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Human Rights, Religion and Democracy: The Refah Party Case

Author(s): Kevin Boyle

Journal: Essex Human Rights Review
ISSN 1756-1957

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2004;
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Keywords: The European Court of Human Rights | The Refah Party Case | Turkey | religion | democracy

This article analyses the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Refah Partisi v. Turkey from 2003. The Refah Partisi political party was in power in Turkey when it was dissolved in 1998 by the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey for its alleged involvement in activities contrary to the principles of secularism. The European Court upheld this decision and found it compatible with the freedom of association guarantees under the European Convention on Human Rights. This article argues that the Court’s judgment in the Refah case was wrong, and that it proposes an unsatisfactory model of relations between religion and state. It is further critical of the Court’s decision on account of its incidental assessment of Islam, and its inappropriate critique of this religion where it should have promoted inter-cultural understanding instead. In the light of the Refah case, this article addresses the complex relationships of secularism and democracy, religion and democracy, and asks whether rights, or democracy, should come first. The article concludes with reminding the Court of its duty to protect the rights of secularists and religious believers alike, and emphasizes the importance of the Court’s applying a cautious and sensitive approach as a stronghold for human rights in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Europe.
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