23 Aralık 2008
While the French painter Ferdinand Victor Eugne Delacroix painted his famous piece "La Libert guidant le peuple" (Liberty leading the People) in 1830 to commemorate the July Revolution, he was said to be inspired by the revolution. However, a Fric beret the woman in painting is wearing symbolizes the 1789 revolution. Therefore, it is possible to think a connection between the two revolutions. Main figure in the painting is a healthy, strong and bare-foot half-naked woman. Posture of the woman symbolizes the determination to win a struggle, the fight for freedom and the revolt for liberty. Entire painting is set up around the woman.
According to the French minister, Delacroix didn’t arbitrarily select a woman as the symbol of freedom. Women are the first victims of a society in crisis and are the leading actresses of the society.
Why does the Education Ministry remove this painting symbolizing liberty from text books? Is it because the ministry thinks to teach children rebel against the authority for freedom is dangerous? Or is it because to expose a woman’s breast is dangerous? Had the woman in the painting been in veil, could it have been kept in textbooks? Or should she be a man instead?
These questions take us to cultural relativism. It can be described as the principle that individual rights and freedoms should be understood in terms of own culture. To agree with this view means to deny universality of individual rights and freedoms as well as legal and ethical standards. Something regarded as the violation of human rights in a country then may not be it in another country.
For instance, you may say, "Brute force is part of our tradition. So the brute force by the police is not a violation of human rights," or, "Family virtue is above everything in our customs. To kill women in order to protect family virtue is not against human rights," or, "Our traditional culture does not allow looking at a naked human body. For this reason, painters shouldn’t paint a naked human being, sculptures and paintings of naked men or women should be eliminated. This is not violation of freedom of expression,"
Seeing individual rights and freedoms, moral values completely relative to culture and tradition contradicts with fundamental principles of human rights. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. Therefore, human rights do not vary depending on which society one lives in. Every individual should have equal rights with others. Everyone is entitled to have a life in dignity. One cannot be more man or woman in a society and be less man or woman in another. So it is impossible not to agree with the French minister’s answer that freedom of expression must be protected against cultural relativism.
Universality of human rights is closely relevant to democracy. Tying up human rights with cultural and tradition values gives legitimacy to the regime, therefore to measures taken to squelch the opponents of the regime.
The problem with removing the Delacroix painting from textbooks is that cultural relativism’s being a threat to freedom of thought, laic education being replaced by religious conservative education and dismissing laic pro-Enlightenment thought from schools gradually as well as raising generations who cannot see Delacroix’s painting or generations who see Mona Lisa in veil. That is the problem.
Rıza Türmen is a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and a columnist for the daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared yesterday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review’s staff
2 Aralık 2008
We cannot, however, ignore Turkey’s international commitments due to agreements signed while we discuss the issue or decide over it. In this connection, it is beneficial to be reminded of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and the reports published by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, or CPT.
The Carlos example
There are several ECHR decisions on whether or not long-term solitary confinement and its consequences create any "ill treatment." In the Öcalan decision of May 12, 2005, the Court ruled that Turkish posts can take extraordinary security measures for Öcalan’s imprisonment.
Besides, it was also envisaged that as he is visited by his lawyers and family members once a week, Öcalan cannot be exposed to isolation and solitary confinement. In the end, the court overruled the complaint by stating that general conditions were not at the minimum to talk about inhumane treatment.
The ECHR interestingly included confinement period in its decision.
The Venezuelan terrorist Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos) vs. France case has similarities with the Öcalan case. Carlos is being kept in solitary confinement for eight years. And in this case too, in a decision of July 4, 2006, the ECHR decided that the solitary confinement of Carlos is not an inhumane or degrading treatment and the Article 3 of the Convention had not been violated.
The differences between the Öcalan and Carlos cases are:
a) The physical conditions of Öcalan’s cell are better.
b) Carlos has a television in his cell, Öcalan has a radio.
c) Carlos has relatively freer contacts with the outside world, compared to Öcalan. Carlos held a total of 640 meetings with his lawyers in four years, which makes about 130 meetings a month. Carlos even got married to his lawyer in the end according to Islamic rules. There is no restriction applied to Carlos’ family. Öcalan on the other hand is allowed to meet with his lawyers and members of his family once a week. But these meetings are delayed at times, especially due to bad weather conditions.
There have been two developments following the Court’s Öcalan decision in 2005. One of them is the report released by the CPT after a visit to the İmrali Prison in May 2007. In this report, the Committee states that Öcalan’s spiritual health is worsening due to chronic stress related to social and emotional isolation. The CPT recommends Turkish officials to create an environment for Öcalan to have contact with other convicts.
The second development is the case about Öcalan’s isolation pending in court. No verdict has been reached yet. No one knows what the ruling could be in this case which is expected to end in 2009. The question we should ask at this point is:
Will the isolation complaint which was rejected by the Court in 2005, six years after Öcalan was imprisoned, be regarded as ill-treatment as three more years have passed since then? The ECHR will, undoubtedly, take the CPT report into consideration when seeking an answer to this question.
The government’s placing of other convicts at İmralı and ending Öcalan’s social isolation will have a positive impact on the ECHR, but will not eliminate the case.
The case will continue with a limited period of isolation being the subject, with one difference though: If the ECHR rules for the violation of Article 3 of the Convention due to Öcalan’s isolation, when the ministers committee responsible for the implementation of the decision receives the verdict, the case will be closed for that the committee will decide in the direction that the isolation is already ended so the verdict is already fulfilled. Otherwise the Court will ask and pressure Turkey to end isolation by taking necessary measures. As possible changes at İmralı are being discussed, keeping all these in mind is useful.
Rıza Türmen is a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared yesterday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff