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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Turkey needs hate crime laws, civil society groups say

Turkey needs to legally define a category for offenses and crimes that were perpetrated solely due to hatred of an individual or minority group, according to a number of civil society organizations and jurists.

Turkey, not unlike most countries of the world, is not free of crime against minorities and disadvantaged groups. Among these, crimes motivated by bias against the target due to their background or identity are defined as hate crimes. However, the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) does not include such a category. The Social Change Association, in a bid to lobby for creating such a legal category, recently held a rally against hate crimes.

Hate crimes were first included in international criminal law in 2003. Forty-eight Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) members now have legislation that categorizes hate crimes, while eight OSCE members, including Turkey, currently have no such legal description of bias-motivated crimes in their penal codes. “A symbolic message would be given if this is put into law,” says OSCE representative Tankut Soykan, adding, “This will show that such crimes are not tolerated and that they cannot be covered up.”

The Social Change Association and the Initiative to Stop Nationalism have jointly started a campaign under which a number of activities and events will be held in addition to preparing a bill in this direction. A group of jurists are working on the proposed legislation, while the two organizations will also collect signatures for their cause. The campaign started with a two-day symposium organized at the Taksim Hill Hotel on Dec. 17-18.
Hate crime law will send a message

Soykan, the adviser on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims at OSCE, has stated that legal measures alone are not enough to combat hate crimes, stressing that social policy changes are also necessary. He said integrating this definition into legislation would serve more symbolically to highlight that such crimes would never be covered up.

“If you do this, you answer forcefully such crimes as the political mechanism, which would in turn contribute to social awareness on the issue. Such a law would also work to make security forces more active in this regard, and victims will be more aware of how to seek legal remedies,” he said, adding that in other countries special laws made hate crimes punishable more severely in comparison to the same offenses not motivated by bias against the target.

“But you still need more than laws. For example, if you look at Kosovo, it has the world's best anti-hate crime legislation, but you don't see any of that when you look at practice. Creating awareness amongst the public is very important. Increasing people's sensitivity on this issue would be much more effective than amending the law,” he said.

Asuman İnceoğlu, an assistant professor at Bilgi University, says such crimes should be punished with the harshest penalties possible within the confines of criminal law. She stressed that there was no way a judge could hand down a harsher punishment for a crime committed due to bias if this is not defined legally.

“If the perpetrators are not punished, this gives them the message that they can get away with it, which in turn brings about a cycle of crime. This is why harsher sanctions are needed in criminal law for crimes of this type,” she said.