ANKARA (Hurriyet)—The secretary-general of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, says progress has been made in Turkey, listing the Constitutional Court’s decision not to close down its ruling AK party, the lifting of the ban on Kurdish broadcasting, and the Ergenekon investigation as good signs. She deems Ergenekon as challenging but says fair trial standards must be observed
Turkey must come out of the dangerous polarization between those who see the secular state under threat and those who see democracy undermined and must pursue the path of reforms, said the secretary-general of Amnesty International late Monday.
Irene Khan, addressing a conference in Ankara, said important progress had been made in Turkey over the last few years, with a lot of changes that need to be acknowledged, but warned that more needed to be done, especially in the judiciary.
She listed the Constitutional Court’s decision not to close the ruling party, the lifting of the ban on Kurdish broadcasting and the Ergenekon investigation as good signs. Khan described the Ergenekon probe as a “very interesting and challenging prosecution” but emphasized that fair trial standards must be observed.
“We also hope this prosecution will be seen as a precedent for opening up investigations into other areas of impunity, other serious human rights violations and abuse of state power that have gone unaddressed, so it is an opportunity,” she said.
In response to a question on the headscarf issue, Khan said Amnesty International’s position was clear.
“Our position is actually based on freedom of expression and freedom of religion,” she said. “What we basically say is this is an issue of freedom of expression.”
“A woman has the right to wear a headscarf or not wear a headscarf according to her choice,” Khan said. “And the responsibility of the state is not to regulate what she chooses to wear but to facilitate an environment in which she can make that choice free of any coercion or violence.”
She said Amnesty International’s position meant that “it is wrong to compel women to wear a headscarf or cover their body like in Saudi Arabia or Iran as much as it is to ask women not to wear a headscarf in institutions in Turkey or in schools in France.”
In her speech, Khan touched upon the prosecution of children in southeastern Anatolia for throwing stones at police and expressed worry about the way children are prosecuted through counter-terrorism laws for their participation in violent demonstrations.
“We see this as a dangerous measure. Young people are being labeled, stigmatized and sometimes receiving very long sentences that can only bring more disgruntlement, more discontent and more problems for the future,” she said. “A human rights approach to security is actually the best approach.”
She went on to say that conditions in the region must be taken into consideration, such as poverty and internal displacement, which she said were fueling the Kurdish issue.
“A solution to the Kurdish issue cannot be found without looking at underlying social and economic causes,” she said.
Khan also emphasized the need for tolerance and diversity and said an environment must be created for different views to flourish.
“That’s why provisions like Article 301, even with amendments, simply have no place in a modern democratic state,” she said. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code has landed a string of intellectuals in court for insulting the Turkish state.
On refugees, Khan criticized the “geographical limitation” under which Turkey accepts only European refugees.
“Turkey has an outdated system of refugee protection, a system that only recognizes refugees from the European region,” she said. “Most other countries have changed that. A new international instrument was introduced in 1967, but Turkey still has not accepted that.”
She said people would not stop coming just because of the restrictions that have been put into place and added if people were fleeing war or prosecution they would move and find themselves in a system that doesn’t protect them. Khan said the European Union also has to support Turkey and share responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers.