“In Ensuring Justice and Protecting Fundamental Rights, the Main Responsibility Falls on the Courts”

Delivering a speech during the opening ceremony of the 1st Conference of the Constitutional/Supreme Courts/Councils of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Member/Observer States, Mr. Zühtü Arslan, President of the Turkish Constitutional Court, expressed his wish that the conference be a pioneer and also noted “In this respect, a judicial forum to be established among our constitutional/supreme courts/councils will provide a significant opportunity for reflecting on common legal matters, deliberating issues with respect to the functioning of the courts, as well as for sharing ideas and experiences”.

The 1st Judicial Conference of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts/Councils of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Member/observer States, hosted by the Turkish Constitutional Court, has already started.

The opening ceremony of the conference held this year for the first time and intended to build a judicial forum for ensuring an efficient and constructive communication among supreme courts/councils of the member/ observer countries of the OIC was held at the Dolmabahçe Palace.

Among those who attended the ceremony were President of the Turkish Republic Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Mr. Binali Yıldırım, Minister of Justice Mr. Abdulhamit Gül, President of the Court of Cassation Mr. İsmail Rüştü Cirit, President of the Council of State Mrs. Zerrin Güngör, presidents of the constitutional/supreme courts of the OIC member states, representatives of the Conference of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa and Venice Commission as well as the observer countries namely Bosnia Herzegovina, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Russia and Thailand and guest countries namely Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, India, Macedonia and Serbia.

Theme of this year’s conference with the participation of representatives from 48 countries and institutions in total is “The Role of Higher Judiciary in Protecting the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights”.

President of the Turkish Constitutional Court Mr. Arslan extended his thanks to the participants for their attendance in the beginning of his speech. Stating that this “Grand Ceremonial Hall (Muayede Hall)”, where the opening ceremony was organized, witnessed many important events throughout the history and that the most important of them was probably the opening ceremony of the First Ottoman Parliament, which was one of the milestones in our history of constitutionalism and parliamentarism, President Mr. Arslan made a reference to the opening speech which was delivered by Sultan Abdulhamid II in that hall on 20 March 1877 andwhereby it was noted that the development and greatness of states and nations could be achieved only by justice.

“We should draw lessons from the past”

Mentioning of several events taking place in the history and stressing the need for drawing lessons from the past, Mr. Arslan emphasized that the murders committed, in the clutches of fanaticism, for the sake and at the expense of the sacred values still continued today. Mr.  Arslan, indicating that the exploited sacred values and the exploiters might change; however, the source of bigotry remained the same, noted that the continuous restatement of the distinction between us and the other and seeing “the other” as an object to be destroyed rather than human-being to live together stood to be the roots of evil actions performed for the sake of the sacred values.

President Mr. Arslan expressed that bigotry manifested itself, especially in the West, as xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia and that such a virus, spreading rapidly, was poisoning day by day the environment that was necessary for the coexistence of diversities. He also added “It is really worrying that in the West, the supreme courts, in particular, make decisions contributing to xenophobia and Islamophobia. The national and international court decisions approving the travel ban on Muslims, justifying the headscarf ban in universities and legitimizing the discrimination caused by dismissal of employees because of wearing headscarf have strengthened the Islamophobic policies”.

“Being a Home to Refugees, We are Setting a Model of Hospitality”

President Mr. Arslan, also mentioning of human tragedies taking place at the Islamic geography, stated that what else these unfavourable images reflected other than the guilt of humanity in “an age that has lost its heart”, noted “it is indeed worrisome that members of a religion whose name stands for “peace” and whose Prophet is titled as “emin” (“trustworthy”) fall into deep silence against the murders, massacres and injustices, save a few exceptions”. Mr. Arslan further stated “Unfortunately, it cannot be said that Islamic countries are doing well in the areas such as justice, rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. At this point, we must make self-criticism and acknowledge that we are not good enough in terms of the protection of values such as the rule of law and fundamental rights” and accordingly referred to the words of the first President of Bosnia Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, “Islam is the best –this is the truth– but we are not the best”. In this respect, he emphasized that it was upsetting that these remarks of Izetbegović remained valid today, although twenty years had passed.

President Mr. Arslan, pointing out that there were areas in which “we were the best”, stressed that in the West, refugees were seen today as dangerous “creators” that should not be allowed to enter through the wire fenced borders; however, on the contrary, Turkey was home to millions of refugees and thereby achieved a hospitality policy that would be a model to the world. 

“In the absence of freedom, there is no justice, and in the absence of the latter, there exist no moral, political or social values”

Stressing that such matters from both the East and the West and the situation we were now in called for a change also in the world order, and what was required was justice and freedom, President Mr. Arslan stated “In the absence of freedom, there is no justice, and in the absence of the latter, there exist no moral, political or social values”. He, indicating that the most significant manifestation and concrete appearance of justice was undoubtedly fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, the inalienable acquisitions necessary for each of us to live humanely and with human dignity, stated “In ensuring justice and protecting fundamental rights, the main responsibility falls on the courts. Most particularly, raison d'être of the constitutional/supreme courts dealing with constitutionality review is to secure fundamental rights and freedoms by upholding the rule of law”.

He made a reference to significance of the rule of law, separation of powers and independence and impartiality of the judiciary for the supreme courts in the Islamic countries to duly perform the role expected of them and also deliberated the contents of these concepts.

Noting that as also stressed in the judgments of the Turkish Constitutional Court, the separation of powers was one of the most important safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms, Mr. Arslan indicated “The bodies exercising state powers in the name of the nation are in need of a duet, not a duel, in order to unitedly protect the nation’s rights and interests. Likewise, the Turkish Constitution sets forth that the separation of powers does not imply an order of precedence among the relevant bodies of the State but a civilized cooperation and division of functions”.

President Mr. Arslan stated that they all experienced and observed how those who were devoid of free mind and conscience had caused great damage to this country by also exploiting the religion and that it constituted an exigency for the geography of Islam to learn from such experiences and to comprehend the vital significance of ensuring independent and impartial judiciary. He also added “The judiciary must be independent and impartial to secure rule of law and fundamental rights. Otherwise, it is not possible for the judiciary to review the lawfulness of the acts and actions of the legislative and executive bodies and to protect individual rights and freedoms”.

“We hope that this Conference will also pave the way for forming a permanent platform among the OIC Members”

Pointing out the importance of the constitutional courts/councils and supreme courts with equivalent jurisdiction of the OIC, having the highest number of member countries after the United Nations, for the first time at a conference, Mr. Arslan stated “We hope that this Conference, the first initiative in its field, will also pave the way for forming a permanent platform. In this respect, a judicial forum to be established among our constitutional/supreme courts/councils will provide a significant opportunity for reflecting on common legal matters, deliberating issues with respect to the functioning of the courts, as well as for sharing ideas and experiences. Indeed, finding permanent solutions to the problems we are facing in the realm of rule of law and fundamental rights is also a burden arising under heavy responsibility that is incumbent on us in our capacity as constitutional/supreme courts”.

Mr. Arslan, wishing a just wold based on the rule of law and human rights, presented his regards to President Mr. Erdoğan, currently conducting the term presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, all participants and to all persons who have contributed to the Conference.

Program of the Conference

During the conference, the sessions on “The Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Practice of Constitutional Justice”, “Upholding the Rule of Law and Human Rights through Supreme Adjudication” and “Global and Domestic Dynamics in Protecting the Rule of Law and Human Rights” will be held. The conference will end by a closing session on “General Assessment and Prospects of Future Cooperation” to be held on 15 December.

Click here for the full text of the speech delivered by the President

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