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Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights | Legal Profession | Law Schools | Correspondents' Reports
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty Parliament, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, which elects the President. In May it elected Ahmet Necdet Sezer President for a 7-year term. After 1999 parliamentary elections, Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP), the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) led by Devlet Bahceli, and former Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz's Motherland Party (ANAP) formed a Government with Ecevit as Prime Minister. The military exercises substantial, but indirect, influence over government policy and actions--and politics--in the belief, shared by much of the population according to opinion polls, that it is the constitutional protector of the State. The Government generally respects the Constitution's provisions for an independent judiciary; however, various officials acknowledge the need for legislative changes to strengthen its independence.

The 1982 constitution preserves a democratic, secular, parliamentary form of government with a strengthened presidency. It provides for an independent judiciary and safeguards internationally recognized human rights. These rights, including freedom of thought, expression, assembly, and travel, can be limited in times of emergency and cannot be used to violate the integrity of the state or to impose a system of government based on religion, ethnicity, or the domination of one social class. The constitution prohibits torture or ill treatment. Labor rights, including the right to strike, are recognized in the constitution but can be restricted. The president and the Council of Ministers led by the prime minister share executive powers. The president, who has broad powers of appointment and supervision, is chosen by Parliament for a term of 7 years and cannot be reelected. The prime minister administers the government. The prime minister and the Council of Ministers are responsible to Parliament.

The 550-member Parliament carries out legislative functions. Election is by proportional representation. To participate in the distribution of seats, a party must obtain at least 10% of the votes cast at the national level as well as a percentage of votes in the contested district according to a complex formula. This "double threshold" or "barrage" mechanism is intended to reduce the likelihood of coalition governments by reducing the number of smaller parties in Parliament.

The president is to enact laws passed by Parliament within 15 days. With the exception of budgetary laws, the president may return a law to the Parliament for reconsideration. If Parliament reenacts the law, it is binding. constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority for approval. They also may be submitted to popular referendum.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The 1982 Turkish constitution preserves the judicial system previously in effect and provides for a system of State Security Courts to deal with offenses against the integrity of the state. The high court system remains in place with its functional division, common in European states, including a Constitutional Court responsible for judicial review of legislation, a Court of Cassation (or Supreme Court of appeals), a Council of State serving as the high administrative and appeals court, a Court of Accounts, and a Military Court of Appeals. The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, appointed by the President, supervises the judiciary.

Source: U.S. Department of State 覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧
Human Rights

The Turkish Government generally respected its citizens' human rights in a number of areas in 2001; however, its record was poor in some areas, and several serious problems remained. Extrajudicial killings continued, including deaths due to excessive use of force and torture. There were two disappearances of political activists. Torture, beatings, and other abuses by security forces remained widespread, although the number of reported cases declined. There were reports that police and Jandarma often employed torture and abused detainees during incommunicado detention and interrogation. In the southeast, nation-wide problems such as torture were exacerbated by substantially abridged freedoms of expression and association. The lack of universal and immediate access to an attorney, long detention periods for those held for political crimes (particularly in the state of emergency region), and a culture of impunity are major factors in the commission of torture by police and other security forces. The rarity of convictions and the light sentences imposed on police and other security officials for killings and torture continued to foster a climate of impunity. Prison conditions remained poor, despite some improvements. As a result of the continuing hunger strikes to protest new small-cell prisons, 48 prisoners and sympathy strikers outside prison died during the year. In December 2000, Parliament passed the "Law on Probation of Sentences and Deferment of Judgements" (Conditional Suspension of Sentences Law) which granted the conditional release at that time to thousands of prison inmates and suspended the trials of hundreds of others. Police and Jandarma continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, although the number of such incidents declined. Prolonged pretrial detention and lengthy trials continued to be problems. Even when a decision was reached, the appeals process could reverse the decision and bring cases back to lower courts. Prosecutions brought by the Government in State Security Courts (SSC's) reflected a legal structure that protects state interests over individual rights. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights.

Limits on freedom of speech and of the press remained a serious problem. Authorities banned or confiscated numerous publications and raided newspaper offices, which encouraged continued self-censorship by some journalists. At times the Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. The police beat, abused, detained, and harassed some demonstrators. The Government continued to impose some restrictions on religious minorities and on some forms of religious expression. At times the Government restricted freedom of movement. The Government permitted thousands of forcibly displaced persons to return to their villages in the southeast and initiated some resettlement efforts; some villagers returned by themselves. The Government restricted the activities of some political parties and leaders. The Government continued to harass the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, HADEP, through various methods including police raids and detentions. The Government continued to harass, indict, and imprison human rights monitors, journalists, and lawyers for ideas that were expressed in public forums. Branches of several nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) were closed, temporarily or indefinitely, particularly in the southeast. The Government exerted disproportionate pressure on ethnic Kurdish NGO's in the southeast. Human Rights Association (HRA) offices in Malatya and Gaziantep were closed throughout the year, but Mazlum-DER's Malatya branch reopened in August after being closed for 2 years. Violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, remained a serious problem, and discrimination against women persisted. Abuse of children remained a serious problem. Restrictions on and discrimination against ethnic minorities persisted, particularly for the Kurdish minority. There were restrictions on workers' rights to associate, strike and bargain collectively. Child labor remained a serious problem. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls, remained a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Law Schools

New interest in the importance of law both at the global and at the local level has prompted the recent opening of new law schools in Turkey. Today, the number of universities offering law degrees is eighteen, and more are scheduled to open in the near future. Currently, universities offering legal education are Bilgi, Istanbul, Marmara, Galatasaray, Yeditepe, and Maltepe, all in Istanbul; Ankara, Gazi, and Cankaya in Ankara; Dokuz Eylul ("Ninth of September") in Izmir; Selcuk University in Konya; Kocaeli University in Izmit; Anatolian University in Eskisehir; Kirikkale University in Kirikkale; Mediterranean University in Alanya; Ataturk University in Erzincan; Dicle University in Diyarbakir and Uludag University in Bursa. All undergraduate lectures in Turkish law faculties are in Turkish, with the exception of Galatasaray University where some courses are in French, and Bilgi and Yeditepe University where some courses are in English.

Law in Turkey is a four-year undergraduate degree, and applicants are chosen according to points received in a highly competitive centralized university exam administered each year in late May or early June. While Galatasaray University reserves a certain portion of places for its own (French-speaking) lycee graduates, the hierarchy (based on location, quality of faculty and reputation) of the law schools is generally reflected in the broad spectrum of points required for entry to the various schools. Istanbul University, opened in 1880, is the oldest law faculty in Turkey.

Upon completion of the four-year program, students must serve a one-year apprenticeship before admission to a Bar. Six months of this apprenticeship are spent with a certified lawyer and the other six months are spent in the courts. Bars are regional, but membership in one enables a lawyer to practice throughout the country.

State universities, which represent about half the total number, are for the most part without charge. While the fees charged by the new private "foundation" universities place them beyond the reach of much of the population, scholarships are available on a competitive basis for these schools. Students who wish to pursue masters degrees in law must be law graduates, and only those students who have obtained a masters degree may proceed to doctoral studies. Specialized graduate programs are offered by some universities and instruction in these programs may be in English or French.

Virginia Brown Keyder
JURIST Turkey Correspondent

Correspondents' Reports

JURIST's Turkey Correspondent is Virginia Brown Keyder, Lecturer in Law, Bilgi University, Istanbul.

Virginia Brown Keyder
Lecturer in Law, Bilgi University, Istanbul