rule. The state can angrily declare any action a “terror crime” and proceed to target any citizen, any company, any legal entity in this country at any time.

Let’s finally highlight three points.

When law and order become partisan institutions and turn into the source of fear rather than the foundations of security, the citizens often establish their own justice and security forces to close the gap. Security, just like politics, hates a vacuum. And when everyone hires his own guards, that is when the public becomes a mafia.

Second, the essential criterion of refugee status is the loss of the protection of one’s state. In this sense, tens of millions in Turkey fulfil the criteria, and indeed gradually more people are seeking asylum on these grounds.

Third, the Erdoğan regime managed to exceed even the early Republic of Turkey’s and the Ottoman Empire's ancient tradition of putting the rights of the state before its citizens. Today, the only Turkish citizen protected under Article 5 of the Turkish Constitution is the President.

For the time being…

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.