Congressmen Tell Yilmaz to Improve Human Rights in Turkey

WASHINGTON (PRNewswire)–The Commission on Security and Cooperation in EuropeTuesday released the text of a letter sent to Turkey’s Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz on February 24 concerning various human rights issues.

The letter was signed by Commissioner Reps. John Edward Porter (R- Ill.)–Ranking Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)–Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Louise MacIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) who recently participated on a Commission Congressional Delegation to Cyprus–Turkey and Greece to examine human rights and security issues.

The text of the letter follows:

We regret that your schedule did not allow us to meet with you prior to our delegation’s departure from Ankara–and we are very grateful for the assistance rendered by your office in securing a number of other key appointmen’s during our recent stay in Turkey. As members of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–the focus of our mission to the region was to assess the human rights situation and the prospects for improved implementation of Helsinki commitmen’s in each of the countries we visited: Greece–Cyprus–Turkey–and Austria. Our visit to Turkey was given additional meaning in light of your country’s offer to host the next OSCE summit meeting.

Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States and we are convinced that genuine movement on human rights would further strengthen the important relationship between our two countries. We condemn terrorism in all forms–including acts by radical groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–though we remain extremely concerned that the campaign against terrorism not be used as a pretext to deny individuals their fundamental human rights and freedoms.

At the outset–we wish to express our strong support for your stated commitment to human rights–democracy and the rule of law as well as your determination to address long-standing problems in these areas. Over the years–we believe a credibility gap has developed with respect to Turkey’s willingness to end human rights abuses. Frankly–previous governmen’s failed to meaningfully address many human rights concerns–contributing to a widening of this gap and to what we see as a growing sense of cynicism both within Turkey and abroad. We welcome your declared intention to break this cycle through steady substantive improvement in the field of human rights.

During our official meetings we sensed broad support for your program to decriminalize freedom of expression–to release imprisoned parliamentarians and journalists–to reopen human rights NGOs–and to end the state of emergency in the six remaining southeastern provinces. Concrete progress in each of these areas would demonstrate that Turkey is indeed headed in a new and positive direction.

With respect to freedom of expression–we urge you to press for the abolishment of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law–Article 312 of the Penal Code–and other statutes and regulations which violate this fundamental human right. We were particularly disturbed to learn that the teaching of the Kurdish language is still prohibited in Turkey. In light of your call for tolerance towards different cultures and creeds–we urge you to seek repeal of this prohibition.

With respect to minority religious faiths–we urge you to take the necessary steps to reopen the Christian Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki–in keeping with Turkey’s OSCE commitment to "allow the training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions." We are similarly concerned over the situation of other minority religions or beliefs–including Armenian and Syrian Orthodox believers–as well as Roman Catholics–Armenian–Chaldean–Greek and Syrian Catholics–and Protestants who face various forms of discrimination and harassment.

We renew our appeal for the release of all prisoners detained solely for non- violent expressions of their views–including four former parliamentarians from the now banned Kurdish-based Democracy Party (DEP) Leyla Zana–Hatip Dicle–Orhan Do an–and Selim Sadak. As members of the United States Helsinki Commission–we are particularly outraged that among the actions cited in Mrs. Zana’s indictment was her 1993 appearance at a Commission briefing in Washington–D.C. While we appreciated the opportunity to visit Mrs. Zana and her colleagues at Ankara’s Ulucanlar Prison–we look forward to their release without further delay or condition. Similarly–we call for the immediate and unconditional release of journalists currently in prison for having carried out their professional duties. Attached is the latest list of jailed journalists compiled by the Committee to protect journalists. We request a review of these cases.

In your remarks before the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna last November–you spoke about the increasingly important role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We share your view of the valuable role NGOs can play in the development of civil society. Therefore–it has been particularly disturbing to witness the aggressive campaign of governmental harassment of the two leading human rights NGOs in Turkey–the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the Human Rights Association.

We call for the reopening of those branch offices of the Human Rights Association that were earlier raided and closed in Diyarbakir–Mardin and Urfa.

Due to inclement weather our delegation was unable to land in Diyarbakir–where we were to have met with a variety of human rights activists and government officials. Resolution of outstanding issues affecting Turkey’s Kurdish citizens should be made an absolute priority. An important first step would be ending the state of emergency in the southeast. Additionally–we urge your government to adopt policies that ensure full respect for the cultural–social–economic and legitimate political aspirations of the Kurds–consistent with the principles contained in the Helsinki Final Act–including territorial integrity.

Finally–we urge you to act upon your promise that those authorities guilty of mistreatment and using excessive force will be vigorously prosecuted. Accordingly–we urge you to redouble efforts to bring those police officers accused of responsibility for the torture of children in Manisa to justice. We also call for determined action to end those practices that have led to the disappearances of hundreds of individuals in recent years after they were taken into custody by security forces or law enforcement officials.

Timely and demonstrable progress in these areas would go a long way in closing Turkey’s credibility gap on human rights.

While we are not opposed in principle to Turkey hosting the next OSCE summit meeting–we do believe that the privilege and prestige of hosting such a summit should be reserved for participating States that have demonstrated steadfast support for Helsinki principles and standards–particularly respect for human rights–in word and in deed. While considerable time has been squandered since Turkey first extended an invitation–it is not too late to demonstrably improve the human rights situation before a final decision is made on the venue for the next OSCE summit.

We are encouraged by your positive statemen’s and expressed desire to move Turkey in a new and positive direction and wish you every success in translating these aims into reality. We stand ready to work with you to advance the human rights of all of the people of Turkey in keeping with established OSCE principles and norms.

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