February 24, 2016

Can we say Turkey protects its citizens’ lives and property?

Cengiz Aktar

One of the main responsibilities of every state is to ensure the protection of the lives and property of its citizens.

The current Constitution entrusts the state with this task. Its performance falls within the category of “strict liability” in our laws. In other words, the state is responsible for ensuring the protection of the life and property of its citizens without any exception, excuse or justification.

The relevant Article 5 reads: “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, social and economic 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 the rule of law; and to provide the conditions required for the development of the individual's material and spiritual existence.”

Moreover Turkey, as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since 1954, recognizes and guarantees 18 fundamental rights and freedoms, including the protection of life and property.

But to what extent does the state of the Turkish Republic fulfill its basic responsibility?

As for the protection of property, the country's largest property owner is the state. In terms of property ownership, no individual can challenge the state. This asymmetry does not relate only to size or magnitude. The state can confiscate or nationalize any individual's property anytime and at will.

With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the helm, the state persistently abuses the principle of the "primacy of the public interest" and the balance between protection and use has tilted to the “use” of public property.

Public property is used by the state or by private companies under the full protection of the state, as seen in the current mining crisis in Artvin.

Meanwhile, we must note that the Mining Law takes priority over all other laws in this country and has the ability to introduce loopholes in other laws though special permissions. Every piece of land is a potential mine exploration field in line with the “easy and cheap benefit” principle!

Therefore, the protection of public property is solely on paper and is completely arbitrary. The countrywide destruction of nature, wildlife and urban areas is the outcome of this very practice.

As for the protection of private property, various practices that property owners close to the Hizmet movement have been subjected to so far have amply demonstrated that the protection of private property is arbitrarily violated in this country.

On the other hand, the state's law enforcement authorities can side with a privately owned company and take measures against citizens although they are supposed to ensure the protection of the life and property of all. Protection is extended solely to those property owners who are close to the political power circles.

Looking at 'private security'

In this environment of a widespread lack of protection, let me draw attention to those booming private protection companies frequently referred to as "private security" and which have become part of public life.

With regards to the protection of life, we must note that like its predecessor the Ottoman Empire, the state possesses upon its citizens/subjects the right of life and death. In a sense, every citizen is the state's “property”: it can let him/her live or die.

Large massacres that took place during the Ottoman and Republican eras were justified through this very right of the state. The ruling AKP has inherited this right of “ownership” and happily uses and abuses it.

Those who died in bomb attacks, those who were killed by law enforcement authorities during social protests or in routine ID checks, the mutual loss of life in the ongoing war in Kurdistan, fatal work accidents, messy traffic accidents, those who were killed by unlicensed and uncontrolled firearms, those who were wounded and become disabled in all these cases and those who were born disabled in unchecked consanguineous marriages...

Given the state's responsibility to ensure the protection of life, it is obvious that a significant proportion of the population in Turkey lacks protection, and non-protection is even practiced directly by the state.

Indeed, many laws and regulations, passed for the declared purpose of counterterrorism, have made the state's responsibility for ensuring the protection of life and property exceptional in Turkey. Thus the state has introduced a system that seems to promote an infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the protection of life and property.

The rule is not the set of the ECHR's first 18 articles that define fundamental rights and freedoms, but the set of the restrictions and measures set forth in those articles: “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 the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Indeed for some time now bureaucrats who desperately defend the administration's deeds constantly resort to the exceptions in the exercise of rights and freedoms. Nonetheless, infringement of rights and freedoms are systematically rejected by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In 2015, Turkey was ranked first in terms of rights violations among 48 states who are parties to the ECHR.

Today Turkey is considered a country where fundamental rights and freedoms are suspended. Worse, the classic “freedoms versus security” equilibrium has not been disrupted for the benefit of security. Security is not even adequately provided to citizens anymore.

Yet, can those who protect their life and property by being close to the ruling party or by keeping away from conflicts be safe from the general condition in the country?

To what extent can those who protect their lives and property at the expense of risking the lives and property of others be safe?

Can those privileged groups be safe from those terrorist attacks that are moving closer to the country's west?

After all, everyone is in the same boat.

In Turkey, the protection of life and property is so arbitrary and makeshift that war -- a human activity that inflicts the greatest damage on life and property – is readily accepted.

Finally, let me draw attention to the two potential consequences of the ongoing collapse.

The state's failure to ensure the protection of life and property arising from the bias of the justice system and the police and the open hostility towards citizens push people to establish their own laws and ensure self-protection. The so-called “private security” units are just the beginning of this deadly trend.

Second, the basic component in the definition of asylum -- which we started learning more of from the Syrian refugee saga -- is when the citizen of a country is deprived of the protection of his/her life and property normally ensured by the state. This is a warning to our over-tolerant German friends who should prepare to receive refugees from Turkey while trying to stem the Syrians by cajoling Ankara.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 February 2016, Wednesday