Presidential Circular No. 2021/9 Regarding the Human Rights Action Plan (“Circular“) is published in the Official Gazette on 30 April 2021. The action plan aims to expand the field of human rights and freedoms and to improve the standards of accessibility, accountability, fairness, transparency and equality in public services. Developments in the field of human rights and freedoms may also play a role in the announcement of safe countries for cross-border data transfers.
What does the Circular say?
With the action plan, the Circular envisages an effective human rights protection system for resolving human rights-related issues in practice. The implementation period for the action plan has been determined as two years; and various ministries and public institutions and organizations are responsible for the action items in the plan.
In this respect, a Human Rights Monitoring and Assessment Board has been established for the implementation and monitoring of the action plan, and to ensure coordination between different public authorities. Accordingly, relevant public authorities must submit their four-month reports regarding the implementation of action items to the Ministry of Justice, and for the approval of the monitoring and assessment board.
The implementation calendar for the action plan is published on the official website of the Ministry of Justice. The calendar is available online here in English and Turkish.
Relationship between the announcement of safe countries and action plan
Pursuant to Article 9 of the Law No. 6698 on Personal Data Protection (“Data Protection Law“), personal data may be transferred abroad without obtaining explicit consent on the condition that the country to which the personal data will be transferred provides an adequate level of protection (i.e., safe countries) or, in case there is no adequate level of protection, the personal data is transferred abroad based on the undertakings or binding corporate rules approved by the Personal Data Protection Board (“Board“).
While the Board has not announced what the safe countries are yet, it published the relevant criteria for the determination of safe countries in its decision no. 2019/125 dated 2 May 2019. In the Board’s decision, “reciprocity” is listed as a criterion for safe countries. The Board states that, for the announcement of a certain country as a safe country, this country must also include Turkey as a safe/adequate country.
In assessing the relationship between Turkey and the EU, in order for EU countries to be listed as safe countries, the EU Commission must render an adequacy decision with respect to Turkey. According to Recital 104 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in assessing the adequacy of a third country, the EU Commission takes a number of factors into account, including whether the third country respects the rule of law, access to justice as well as international human rights norms and standards. To this end, EU’s process of announcing safe countries under data privacy laws does not only concern the existence or the adequacy of the data privacy legislation in the relevant country, but other criteria are also taken into consideration.
With respect to the human rights’ criteria, EU’s 2020 report on Turkey underlines the lack of independent judiciary, an institutional independence, restrictive measures regarding the freedom of speech, the absence of proper means of defence, and disproportionate use of the state’s powers regarding human rights practices in Turkey. In this regard, the human rights action plan and related reforms may potentially play a role in the announcement of safe countries.
The human rights action plan contains important issues as to the protection of human rights and ensuring transparency, fairness and accountability in public services. It is expected that the steps to be taken as part of the action plan may have an impact on the announcement of Turkey as a safe country by the EU.