The Hon. Yasar Yakis (Former Foreign Minister of Turkey)

03.10.2010 - Interview conducted by Ana Lucas-Palomares & Joel MacMillan

Q1. In your opinion, how is good governance and human rights connected?

Good governance and human rights are almost inseparable because if there is good governance, then there are reasons for all violations of human rights and fundamental rights for freedom could be eliminated. But if human rights are observed, it’s not guaranteed that there will be good governance in that country. This morning we noticed that in a country like Australia, where we thought there was no corruption; but the gentleman who came from there noted that there was corruption in Australia. So it works one way, but it does not work the other way. If there is good governance, there are chances that you could eliminate all violations of human rights.

Q2. Why to you think this cultural wall exists between Turkey and Europe and how can this be overcome?

We don’t believe there is a cultural wall. We come from different cultures, and when this diversity comes together in the long run, they interact between themselves and one culture gives a lot of elements to the other culture and takes from the other culture, and a new culture develops. The European Union uses a motto saying “United in diversity”. The diversity is there, we are united and we would like to unite with the European Union in diversity, keeping our diversities for ourselves and benefit from the diversity of other countries, but we don’t consider there is a wall.

Q3. As chairman of the European Union Harmonisation Commission, what do you think are the most important actions you have taken in relation to human rights?

The observance of the human rights is a precondition to join the European Union. But in Turkey, we do not want to develop our human rights only for the sake of joining the European Union, we want it for the standard of our own population. If Turkey was not going to join the European Union, these improvements were still necessary. In 1876, Turkey entered into a new era, by declaring and introducing a constitutional monarchy. At that time when we made this reform, there was no question of the European Union, we were making it for our own people. In 1920, when Turkey became a secular country, there was no mention of the European Union, we did it for ourselves. All these improvements and reforms are mainly in order to raise the standard of living for Turkish people.

Q4. Turkey’s human rights record has been challenged as it relates to Turkey’s potential EU membership. However, in recent years Turkey has made great progress regarding human rights such as the abolition of the death penalty. What else can Turkey do to improve its Human Rights record in not only the eyes of the EU, but also the world?

You forgot to mention another dimension, in the eyes of the Turks, because it is mainly for us. Many of the legislative backgrounds have been laid, and there are still laws to be passed, but it is the implementation which is important. If you just pass the laws, and them put them on the shelf and never open them, then all of these legal officials behave as if all these new laws were not passed, it doesn’t help then if these laws have been passed. It is the implementation that will be the most difficult part, not passing the laws, that is the easiest part. It’s a culture not to mistreat individuals who have been brought to the police station, to behave like a civilized person, and to respect his human dignity is a culture. You cannot write a list of things or a policeman to behave a certain way, it’s a culture. So we have to develop this culture, and this will be the most difficult part to achieve and we are on our way to achieving this.

Q5. You have served as ambassador to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as formed the Turkey-France and Turkey-Egypt friendship groups. How important is cultural dialogue in improving the efforts of promoting global human rights?

Cultural dialogue is a prerequisite of mutual understanding because without understanding each other one will regard the other side as “others”. This idea of “otherness” is perhaps one the major sources for clashes. If this perception of “otherness” could be eliminated then people will understand belonging to another religion does not necessarily mean that you will clash with others. If you understand that this person’s religion has several things in common with yours, but there are differences, you will regard these differences as supporting different ideologies. It is dialogue which will eliminate the divergences and clashes in the future. Dialogue is the best tool to achieve this.

Thank you so much for your time.