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Turkey & Human Rights: A relationship that counts

, by Dimitris Kraniotis

The situation of human rights is one of the most significant criteria a country must accomplish in order to join the EU. Candidate countries must show “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”, as it was established in the Copenhagen European Council in 1993. Especially for Turkey, it can be regarded as a crucial issue that holds back the country for its European future.

The situation of human rights is among other problems, such us the economic situation (unemployment and corruption), the role and the intervention of military in the country’s politics, the Kurdish issue, the problem of Cyprus and some reactions of European leaders. In the current article, the issue of human rights will be examined and especially the aspects of torture and ill–treatment and the freedom of expression and press, as well as the death penalty problem and the situation of women rights.

According to Yildiz and Muller, ‘torture is defined by the international community as one of the most severe violations of human rights, and the international prohibition against torture and ill–treatment is well known, evident and absolute’. Torture and ill–treatment problem exists in a wide range in the country. There were various efforts to prevent these phenomena, such as the legislative reforms and the constitutional amendments in 2001, however no sound result could have been attained. According to the Report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CTP), “a considerable number of Turkish citizens had been subject to various forms of torture and ill–treatment at the hands of police officers”. For example, during the first six months of 2004, 455 reports of torture were sent to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation Insan Haklari Dernegi. The President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker aptly described the situation by arguing that “it cannot be that a country where torture and ill–treatment is still practiced has a place at the European Union table”

The freedom of expression and press is another aspect of huge significance. According to the Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”. There are many articles in the Turkish Constitution, which show that there is no total freedom of opinion and press. Articles 26.2 and 26.3 place many restrictions on freedom of expression and thought. Courts are allowed to close publications from the Article 28.10 of the Constitution. There are also many articles of the Penal Code that put obstacles in the free expression, such us the Article 158, which prohibits insulting “the President of Republic” and the Article 159, which prohibits “insulting the moral personality of Turkiness, the Republic, the Parliament, the Government, State Ministers, the military or security forces, or the Judiciary”. Furthermore, the Article 4 of the Law Concerning the Founding and Broadcasts of Television and Radio (RTUK) gives the power to the High Board for Radio and Television Broadcasting “to fine or shut down TV channels for days or even weeks if their content is deemed by it to offend national or family standards”. A strong and current example is that of the novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was sentenced with three years for his statement that “1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds have been killed in this country”. EU knows the huge problem of the freedom of expression and press and it considers it as one of the most important aspects that have to change in the issue of human rights. Undeniably, there is a noticeable progress in the issue, for example with the democratization package of 2002 – 2003, which strengthened the freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of association. There is an effort of the Turkish Government to show progress in the issue of human rights and especially in the freedom of expression and press. In order to accomplish that, it needs not only changes and amendments, but a real will to implement these changes.

It needs to believe in that effort and to implement any radical changes in all the fields, such us economy, military, political issues and, moreover, in the field of human rights.

There are other problems that have to get resolved, such as the total abolition of death penalty and the improvement of the situation of women rights. Ataturk pointed the priority on the equality between men and women, when he gave women the right to vote in municipal elections in 1930 and in national elections, in 1934. We can find a positive background in that issue. In 2000, Turkey signed the UN Convention of the rights of Women and Convention of the Rights of Children. In 2004, famous footballers and actors participated in a comprehensive awareness programme about the crimes of ‘honour’ and domestic violence. Even though, there are still many problems and ‘honour crimes’ is one of them. Indeed, EU included it in the 2008 Report for Turkey. In its “2008 progress reports on Croatia, Turkey, and FYROM”, European Parliament expressed its concern about the augmentation of the number of ‘honour crimes’ in Turkey and it demanded more efforts for the prevention of the family violence. Finally, the existence of death penalty is also a sensitive issue in the country. There is no execution from 1984, but the death penalty is not yet abolished totally. Turkey’s judicial system is not harmonised with the European Convention on Human Rights and this is a significant concern for the EU. Turkey has not also yet signed the Sixty Protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights. Today, the Article 37 prohibits the death penalty, except of cases during war or threat of war. The amended on 2002 Article 37, as a result, still does not conform with Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Turkey is a country in search of its identity. As many argue, it is a bridge between the West and the East. It is the only Muslim country with that great level of “Westernization”. It has also a great strategic role, located next to the Middle East. As we can observe from the analysis of the situation of human rights in the country, Turkey is also in the middle of the bridge that leads to the final destination, the EU membership. It needs to believe in that effort and to implement any radical changes in all the fields, such us economy, military, political issues and, moreover, in the field of human rights. Of course, there is not a one-sided process. EU has to put the sensitive and important Turkish issue up to the list of its priorities, by having, first of all, a clear and common voice regarding the enlargement process and, furthermore, by prompting Turkey to make bigger efforts in the field. Only then, after an effective and interactive cooperation between the two parts, we will be able to get the first real results of that effort.

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- Turkey and the EU, source: google images

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