Since late 1990s, RWI has implemented human rights education and research capacity development programmes in Turkey in close cooperation with universities, justice sector institutions and individual academicians. RWI’s Turkey programmes have been funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), which is a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government.
Earlier programmes in Turkey were carried out as capacity building work for and with Istanbul Bilgi University. Between 2011 and end of 2014, RWI had been implementing a Sida-funded Programme that aimed to support the development of human rights teaching and research capacity (including in the rights of women) at legal education institutions in Turkey and the sharing of this expertise with students and justice sector stakeholders, in order to achieve a more human rights responsive system in Turkey.
In addition, largely reflecting ‘the spirit of that time’, when there was the political will to achieve unprecedented structural as well as political and legal reforms, predominantly stimulated by the prospect of Turkey’s becoming EU member through fulfilling the EU’s accession criteria, there was a high level of interest and motivation from the Minister of Justice and other justice sector actors to build their capacity in policy development and human rights education to make a greater contribution to the wide-ranging legal and political developments of Turkey. Consequently, the Turkey programme at that time also included new partners and stakeholders, most notably, the Ministry of Justice, the Justice Academy of Turkey, the Turkish National Police Academy, and the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors.
RWI has throughout the years managed to established a strong reputation within Turkey’s academic circles as well. RWI has indeed in-house and closely affiliated research capacity, as well as an extensive track record in academic human rights education. Both this and its strong ties with academic institutions and individual academics, RWI has considerably contributed to strengthening Turkish academy through various programmes and activities, in particular human rights education, research including support to individuals through scholarships and grants at national and international level; linking researchers to the global scene and creating research environments; coaching researchers; and assisting them in publishing internationally and attending conferences. RWI has also developed professional training of non-academic actors bringing together different actors, from national human rights institutions, academia, bar associations, local governance, and civil society for human rights-related training.
The overall objective of the programme period between 2015-2020 has been ‘a more human rights responsive justice system in Turkey’ with the following components:
- Human rights education of high quality increasingly institutionalised at targeted institutions
- Increased availability and accessibility of high quality gender-integrated human rights research and related policy recommendations of key relevance to the Turkish context
- Increased collaborative initiatives between academic institutions, state actors, municipalities, private sector actors and civil society organisations aiming to improve human rights and access to justice from an inclusion and gender perspective.
REVISED PROGRAM BETWEEN 2017-18: However, the year 2015 witnessed a visible deterioration in Turkey-EU relations, which eroded incentives for state actors to comply with EU’s human rights and democracy standards which were once imperative during EU accession process. Failed coup in July 2016 had worsened this negative development. All partnerships and planned activities have been critically affected by the post-coup attempt context. In order to cope with and adapt to all these extremely difficult and complicated domestic and international conditions, RWI Turkey Programme had to undergo some important revisions in 2017.
Although the programme’s overall objective has remained the same, target areas have been considerably revised. A followed consequence of the revision has been the shift from working almost exclusively with central duty bearers prior to the revision, to local duty bearers (municipalities) as well as ‘right-holders’. Our ‘inclusive society’ theme, especially newly introduced ‘Human Rights City’ project allowed us to work with most fragments of the Turkish society, helping us to somewhat ease the extremely polarised political, ethnical and cultural groups of people within the society.
RWI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Union of Turkish World Municipalities and 7 pilot municipalities from nearly all political parties to work human rights in daily practices of the local governance (İstanbul Maltepe and Zeytinburnu municipalities, Ankara Altındağ and Çankaya municipalities, Mersin Metropolitan Municipality, Gaziantep Şahinbey Municipality). This does not only allow RWI to work human rights in practice in an inter and cross-sectional ways, but also provide a possibility to link academia-municipalities-NGOs-local business –Bar Associations as a part of our ‘direct engagement’ methodology and strategy.
During the same period, RWI also signed MoU with the following universities: Boğaziçi University, Sabancı University, Koç University, Özyeğin University, Nevşehir Hacı Bektaş Veli University, Atılım University.
In the post-revised programme period, RWI also cooperates with various national and international institutions and organisations, among others, the Turkish Constitutional Court, Bar Associations, European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe, Union of Municipalities of Turkey (TBB), and Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL).
Turkey Programme Advisors
Ilhami Alkan Olsson
Ilhami has a Masters degree in International Human Rights Law (2002) from Lund University, and a PhD (2007) from Kent University (UK). He was awarded post-doctoral grant from the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) about international climate change regime at SOAS, London University. He was lecturer at Istanbul University for nearly 8 years.
Before joining RWI as consultant in 2017, Ilhami also acted as lecturer and mentor for SIDA-financed Lund University programme on children’s education rights and Swedish Institute-financed Lund University programme on the impacts of digitalisation on human rights.