Human rights in the Turkish Armed Forces
Thursday saw the closing ceremony for the 26-month-long project about the training of military judges and prosecutors on human rights issues held in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
No small feat -- or, in the words of Dr. Alaattin Büyükkaya, the deputy minister for EU Affairs, "It seemed whenever Turkey discussed human rights the military was left out of it." From what I learned whilst participating, dare I say not any more. With regard to welcoming the benefits of adapting to change, one set of institutions does not normally jump on the bandwagon of Europeanization at record speed (correct for probably all previous EU candidate countries): the armed forces and the national ministries of defense. Turkey is no exception. Think science and technology -- no one will doubt the benefits of closer cross-border cooperation and networking. Consider protecting the environment -- costly, but not normally a point for debate.

And then there are education and military affairs.

The first subject is complicated as the EU acquis does not have its own mandatory set of binding rules regarding primary, secondary and tertiary education. The second subject is similarly tricky: Most matters of national defense and military service are in the hands of the respective national ministries of defense, except for the intended overall harmonization of foreign, security and defense policy making issues but not internal management issues.

In this context, introducing Turkey's military judges, prosecutors and legal counselors, candidate military judges and civilian staff whose work is related to legal matters to the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as the work of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is an extremely encouraging step forward. "Forward" in particular if we interpret Turkey's EU accession process as part of a state project, as being state policy in the sense of being a much wider civilization project as stressed by Deputy Minister Büyükkaya: "If only seen from the economic perspective, Turkey would not need to join [the EU] at all."

As this involves understanding not just of the Copenhagen criteria and the EU acquis communautaire (the body of EU law) in general but at the same time appreciating the important role of the Council of Europe in all things human rights, it seems logical that the project was funded by the European Union with Turkey's Ministry of Defense as a beneficiary and administered via the Central Finance and Contracts Unit (MFİB) of Turkey with the Council of Europe (CoE) as the project's implementing organization, an indicator of that, although at times behind closed (convention hall) doors, Turkey's EU accession continues and at times even at lightning speed.

Facts: 14 seminars brought 370 members of the Turkish military system of justice together, exposing them to both the ECHR and the ECtHR. What's more, 50 military judges, prosecutors and legal counselors are now certified national trainers on the ECHR and other international instruments. Another important side effect: raising awareness about best practices of various European military justice systems with 114 delegates traveling to other European countries. Plus: improving the access to translated ECHR and ECtHR texts and documents. Furthermore, 24 members of the Military Court of Appeals and 24 members of the Military High Administrative Court (AYİM) participated in a training seminar.

All this shows the appetite of the Ministry of Defense and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to fully work with the human rights dimension of Turkey's Europeanization process. I am certain the Turkish public will be very satisfied, too, with the outcome of this venture as members of the military are basically citizens in uniform. As human rights protection and awareness creation is part and parcel of being one such democratic citizen, the Joint Project on Training of Military Judges and Prosecutors on Human Rights is a timely undertaking.

Now the transposing into the armed forces day-to-day running begins. Military personnel, the wider public and we as commentators shall keep a close eye on that all important long-term aspect of the project.

KLAUS JURGENS (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-12-15 12:00:01
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