US Raps Turkey Over Human Rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The United States on Friday sharply criticized Turkey’s human rights record for 1997–citing torture of prisoners–"mystery killings," abuse of minority Kurds and detention of dozens of journalists.

The State Department’s annual report to congress on human rights around the world noted commitmen’s and efforts by Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz to improve the situation since he took office in July–but said not enough had been done.

"There is a general recognition that the country’s human rights performance is inadequate," the report said.

The performance needed to be brought in line with international obligations and with "popular aspirations and deman’s and the government’s own policies," the report said.

Washington has frequently criticized Ankara over rights while hailing its importance as a crucially-placed NATO ally.

European states say Turkey’s poor rights record is a barrier to its efforts to join the European Union. Ankara says it is working to shore up rights but is determined to crush armed Kurdish guerrillas seeking autonomy in its southeast.

"The situation in the southeast remains a serious concern," the report said. "The government has long denied the Kurdish population…basic political–cultural and linguistic rights."

It cited a "credible estimate" by a former member of the Turkish parliament that around 560,000 villagers had been forcibly evacuated from their homes since the conflict began.

The report also noted that thePKK–had committed abuses itself–including the killing of noncombatants–"as part of its terrorism against the government and civilians–mostly Kurds."

The report accused the authorities of violating freedom of speech–quoting the Human Rights Foundation as saying 60 journalists were under arrest or had been convicted by year end and the authorities used an array of anti-terrorist and other laws to suppress freedom of expression.

The report said government officials "harass–intimidate–indict and imprison human rights monitors–journalists and lawyers for ideas that they expressed in public forums."

It mentioned the head of a branch of the HRF–a nongovernmental organization–in Adana who was convicted and fined for not giving authorities the names of torture victims treated at an HRF torture treatment center.

The report noted that Yilmaz had appointed a state minister for human rights in July–and he was coordinating the work of government departmen’s to improve respect for human rights.

Human rights abuses were not limited to the Kurdish areas of the southeast–the State Department report said.

"Extrajudicial killings–including deaths in detention–from the excessive use of force–`mystery killings,’ and disappearance continue," it said. "The implementation of reforms to address these problems was uneven."

The report said: "The rarity of convictions of police or other security officials for killings and torture fosters a climate of impunity that probably remains the single largest obstacle to reducing human rights abuses."

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