Rights Group Says Turkey Slow to Enforce Reforms

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–The head of a US-based human rights group on Tuesday praised Turkish efforts to meet European Union political criteria but said Ankara had failed to implement urgent reforms needed to win entry talks with the bloc.

Muslim Turkey’s poor human rights record has made it the only EU candidate not negotiating its entry. Ankara passed a swathe of legislation earlier this year it hopes will win it a favorable progress report from Brussels next month.

Turkey is lobbying the EU to award it a date to begin talks sometime in 2005 when the EU meets at the end of 2004.

"The government has undertaken significant and courageous reforms. The key now is to complete that reform process and focus on implementation,” the executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch–Kenneth Roth–said in an interview.

"There is still a considerable way to go before we can say the problems are solved,” he said after talks in Ankara with Turkish officials–including Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

"It won’t be enough for there to be a flurry of reform activity in December 2004 because at that point the EU will have no capacity to measure the sincerity of the reforms,” Roth said.

"There (needs to be) a full year’s worth of compliance when Europe decides whether to set a date or not for talks.”

Parliament has approved EU-inspired laws that allow police detainees access to lawyers–permit broadcast and education in Kurdish and limit the influence of the military on politics.

LESSENING TORTURE

Roth said outlawing incommunicado detentions had helped rein in torture–a major blight on Turkey’s EU aspirations.

"There does seem to be a reduction in incidents of torture–but mistreatment in the form of beatings and the like continues to be a serious problem,” Roth said. He called for independent observers to be allowed to visit prisons and jails.

Roth said officials told him that rules to improve Kurdish education and broadcasting would be ready in the coming months–but little progress had been seen so far in actually allowing TV and radio stations to operate or schools to open.

The EU has urged Turkey to expand cultural rights for its 12 million Kurds after a conflict waged by separatists in which more than 30,000 people died dropped off sharply in the late 1990s.

Despite the repeal of laws placing draconian restrictions on speech–prosecutors continue to press litigation–Roth said.

"Many of these cases are being dismissed by judges but it is nonetheless a real impediment to free speech.”

Roth said the ruling Justice and Development Party–which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement–has had to proceed cautiously to mollify opposition from the fiercely secular establishment–including powerful generals. The army is Turkish secularism’s self-proclaimed guardian.

Generals ousted the first Islamist-led government in 1997 and have staged three outright coups since 1960.

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