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Disturbing signs in Turkish commitment to human rights

 

April 4, 2005

Turkey's Promises

 

Since the European Union finally agreed to start talks with Turkey about eventual membership, there have been disturbing signs that the Turkish government is flagging in its commitments to freedom of expression and human rights.

After his election in 2002, Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan said the right things about democracy and human rights. He showed courage in enacting measures that were opposed by Turkey's powerful military and that led to Turkey getting its date - Oct. 3 - to begin talks on E.U. membership.

Turkey has made notable progress toward respecting the rights of its citizens since the awful 1980's and 90's. But that progress was marred by the vicious beatings by police officers breaking up an International Women's Day demonstration last month, a sign that violent repression lingers, and by Mr. Erdogan's pursuit of political satirists in the courts.

The government also shows signs of failing to keep its pledge to help more than 300,000 Kurds who were expelled from their villages by security forces more than a decade ago. Most are scratching out marginalized, impoverished lives in urban slums, and only a very small fraction have gone home. One of the main reasons, Human Rights Watch reported last month, is the menace they face from government-installed paramilitary guards, who have been attacking and in some cases killing returning refugees.

The government needs to call off these guards and do more to help returnees rebuild their shattered villages, homes, schools, roads, water supplies and sanitation systems. All this costs money, but help would be available if Turkey committed itself to meeting international standards. The European Union and the United States, which need a stable and democratic Turkey, can help by stepping up their scrutiny, as well as their support for Mr. Erdogan's government.