Rights Group Says Torture Still Rife in Turkey

VIENNA (Reuters)–Torture is still rife in Turkey despite changes to the law in March designed to improve the country’s human rights record–an international group said.

The International Helsinki Federation said the new rules–which cut the maximum period a suspect can be detained without charge–had failed to reduce the widespread abuse and ill-treatment of prisoners.

"The amendmen’s are not sufficient to bring about any notable improvemen’s: torture continues on a daily basis," the Vienna-based group said in a report prepared for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw on November 13-28.

"Moreover–as long as law enforcement officers–who resort to torture–remain unpunished or receive minor sentences–no real improvement can be expected."

Turkey has been accused of excesses in a 13 year-long war against Kurdish separatist guerrillas in the southeast of the country–including the jailing and torturing of writers–journalists and rights campaigners who criticize its policy.

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz–on a visit to Vienna last week–admitted some of the criticisms were justified and pledged to push through a program of reforms.

"I admit that we must improve the human rights situation in Turkey–indeed improve it drastically. But it has to be taken into consideration that our first priority is to fight terrorism and to uphold the rule of law," he said on Thursday.

European Union foreign ministers are meeting on Monday to discuss whether to allow Turkey access to a waiting room for countries seeking membership of the 15-nation bloc.

Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said last week Turkey should be invited to round-table talks with other applicants early next year.

An invitation would send a positive political signal and could smooth the way for Cyprus–which has been recommended by the European Commission as a leading candidate–Klima added.

A decision on who should participate in the European Conference is expected to be taken at a summit in Luxembourg in December.

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