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June 10th, 2008
Turkey's Tigers
Report Card: Turkey and EU Membership?: Human Rights

Steven Cook
Council on Foreign Relations

Turkey has a long history of human rights violations. Ankara has, however, taken action to address this issue through the E.U. reform process. The most important changes have come through amendments to the Turkish penal code and the constitution that emphasize principles of human rights. The conditions of Turkish prisons and the conduct of members of Turkey’s police and security services are unlikely to change overnight, but the pull of European Union membership has already wrought significant improvements in Turkish laws relating to basic civil and human rights.


Dr. John Brademas
President Emeritus of New York University

As an article in a May 2006 THE ECONOMIST warned, the “Turkish government may be turning away from Europe” through efforts “to limit free speech even further in a new anti-terror bill.” The new Turkish Penal Code provides for the prosecution of those who “insult Turkishness” by, for example, making propaganda for withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus or by acknowledging the Armenian genocide. In August 2006, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that a prominent female Turkish novelist, Eli Shafak, will be prosecuted for allowing a character of Armenian background in her most recent novel to “utter the forbidden G-word” — genocide. Her trial is scheduled for September 21.

[Editor’s Note: The Copenhagen criteria for E.U. membership states that candidate countries must achieve “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.” Turkey’s record on human rights has received significant criticism as it attempts to join the European Union, particularly for issues regarding the treatment of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, accusations of the stifling of free speech, women’s rights under conservative Islam, and Turkey’s dispute with Armenia over the alleged Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915.

In the face of these criticisms, Turkey has recently undertaken a number of reforms. These reforms include the abolition of the death penalty, allowing broadcasts and education in the Kurdish language, greater freedom for non-Muslim minority religions, end of penalties for criticism of state institutions, easing of restrictions on public demonstrations, and easing of restrictions for foreign organizations working in Turkey. While Turkey asserts that it is serious about reforms, some maintain that Turkey’s enforcement of laws protecting human rights remains lax. ]

The views expressed in this report card are solely those of the participants.H

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