Watchdog calls on Turkey for more ‘internal and external’ democracy

Watchdog calls on Turkey for more ‘internal and external’ democracy

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Watchdog calls on Turkey for more ‘internal and external’ democracy

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Turkey should reverse the negative movement of its human rights profile and raise its voice for more democracy in its foreign policy, senior officials of Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said.

“We have very serious concerns about human rights in Turkey and the direction it is going in this country. [It is] not a good direction,” Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations of the HRW, the board of which met in Istanbul for the first time, said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 4.

Bogert said the HRW wants to focus on Turkey because of increasing human rights violations in the country and to increase the profile of Turkey in their work. They want to engage in the Africa initiative Turkey launched in 2005, she added.

“We want to engage Ankara regarding Turkey’s foreign policy on issues like Syria and the Somalia humanitarian crisis. You know Turkey is opening embassies all over Africa. First of all we have information; we are researchers. We are in the field in parts of Africa where Turkey is just arriving. It will be interesting and useful for Turkey to be engaged with us,” she said, adding that their board members had met officials from the Turkish justice and foreign ministries and also the prime minister’s office.

The executive director of the HRW, Kenneth Roth, said the HRW would like to see Turkey be a voice for more democracy not only in the Middle East and North Africa but also in Central Asia countries, which are far from “even considering being democratic.”

“Considering Turkey’s role as a model for the region, we see on one hand Islam is not being used as an excuse for oppression. On the other hand we see Turkey is not tolerant enough of ethnic differences,” Kenneth said at an HRW event at Istanbul Modern.

Kurdish issue

Roth also said torture by the police was much less frequent than it used to be in Turkey but police violence at peaceful demonstrations remains a major problem. He said the rights of Kurds have been improving but there are many Kurds in detention under anti-terrorism laws that are used too broadly.
Bogert also said Turkey’s ongoing “peace process” regarding the solution to the three-decade-long Kurdish issue related to justice as well.

“Justice for some of the crimes of the past has to be part of the ultimate solution to the Kurdish question, you cannot simply forget what happened 20 years ago and pretend it did not happen. It did,” Bogert said.

The HRW’s 2013 world report harshly criticized Turkey for jailing Kurdish activists, students and journalists under anti-terrorism laws with insufficient evidence.

“There is a lot of international attention to journalists in prison in Turkey. That is a big problem, but there are thousands of people in prisons in Turkey under the anti-terrorism laws. We really have to question if there is actual evidence for their alleged crimes.”

According to Bogert the legal system in Turkey operates very slowly and people spend long periods in pre-trial detention without being charged.