Translating the Right to Act into Turkish: an inter-cultural dialogue on human rights

Translating the Right to Act into Turkish: an inter-cultural dialogue on human rights

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We are delighted to add a Turkish translation of the ‘Right to Act Declaration’ to our blog. Didem Tekeli, the PERSON project co-ordinator for RUSİHAK, helped to prepare the declaration. In today’s guest post, she writes about the challenge of translating the language of human rights.

Language is one of the ways of social interaction through which we construct knowledge and meaning. From this, we can conclude that our world is constructed by language – both on an individual level and in the social world that we share. So what happens if we do not have the words to describe a fact, a phenomenon, a concept or a principle in our mother tongue?

yw3QsTUrxOqm_vDwdCGuZvV1QwLOKFQuz6dy1-N0S3FPN7WSMf6iFAn3uZuUTUYARjJKkQ=s190-1RUSİHAK found itself facing exactly this situation.

The term ‘legal capacity’ is absent in the Turkish language. ‘Legal capacity’ literally translates into Turkish as ‘hukuki (legal) ehliyet (capacity)’. Yet when we use this strict translation, neither Turkish speaking legal experts nor the general public understand what we mean by it. The Turkish legal system does not have the notion of ‘capacity’ as enshrined in Article 12 of CRPD. ‘Legal capacity’ in Article 12 refers both to being recognised as a person before the law with equal rights compared to others and as having the right to exercise that claim to equality; that is, the right to act. In the Turkish legal system, in contrast, the capacity to act is conditional; that is, in principle everyone has equal rights with others, but not everyone has the right to act. Only if we fulfil certain criteria, then our decisions and our related actions have legal consequences.

Members of RUSİHAK and some of their allies in the initiative

Members of RUSİHAK and some of their allies in the initiative

RUSİHAK realises that literally translating a foreign term into our mother tongue does not automatically produce the intended meaning. We may have the word but the actual concept is lacking. We must clearly discuss the concept of ‘legal capacity’ and understand what it refers to, what it really means. We should try to find ways to make a room in our language and in our legal system to allow the concept of legal capacity to become meaningful, practical knowledge. RUSİHAK is a proud member of PERSON network because it is this network which brought it a step closer to this goal. And RUSİHAK continues to campaign for “Right to Act”.

Yes, right to act. We would like to repeat it in Turkish, but it is not that easy.

When we read “Right to Act” in English, we understand that there is an actor who is going to act, an agent who is in capacity to act on behalf of himself or herself, who has the capacity to exercise its rights. The strict translation of ‘right to act’ is “fiil ehliyeti” in Turkish. But at the moment, ‘fiil ehliyeti’ is jargon which only a group of people will really understand when they encounter it. Not everyone who speaks Turkish will grasp its meaning in an instant. There will probably be a need to know some examples to figure out the knowledge that the term holds. This makes it difficult to disseminate the knowledge on Article 12 of CRPD to a Turkish speaking audience. There is a need to create a language where the meaning will be the same as enshrined in Article 12 of the CRPD.

Language is a way to construct knowledge and meaning, but there are other ways. To be a part of Right To Act Campaign and to be able to communicate with you on this blog, to hear your experiences, is one of those other ways. The people at RUSİHAK are excited to be here. We hope to come a step closer to construct a world which we wish to have, which we would like to share with everyone else.

The Turkish translation of the declaration can be found here.



This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of PERSON (Partnership to Ensure Reforms of Supports in Other Nations) and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.