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Turkey must improve minority reforms to meet EU standards

10 August 2004

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. ‘General human and minority rights practice and implementation still falls well short of obligations and standards expected of European Union members’ stated MRG. The rights group is calling for far reaching change by Turkey on issues including the right of return of thousands of internally displaced people to their villages, and for close scrutiny and sustained pressure by the EU before taking forward accession talks.

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 guidelines.

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 issue.

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

Download the full text of ‘Minorities in Turkey: Submission to the European Union and the Government of Turkey‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].