Thursday, March 13, 2008

US State Department Releases Human Rights Report

The United States Department of State released its annual set of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Tuesday. Largely citing work conducted by a variety of human rights organizations, the summary of the report's findings of human rights practices in Turkey is excerpted below:

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remained in several areas. During the year human rights organizations documented a rise in cases of torture, beating, and abuse by security forces. Security forces committed unlawful killings; the number of arrests and prosecutions in these cases was low compared with the number of incidents, and convictions remained rare. Prison conditions remained poor, with problems of overcrowding and insufficient staff training. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to attorneys as required by law. Some government and military officers at times undermined the judiciary's independence, and the overly close relationship of judges and prosecutors continued to hinder the right to a fair trial. Excessively long trials were a problem. The government limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws, including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government, the state, "Turkishness," or the institution and symbols of the republic. Limitations on freedom of expression expanded to the Internet, as Turkish courts on several occasions ordered telecommunications providers to block access to Web sites. Non-Muslim religious groups continued to face restrictions on practicing their religion openly, owning property, and training leaders. Violence against women, including honor killings and rape, continued to be a widespread problem. Child marriage was a problem. Police corruption contributed to trafficking in women and children to, from, and within the country for sexual exploitation.

The rise in cases of torture and abuses by security forces is disturbing and is documented to have occured in spite of recent efforts to curtail rights violations by re-structuring forces so as to provide create more accountability and transparency. The reports also includes significant criticism of the judiciary and notes the restrictions on freedom of expression that have attracted the attention of international press.

Earlier this January, a report of judgments made by the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey to be the largest violator of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms within the Court's jurisdiction.

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