The power effects of human rights reforms in Turkey: enhanced surveillance and depoliticisation

Bahçecik Ş. O.

THIRD WORLD QUARTERLY, vol.36, no.6, pp.1222-1236, 2015 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 36 Issue: 6
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/01436597.2015.1047204
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.1222-1236
  • Keywords: Turkey, depoliticisation, police, technical assistance, human rights, torture, STATE
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


While the perspective of 'liberalism of fear' assumes that human rights limit the despotic power of the state, this paper argues that human rights reforms promoted in the context of institution- and capacity-building programmes have had significant power effects by enhancing the disciplinary capacities of the Turkish state and blunting the transformative potential of rights claiming. The reforms increased state surveillance by rechanneling criminal justice processes towards producing evidence (such as telecommunications data, DNA collection, etc) rather than testimonies. Instead of limiting state power, these reforms enhanced the disciplinary mechanisms of social control. They depoliticised the problem of torture by constructing it as an occupational accident (as opposed to a state crime) that happens because of lack of police officer know-how or resources for the investigation of crime. Finally, reforms revamped the way police investigated crimes, rather than launching campaigns against torture and dismissing past wrongdoers in the police. The paper concludes that the neoliberal emphasis on the technicalisation of political problems has limited the democratic potential of human rights reforms.