Reform rebuke is rebuffed by Turkish envoy

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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p6
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

By David Cronin

TURKEY has rejected claims by a prominent human rights group that it is not yet committed to introducing the "kind of meaningful reform" which would make its EU membership bid "truly viable".

A new publication by Human Rights Watch (HRW) contends that "a profound conflict within the political and military establishment" over the country's planned accession to the EU is thwarting reform efforts. The group's comments were issued shortly before the declaration by EU leaders at last weekend's Laeken summit that the prospect of opening formal accession talks with Ankara has been brought forward.

Analysing the European Commission's recent progress report on Turkey's efforts to join the Union, HRW states that those in the government who wish to see genuine progress in purging the country of the legacy of military rule "cannot move for fear of a counterattack" from the armed forces.

The confiscation of magazine Idea Politika over an article criticising the Turkish army and temporary bans imposed on BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle over charges that they "threatened national security" in August show the control the military exercises over the media, it adds.

"In the two years since Turkey became an official candidate for EU membership, we have seen little but superficial and half-way measures," said campaigner Elizabeth Arden.

"Yes, there are new human rights commitments and new human rights institutions but torture remains rampant and free expression is severely limited. There has been no meaningful change - just tinsel and varnish."

But Ankara's ambassador to the Union, Nihat Akyol, argues that HRW "not only falls short in bringing an accurate assessment of the state of play but also contains prejudiced considerations".

Stating that he did not wish to discuss the details of the report, Akyol said that after endorsing the country's accession programme document, its political institutions have "initiated a challenging reform process and in a very short span of time have succeeded in materialising important legal changes", involving a whole package of constitutional amendments.

"My country's attention is focused on the adoption of secondary legislation which would further enhance the constitutional changes for a better enforcement," he added.

The campaigners' main recommendation is for the EU to push Turkey to include military chiefs in its dialogue over accession.

"The discussion should examine whether fundamental freedoms are restricted in Turkey due to legitimate security concerns or mere institutional conservatism or self-interest," their report states.

However, Akyol said involving the military in such talks is not allowed "by virtue of our constitution". "Nevertheless, Turkish military representatives are consulting their counterparts within the European security and defence policy structures," he added.

Turkey has rejected claims made by Human Rights Watch that it is not yet committed to introducing the 'kind of meaningful reform' which would make its EU membership bid 'truly viable'.

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