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Still a long way for Turkey to meet accession criteria

MEPs on Monday welcomed recent Turkish constitutional reforms, describing them as a step forward, while stressing that much remains to be done to ensure full respect for human rights. The biggest concerns discussed at a public hearing in Parliament were the lack of press freedom, the imprisonment of conscientious objectors and the situation of the Kurdish minority.

Members of the Human Rights Subcommittee held an exchange of views with NGO representatives and the Turkish permanent ambassador to the EU ahead of the publication on 9 November of the European Commission's progress report on Turkey's accession negotiations. The Commission representative at the hearing said "the situation has changed for the better in the last 12 years but there continue to be systematic failures to comply with human rights and the political criteria for accession".

Constitutional changes

The chair of the EP Delegation to Turkey, Helene Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR), welcomed the fact that the new constitutional reform in Turkey was so widely endorsed by society but stressed that amending the existing legal framework could not be the definitive solution. "I would very much support a totally new constitution process, different from the current text, which is anyway the outcome of a coup d'état", she said.

She was endorsed by the EP rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP, NL), who also stressed the continuous threat to press freedom. "Penal law is still used to prosecute journalists and more than 6000 websites have been closed down. This doesn't fit with the modern society Turkey wants to become", she said.

Torture by police forces

"Amnesty International is constantly receiving credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees from prisons, from police detention facilities or even at peaceful demonstrations", said Amnesty representative Andrew Gardner. Hélène Flautre added that the main problem was impunity: over 400 government staff had been accused of ill treatment but none of these cases had resulted in convictions.

Conscientious objection to military service

"The military forces continue to play an important role, which is incompatible with a modern state" said Ana Gomes (PES, PT), referring to the fact that objection to military service is banned in Turkey and conscientious objectors still face repeated criminal sanctions. "The European Convention of Fundamental Rights does not include such a right", responded Ambassador Selim Kuneralp, Turkey's permanent delegate to the EU.

In response to MEPs' concerns about Kurdish minority rights, Mr Kuneralp explained that, thanks to a new law on the use of broadcasting languages which had removed existing restrictions, five local TV and ten local radio stations had now received licences to broadcast in Kurdish.

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