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Former minister warns ECtHR could cancel top Turkish court’s standing as domestic remedy

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A former Turkish justice minister has warned that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) might cancel the standing as a domestic remedy of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which faces a barrage of individual applications, if the court does not issue rulings in line with those of the Strasbourg-based court.

Former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who parted ways with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and joined the opposition Deva Party in 2020, said in televised remarks on Wednesday that the Constitutional Court may face the removal of its domestic remedy standing by the ECtHR if its rulings on individual applications contradict those of the ECtHR.

“That would be a pity,” said Ergin.

Former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin

Turkey joined the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1950 and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1954 and therefore is bound to implement the judgments of the ECtHR at the domestic level.

Yet, Turkish courts sometimes fail to implement ECtHR decisions, as in the case of jailed businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned for five years despite a ruling from the ECtHR in 2019 that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The non-implementation of the ruling prompted the CoE’s Committee of Ministers to launch an infringement procedure against Turkey in February, which is still ongoing.

Ergin’s remarks came after Turkey’s chief justice Zühtü Arslan complained on Tuesday about the heavy workload the top court is facing due to the record number of individual applications pending at the court. He said there were 123,000 individual applications waiting to be examined by the court as he called on the government to take measures to prevent more rights violations.

Ergin said as long as the people’s need for justice is not fulfilled, it is impossible to prevent the number of applications at the top court from increasing.

Chief Justice Arslan said the government must eradicate the source of rights violations without waiting for a new complaint to be made at the Constitutional Court.

His remarks came during a panel discussion held in the Black Sea province of Trabzon on Tuesday about the effective implementation of the top court’s rulings and fundamental rights.

He said individuals must be compensated for any violations of their rights.

Arslan said this is the responsibility of a state to its citizens, adding: “The main purpose of individual applications is not to eliminate the claims of rights violations of all individuals in a country one by one. This is not possible, either.”

“The legislative, executive and judicial organs as well as administrative authorities and authorities responsible for resolving the violations must eradicate the root sources of violations of rights without waiting for a new complaint to be filed at the Constitutional Court,” Arslan said.

“When taking administrative actions, authorities have to take into account the violation decisions made by the Constitutional Court in the individual applications, the reasons for these decisions and the basics of the principles set forth in the decisions. If you do this, we can prevent the emergence of new applications and thus new violations,” he said.

The Constitutional Court has 15 members and over 100 rapporteurs.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court received 428,554 individual applications between 2012 and June 30 of this year, according to judicial statistics.

The court broke down the figures according to the number of applications made by year. In 2012, it received 1,342 individual applications, while it received a whopping 80,756 in 2016, a year marked by a military coup attempt. In 2017 the number of individual applications fell to 40,530, before it increased again to 66,121 in 2021. And between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year, the figure was 67,395.

The right to file an individual application with the Constitutional Court was introduced in 2012.

Many international observers believe Turkey has been experiencing a regression in human rights issues, particularly in freedom of expression, particularly after the coup attempt following which the government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

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