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June 23, 2009  

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American Hellenic Institute Statement on

The Amnesty International Annual Report for 2009 Continues to Highlight Human Rights Violations in Turkey

June 23, 2009

The Amnesty International in its Annual Report for 2009 reaffirmed that Turkey still holds a poor record on human rights. According to the report, human rights suffer due to the current state of political tension and instability which is further heightened by weak legal enforcement and existent military clashes.

The polarization of legal battles and the armed clashes between interior politically affiliated groups and the Turkish armed forces, cast serious threats to the citizens’ right to freedom of association. Within this context of political conflict, citizens face hostility, assaults and attacks on their property perpetrated by unknown actors or groups. The core of the problem, as asserted by the report, lies in the problematic definition of  ‘secularism’ as the political apparatus of Turkey does not lie on common grounds with regards to the ‘secular principles’ that define the Turkish state nowadays.

Freedom of expression is another aspect of life that is severely suppressed in Turkey. Amnesty International reports that there has been a significant number of human rights defenders, writers, journalists and other individuals who have been unjustly prosecuted under unfair laws and been subject to biased decisions. Despite the fact that the Turkish Constitution has been amended, the problem still persists as the revisions have been disproportionate and it is other laws and articles limiting freedom of expression that are instead put into practice.

Civil life is severely restricted through restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly too. The report finds that while some demonstrations were banned without justification, others were dispersed with excessive force resulting in deaths and serious injuries. Demonstrators were arrested and ill-treated often before peaceful methods were attempted. Torture and ill-treatment were increased, while dissenting views were met with prosecution and intimidation.  This reiterates that Turkey remains a state that makes excessive use of force limiting civil society and enforcing discriminatory practices against certain minorities and civil groups.

The questionable integrity of the legislative apparatus is further enforced by the persistent abuse of anti-terrorism legislation. Convictions under anti-terrorism laws have often been based on insubstantial or unreliable evidence, while barriers have remained high in prosecuting officials for human rights abuses. In such a state of affairs, the Greek and other Christian minorities have been severely suppressed and have not been able to find legitimate outlets for expressing their concerns and advancing their interests. According to the report, this state of oppression has spurred aggression within Turkey and makes it a state of precarious social conditions.

The report also highlights that Turkey has yet failed to show progress with regards to providing a civil alternative to the existent compulsory military service. Objectors and their supporters have not only been prosecuted under law, but have been in numerous cases repeatedly beaten in military custody. This state of affairs displays that Turkey retains a militant and aggressive face as a state.

Another significant matter is the lack of respect towards refugees and asylum- seekers who are increasingly forced to leave the country. The report asserts that on occasions members of such groups were said to have been beaten and threatened with rape unless they deported the country. There have even been claims that some died in the process.

A final issue presented by the report, is the inadequate implementation of laws aimed at preventing violence against women and girls. Limited progress has been made on this matter as relevant projects have been insufficiently funded by the Turkish state and a relevant framework action has not been executed.

Numerous reports have presented the precariousness of the domestic situation. Turkey has also been recorded to have ratified three major international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However significant restrictions, including state policies and actions, effectively deny non-Muslim communities the right to own and maintain property, train religious clergy, and offer religious education.

Turkey has systematically targeted the Greek Orthodox Christian community through a series of policies, resulting in killings, destruction of private and commercial properties, violation of religious sites and expropriation of income-generating properties of both private citizens and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Furthermore, Turkey allows only Turkish citizens to be candidates for the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch and for hierarchs in the Church’s Holy Synod. In this state of affairs, the survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Christian community in Turkey is at risk. This serves as a prime example of orchestrated state action on behalf of Turkey to suppress civil society.

Turkey has made serious commitments to improve its human rights record amid its negotiations for a potential candidacy to the European Union. However the situation seems to have exacerbated. According to the most recent findings of the European Commission’s (EC) Progress Report on Turkey issued in late 2008, the Turkish government has failed “to put forward a consistent and comprehensive programme of political reforms.” This further indicates that Turkey has failed to fulfill its commitments under a number of significant bilateral and multilateral arrangements within the context of civil, political and religious rights.

The report of Amnesty International illustrates the critical situation of the human rights violations and expresses the concerns of the international community for the domestic situation in Turkey. The report calls upon Turkey to:

  • allow for ‘unfiltered’ freedom of expression by amending the Constitution so as to put an end to the unjust prosecution of writers, journalists and human rights defenders;
  • allow for the freedom of peaceful assembly without making use of force;
  • take measures to limit the excessive involvement of the military in political affairs;
  • allow for a civil alternative to the existent compulsory military service;
  • endorse policies that establish better conditions for the refugees;
  • implement laws and fund relevant programs that prevent violence against women and girls.

The American Hellenic Institute has unremittingly stressed the need for Turkey to comply with international human rights accords, the rule of law and democratic principles. Within the framework of the latest negotiations between Turkey and the EU for a potential candidacy, we call upon the U.S. government and its officials to exert pressure on Turkey to conform to democratic norms with regards to the following:

  • the human rights abuses;
  • the excessive involvement of the military in political affairs;
  • the restrictions imposed on minority rights;
  • the limitations on political and cultural rights under the Turkish Constitution;
  • the removal of its illegal armed occupation forces and illegal settlers from Cyprus; and
  • to halt its threats and aggressive actions against Greece in the Aegean Sea.

As presented by the above report as well as numerous other accounts on the domestic situation in Turkey, there are legitimate concerns about its current ability to live up to the human rights standards expected among European nations.


The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

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