National human rights organizations emerged in the second half of the 20th century as a phenomenon evolving in parallel with the process of safeguarding human rights at the international level. While human rights organizations emerged as a model of national institutions, international efforts significantly contributed to their development and proliferation. National organizations were considered by the UN and its various organs as independent organizations monitoring the protection and improvement of human rights after the 1940s. Triggered as a result of initiatives taken by the UN Human Rights Council in 1946 for establishing "national committees", continued with the adoption of Paris Principles, laying down international standards related to national organizations, in 1991 and the approval of these standards by the UN General Assembly in 1993.
International Coordinating Committee (ICC) was set up in 1993 under the aegis of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in order to verify that national human rights organization comply with international standards. There was a growing interest in these organizations in response to an appeal made in the Vienna Declaration, adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in the same year, for the establishment of national institutions in accordance with the Paris Principles. There were eight organizations in status (A) in terms of compliance with international standards in 1993 and the number of organizations with this status rose to 70 in January 2014. Efforts are under way in many countries to set up organizations conforming to international standards or to ensure that existing institutions comply with those standards.
The process of the institutionalization of human rights in Turkey began in the 1990s when national human rights organizations began proliferating in the world. In that context, human rights structures were organized as committees within the legislature or units subordinated to the executive. Some of the units within the legislature directly reported to the Prime Minister's Office while others were set up as departments of specific ministries. A Committee for the Examination of Human Rights was set up within the TGNA and human rights units were formed within various ministries, including the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other governmental departments and agencies. Some of the units under the Prime Minister's Office were established in order to advise the government on human rights issues whereas some others were tasked with investigating human rights violations.
Efforts to ensure institutionalization in the field of human rights in Turkey moved in parallel with global developments.
The first step in that regard was taken with the establishment of a Committee for the Examination of Human Rights within the TGNA in 1990. A State Minister was tasked with monitoring and coordinating human rights issues after 1991. A High Advisory Council on Human Rights and the Office of Senior Advisor on Human Rights, reporting to the State Minister, were set up in 1994 by virtue of a Directive issued by the Prime Minister's Office. After the dissolution of the Council in 1996, a Higher Council on Coordination of Human Rights was established under Directive No 1997/17 of 09.04.1997 issued by the Prime Minister's Office. This Council is chaired by the State Minister and consists of the Undersecretary in the Office of Prime Minister and the undersecretaries of ministers concerned.
In the following period, the National Committee on Decade for Human Rights Education was founded under a Regulation promulgated in the Official Gazette No. 23362 on 04.06.1998 and provincial and county human rights councils were set up in accordance with the Regulation promulgated in the Official Gazette No. 24218 on 02.11.2000.
One of the major steps toward the institutionalization of human rights within the government was taken with the foundation of the Human Rights Department under the Prime Minister's Office pursuant to the Legislative Decree on 05.10.2000. When the enabling act was rescinded by the Constitutional Court, "Human Rights Department" was formed as part of the central organization of the Prime Minister's Office by virtue of Law No. 4643 of 12.04.2001, which amended Law No. 3056 on the organization of the Prime Minister's Office, which contained the same provisions.
Supplementary articles to the same Law regulates the establishment of the "Higher Council of Human Rights" and the "Advisory Committee on Human Rights" and provided a legal foundation for "Delegations for the Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights" in order to enquire into alleged violations. The Human Rights Department was responsible for providing secretarial services for the Higher Council of Human Rights, Advisory Committee on Human Rights, and Delegations for the Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights in order to ensure that a permanent department within the Prime Minister's Office could deal with and coordinate human rights issues with support provided by related mechanisms.
The purpose of the Committee for the Examination of Human Rights within the TGNA, the first unit in the field of human rights, was described as "developing respect for human rights i the world and Turkey and to monitor related developments in order to ensure that policies are consistent with those developments and to examine applications regarding violations."
Human Rights Advisory Councils were set up in order to provide communication regarding human rights between related public agencies and NGOs and to function as an advisory body focusing on national and international human rights issues.
Roles and responsibilities of the Human Rights Department under the Prime Minister's Office:
Meanwhile, provincial and county human rights councils are tasked with examining allegations of violations at local level; examining and investigating administrative, legal, political, and social reasons leading to violations of rights and to make recommendations about how they can be tackled.
Nonetheless, these units which were set up in order to institutionalize human rights in Turkey in the 1990s and early in the 2000s were structures not functioning as a national human rights institution and lacked "independence" specified in the Paris Principles.
Recommendations in EU progress reports, proposing to establish an institutional structure conforming to the Paris Principles and experience gained at the central and local levels since the 1990s was instrumental in the establishment of the Human Rights Agency of Turkey.
In that context, the Human Rights Agency of Turkey was set up by virtue of Law No. 6332 of 21.06.2012 and previous units reporting to the Office of Prime Minister were abolished pursuant to article 22 of the same Law (Paragraph 7 of provisional Article 1 of the Law stipulates that provincial and county human rights councils would function as the Agency's bureaus pending the establishment of its bureaus).
The rationale for the Law states that a national human rights organization conforming to the Paris Principles is expected to be established by taking account of the lack of a system complying with the Paris Principles, despite the presence of an extensive institutionalization of human rights in Turkey, which was criticized by various agencies and institutions at the national level and also at international level, particularly in EU progress reports.
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