MINELRES: MRG press release: Turkey must improve minority rights reforms or face EU exclusion

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Sun Aug 29 17:53:20 2004

Original sender: Chris Chapman <CHRIS.CHAPMAN@mrgmail.org>

Minority Rights Group International 
- press release - 
Turkey must improve minority rights reforms or face EU exclusion 

Minority Rights Group International 

Press Release           11 August 2004      for immediate release 

Turkey must  improve minority rights reforms or face EU exclusion

Turkey's improved treatment of minorities is still considerably below
required standards for EU accession according to a submission to the EU
and the Turkish Government suggesting that reforms remain unimplemented,
due in part to institutional inability to fully accept principles of
minority rights. 'Beyond a facade of reform which looks progressive on
paper, general human and minority rights practice and implementation
still falls far short of standards expected of European Union Members'
stated Minority Rights Group International (MRG), which prepared the
submission. The rights group is calling for far reaching change by
Turkey and for close scrutiny by the EU before taking forward accession

The European Commission is currently preparing its report on Turkey
which will be finalised in September. Based on this, the EU Council
(heads of government) will decide in December whether to open talks with
Turkey on membership. While acknowledging progress on the part of the
state, MRG remains concerned about the depth and extent of reforms which
could easily slip once the barrier of EU membership is crossed. MRG
argues that much remains to be done, from the very basic acceptance and
recognition of minorities, to the actual implementation of both the
letter and the spirit of new laws that purport to allow rights including
the practice of language and religion. MRG's findings have been
submitted to the EU and the Government of Turkey in order to draw the
attention of both to the need for significant changes to be made in an
effective, verifiable and sustainable manner before Turkey should be
considered for EU accession status. 

MRG's Head of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin, continued: 'The
government must realize that real reform demands institutional change to
promote acceptance of a diverse society with minorities playing a full,
free and active role in Turkish society. What the government thinks is
good enough on minority rights, is far from being so. In order to meet
the 'Copenhagen criteria' for entry, Turkey must show that it can
protect minorities. The EU accession process has led to significant
improvements in some applicant states in Central Europe and the Baltics
on their protection of minorities.'

MRG highlights the issue of the right of return of thousands of Kurdish,
Syriac, Alevi and Yezidi residents to their villages in south-eastern
and east Turkey following evacuation or destruction of villages, as one
of the most urgent minority rights issues. Regarding language rights,
Kurds, Laz and Circassions have long requested and repeatedly been
denied either schools teaching in their language or their language being
an optional subject, even in regions where they are a majority.
Political participation is severely restricted by both unreasonably high
voting thresholds which restrict the possibility of minority
representation, and by prohibition of using minority languages in
political activities under the Political Parties Law. Individuals have
even been prosecuted for speaking Kurdish, or allowing it to be spoken
at election meetings. Restricted rights to minority language broadcast
media have replaced an outright ban, however they strictly regulate
content, time and duration of programming, in contravention of
international law and standards of good practice,  including recent OSCE

MRG has welcomed some apparently positive progress including moves to
restrict the harassment of politicians, as recently witnessed in the
release of pro-Kurdish Democracy Party Members following Supreme Court
intervention in June 2004. However, even this step has been undermined
by reported attempts by the police to further prosecute the politicians
for speaking in Kurdish at a political meeting. While for many years the
use of non-Turkish names was forbidden, the Registration Act now allows
children to be given names that do not 'offend the public'. However,
this has been interpreted to include only names consistent with the
Turkish Alphabet, resulting in Kurdish names that include the letters
'w', 'x', or 'q' not being permitted under law. This is despite the fact
that companies including BMW can operate without harassment. MRG is
currently supporting local partners in bringing a legal case on this

In a comprehensive list of recommendations covering a number of rights
issues, Minority Rights Group International calls upon the Government of
Turkey to uphold its obligations under constitutional and international
law including ICCPR Article 27. Turkey is also urged to sign and ratify
without reservation, the Council of Europe's Framework Convention on
National Minorities (FCNM). The EU Council is urged to consider its
decision on opening accession talks with Turkey in view of required
progress on minority rights established under the Copenhagen Criteria.  

Notes for editors:

1. 'Minorities in Turkey: submission to the European Union and the
Government of Turkey' was submitted to the European Union and the
Government of Turkey on August and is available to download from MRG's
website at:   

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Graham
Fox at MRG's Press Office on + 44 (0)20 7422 4205 or +44 7870 596863

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental
organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide, and to promote
cooperation and understanding between communities.