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3/14/04 - TURKEY HUMAN RIGHTS - 2004-03-10

Two new reports say that Turkey has made human rights gains in the past year. According to the U.S. State Department’s latest survey, Turkey’s parliament passed extensive reforms that address such issues as torture, religious freedom, freedom of expression, the role of the military in government, and freedom of association.

Some of the reforms have already been implemented. But serious problems remain, especially in regard to cases of torture by Turkish security forces. Lorne Craner is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He says Turkey has made a start at getting at these issues, but can do more. In particular, says Mr. Craner, “there are still ongoing issues in Turkey about torture.”

The Turkish government has committed itself to what it calls a “zero tolerance” policy toward torture. The U.S. looks forward to progress in this area.

Turkey’s reform efforts have also been documented by a special committee of the Council of Europe, an organization of forty-five European countries established to promote democracy and human rights. Turkey has “achieved more reforms in a little more than two years than in the previous ten,” says the committee. As a result, it says, Turkey no longer needs the human rights monitoring it has received from the council since 1996.

Committee members said there was a desire, not only from the authorities, but also from the Turkish people, to see their country change in the direction of democracy, human rights, and more recognition of individualism. They urged Turkey to continue “promoting cultural and linguistic diversity” and to grant greater legal protections to minorities, including the Kurds.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Turkey is a democratic nation of the kind the U.S. hopes to see emerge in Iraq:

“We thank Turkey for the important role it plays in the region as [a] model of a secular Muslim nation that follows the democratic path.”

Turkey’s reforms are expected to boost its candidacy for membership in the European Union. And this is in the interest of Turkey as well as Turkey’s neighbors in Europe and the Middle East.