Opposition slams government for watering down Ombudsman bill

The parliamentary Justice Commission on Thursday accepted an ombudsman bill that »»

The parliamentary Justice Commission on Thursday accepted an ombudsman bill that excludes military actions from the jurisdiction of ombudsman inspections in spite of protests from opposition deputies who voiced objections to a clause in the bill that excludes the military from the ombudsman's oversight.

The first draft of a bill on the Ombudsman Law, which aims to bring current legislation in line with the 26-item constitutional amendment package approved in a referendum in 2010, did not originally have any exceptions and was aimed at paving the way for the inspection of all public institutions. However, the bill in its final form as passed in the commission on Thursday excludes the actions of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) from ombudsman oversight. An ombudsman is an independent public authority assigned to hear complaints or grievances concerning the delivery of public services and to investigate such matters and rectify or solve them.

The bill clearly states that an ombudsman cannot inspect those activities of the TSK that are of a “solely military nature.” Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Ali Özgündüz noted that “activities of a solely military nature” is a highly ambiguous phrase, asserting that the TSK as a public agency should be open to public inspection. Özgündüz, who is also a member of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, told Today's Zaman: “This ambiguity will be attached a meaning based on the interpretations of the administrators and institutions who are in office at a given time. This is completely unacceptable.

The bill should be changed to clarify what exactly “activities of a solely military nature” means, specifically listing what subjects regarding the military fall outside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction. We demanded this, but the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] using its quantitative majority passed the bill without changing that expression.”

If the bill is adopted in Parliament as is, the Ombudsman’s Office will only remain a fantasy or dream, Özgündüz said. “The government created something to say that we have an ombudsman, so it can be included in EU progress reports. This version is not the structure we see in similar offices in the West that will work effectively and efficiently, contribute to reforms and prevent human rights abuses.”

He said the phrase “a solely military nature” was highly problematic. “Judicial decisions also fall outside ombudsman oversight. This effectively places the TSK, police stations, correctional facilities and the places where you see most frequent human rights abuses outside the oversight of the ombudsman. In my opinion, in this way this bill is a stillborn child. There absolutely has to be specialized ombudsmen in different fields such as security, children, military, prisons, minorities, discrimination and universities -- which we suggested but the government did not accept.”

The bill passed in the commission also excludes the presidency, the legislature and the judiciary outside the scope of public inspection.

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Batman deputy Ayla Akat Ata said the TSK and correctional facilities are the institutions where human rights violations most frequently occur, asserting that these are the first places to inspect. She said the AK Party, which made it a central theme of its election campaigns to put an end to the powerful military custodianship over civilian governments, was not acting in accordance with its promises.

Ata told Today’s Zaman: “It appears that the opinions of those who came to visit from the TSK during the subcommittee sessions have been influential. They wanted to be left outside the scope of ombudsman jurisdiction completely, but apparently failed to include this in the bill. So they agreed on an ambiguous phrase to make it happen. We were able to change the phrase regarding the purpose of the bill, but we couldn’t even get the commission to discuss changing the article that excludes the TSK from ombudsman jurisdiction.”

She noted that the Ombudsman’s Office as an institution has its root in the Ottoman Empire. She noted that in its history of 200 years, this post has seen great improvement through practices varying from one country to another. Ata said this improvement should be considered when passing an ombudsman bill. “We highlighted that laws should use clear and unambiguous language. Society always suffers from the administrators’ own interpretations, which changes according to what party is in power. In past years, the TSK was always on top of the list of the most trusted state agencies. Now, recent documents and information show us how society had been misled in its opinion about the military. How will you possibly know which activities do not have a ‘military quality’ in an institution where you have the most frequent human rights abuses and losses of life?”

Ombudsman bill

The Ombudsman’s Office will be responsible for examining and investigating all manners of administrative acts, actions, attitudes and behaviors in terms of respect for human rights and freedoms, conformity with law and fairness and appropriateness within the framework of the character of the Republic of Turkey as enshrined in its constitution. It will perform its functions as part of the Parliament Speaker’s Office.

The Ombudsman’s Office will be called the Public Monitoring Institution (KDK) and will have an independent and autonomous budget. Both real and corporate persons can file claims. Foreigners’ right to file will be limited on the basis of reciprocity. The KDK will convene with the absolute majority of auditors under the chairmanship of the ombudsman and make a decision based on a majority vote of the attending members. In the event of a tie, the ombudsman’s vote will determine the winning proposal. The ombudsman will have a term of five years and will be elected by Parliament.

The KDK will have a chief inspector, five inspectors, a secretary-general, experts, assistant experts and other personnel. A chief inspector must be at least 50 years of age and an inspector at least 40 to be elected. Candidates cannot be members of any political party. No authority, organ, institution or person shall issue orders or instructions or circulars or advice to the ombudsman and inspectors in the execution of their duties; they will execute their duties relying on the principle of impartiality.

Chief inspectors and inspectors will be elected for a renewable four-year term. According to the bill, documents requested by the ombudsman have to be submitted to it within 30 days. Information considered a state secret or a commercial secret will be examined by the chief inspector or an inspector to be assigned by the chief inspector.