‘Sad day for rule of law’ as Turkey passes legal bill

Protesting lawyers take part in a demonstration against a government draft bill on changing the system of bar associations on July 10, 2020, in Ankara. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

‘Sad day for rule of law’ as Turkey passes legal bill

  • Protesting lawyers say move will politicize judiciary and restrict independence

ANKARA: Lawyers in Turkey stepped up their protests on Saturday after the Turkish parliament passed a controversial law that critics claim dilutes the power of bar associations.

International observers and legal experts have attacked the legislation, saying that it further restricts judicial independence.

Heads of Turkey’s bar associations who have protested in Tunali park in Ankara for several days — sleeping overnight on playground ramps and slides, with blankets provided by colleagues — vowed to continue their public opposition to the legislation.

The law has alarmed legal experts and members of the international community, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, who fear that it will politicize the judiciary, limit lawyers’ independence and reduce bar associations’ ability to monitor human rights.

Representatives of 80 bar associations have opposed the plan, and staged nationwide marches and protests in Ankara.

Under the new law, in provinces with over 5,000 lawyers, a group of at least 2,000 lawyers can establish alternative bar associations. This allows for multiple bar associations in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, where the current bar associations are among the few remaining institutions in Turkey voicing public criticism.

Under the current system, they represent 55 percent of lawyers in Turkey.

The amendment will significantly reduce the nationwide representation of the largest bar associations within the Union of Turkish Bars (TBB), an umbrella body whose board features two delegates from each bar association.

However, with new changes, the number of delegates to sent to the TBB will be cut in favor of rival bar associations that will likely be formed through political affiliations.

Large bar associations will lose influence in decision-making and the election of the umbrella body’s president.

Experts say the move will weaken standards in the legal profession and prevent the the ability of bar associations to uphold human rights commitments in the country.

The CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party, will appeal to the Constitutional Court of Turkey for an annulment once the law is published. But even if the court annuls the legislation, bar associations will not be closed since the verdict of the court does not apply retroactively.

Lawyer Mehmet Koksal said that a public backlash against the new law is highly likely.

“Alternative bar associations will be only formed in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir because of their high number of members. They are at the same time the ones who determine the general line of legal system in Turkey contrary to government expectations,” he told Arab News.

However, experts fear that the newly adopted legal changes will undermine the professional ethics and quality of lawyers, and polarize the profession.

“The lawyers will be put under governmental guidance and it will produce a chain effect, because the judges will refrain from giving favorable verdicts in cases where non-partisan bar associations are involved. It will seriously undermine the independence of the lawyers,” Koksal said.

The alternative bar associations will be able to give practicing certificates to attorneys, leading to a decentralized licensing system.

“It is unsurprising that the attorneys will give preference to those who have lower standards in awarding certificates. For the wrongdoings of the attorneys, the bar associations will refrain from opening investigations for fear that they may lose members and be closed,” Koksal added.

Human Rights Watch Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said the new law was passed without consultation with bar associations and was deliberately rushed through parliament.

“The aim is to be able to get rival government-friendly bar associations set up in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir before the October bar elections, and to determine the result of the Dec. 2020 election of the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations,” she told Arab News.

“The presidency’s divide and rule project to politicize the institutions that represent the legal profession is another sad day for the rule of law in Turkey,” she added.

 


Thousands homeless after Yemen floods

A picture taken on June 3, 2020 in Yemen's Hadramout province shows a flooded area following torrential rains brought by Cyclone Nisarga. (AFP)
Updated 33 min 39 sec ago

Thousands homeless after Yemen floods

  • Efforts to contain COVID-19 affected

AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of people have been left homeless following torrential rain and flash flooding in Yemen.

For the second consecutive week, heavy rains triggered flash floods that washed away houses, farms, roads and electricity and water lines in the provinces of Marib, Dhale, Abyan, Hadramout, Ibb and Hajjah. The severe weather prevented medical workers battling the coronavirus pandemic from reaching health facilities, testing centers and patients.

Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Sunday instructed the governors of heavily affected provinces to send relief aid to those who had lost property during the downpours. He also appealed to local and international aid organizations to help the country cope with the effects of the flooding.

The government’s Executive Unit for IDPs Camp Management said that more than 2,600 families in Marib, Hajjah, Abyan and Dhale have been left without shelter after rains and floods washed away their tents and straw houses.

In its reports, seen by Arab News, the unit recommended distributing cash to the affected families, relocating them to safer areas and building stronger houses. In the central city of Marib that hosts hundreds of thousands of people who fled fighting in their home provinces, flash floods filled up the Marib dam reservoirs.

The unit said 1,340 families were affected after floods inundated their tents. The intensity of floods stoked fears about a possible dam rupture that could destroy hundreds of houses and farms.

To allay fears and quash rumors about the crumbling of the dam, Marib Gov. Sultan Al-Arada and several government officials visited the dam and assured the public that it was safe and could withstand even harsher floods.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Yemen said flooding in the northern province of Hajjah and the western province of Hodeidah had washed away the homes and farms of thousands of families.

“Recent heavy rains and flooding across Hajjah and Hodeidah have impacted 9,000+ families,” it said. “Shelters, roads and land were destroyed. Loss of livestock and personal belongings. UNHCR quickly responded, helping thousands with emergency shelter and items like mattresses and blankets,” the UNHCR Yemen office tweeted on Sunday.

The National Meteorology Center has predicted more heavy rains and flash floods in many parts of Yemen throughout this week, warning people against crossing into water courses or driving in mountainous and hilly areas.

Health concerns

Local health officials said Monday that the downpours had hampered efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus across Yemen and created ripe conditions for the spread of mosquitoes.

Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee, told Arab News that many health facilities across government-controlled provinces could not send updates about coronavirus as floods prevented them from testing suspected cases or sending samples to testing centers.

Health workers in the southern province of Shabwa, which does not have a coronavirus testing center, could not send samples to neighboring Hadramout province due to floods and rains, he said.

The National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday reported four new cases and three deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections to 1,734, including 497 fatalities and 862 recoveries. Yemen reported its first case of coronavirus on April 10 in Hadramout.

Local health officials in the city of Marib said that ambulances could still not reach heavily affected areas in the province due to the floods, as local health centers reported a surge in the number of mosquito-borne diseases.

“What concerns us most is a potential outbreak of malaria and dengue fever in Marib, mainly among displaced people,” Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Shadadi, the director of Marib’s Ministry of Health office, told Arab News.