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European Union seeks radical overhaul of judiciary


The closure cases filed against the ruling Justice and Development Party and the Democratic Society Party are before the Constitutional Court’s 11 members.




22 May, 2008

In the wake of closure cases filed against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the European Union is preparing to ask Turkey to make radical changes to its judiciary at the upcoming Association Council next week.

The Association Council is the most prominent institution to have been established between the EU and Turkey since 1963, when the Ankara Agreement was signed, opening the way for Turkey's possible membership in the bloc. A copy of the draft seen by Today's Zaman focuses on the reform of the judicial system, using quite strong terms after public prosecutors moved to open court cases to ban the governing AK Party and the DTP. The EU is also calling on Ankara to resolve the issue of closure cases by complying with the European Court of Human Rights verdicts and the principles of the Venice Commission.

In the 17-page document, titled "46th Meeting of the EC-Turkey Association Council: Position of the European Union," the EU takes a critical position on the judiciary, Cyprus, the Kurdish question, freedom of expression, military-civilian relations, religious freedom (for religious minorities), Iraq and the reform process. Although pointing out the limited progress achieved in political reforms in 2007, the draft notes the government's declared intention to carry on reforms. The draft says the EU "follows" the closure cases and hopes for the verdict to be in line with European Court of Human Rights principles and the guidelines established by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Brussels draws attention to the closure cases in two different sections -- freedom of association and assembly, and political criteria.

In the sections concerning religious freedom and minorities, the EU used blunter language. On the controversial usage of the title "ecumenical," Brussels clearly sides with the Patriarchate, stating, "The Ecumenical Patriarchate is free to use the ecclesiastical title 'ecumenical'."

On minority rights, Brussels asks that Ankara adopt the “best practice” among member states despite the fact that there is no common stance on the issue in the union. “The EU urges Turkey to adopt appropriate measures to ensure cultural diversity and promote respect for and protection of minorities in line with best practices in member states,” notes the document.

Despite the French position on deleting the term “accession,” it does appear in the document.

Here are the basic points of the draft:

Closure cases: The EU follows developments related to the closure cases against political parties. The EU trusts that the outcome of these cases will be compatible with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the guidelines established by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The EU invites all Turkish political actors to resolve divisions of opinion in a spirit of dialogue and compromise, while respecting the rule of law, the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, the constitution and democratic secularism. The EU underlines in this context the importance for Turkey not to distract attention from the necessary reforms and from their implementation, in view of ensuring respect of the Copenhagen political criteria and the fulfillment of the priorities set out in the Accession Partnership.

Judicial reform: The EU reminds Turkey that an impartial, independent, reliable, transparent and efficient judicial system is of the utmost importance and an essential condition for strengthening the rule of law and the proper implementation of the acquis. The EU notes that steps have been taken to prepare a comprehensive strategy for judicial reform. In this respect, there is a need in particular to strengthen the judiciary’s impartiality, independence and efficiency, thereby enhancing public confidence in the justice system. There is a need to continue and enhance training for judges and prosecutors in the application of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Civil-military relations: The outcome of the spring 2007 constitutional crisis reaffirmed the primacy of the democratic process. However, the armed forces continued to exercise significant political influence, and in several instances the military has continued to take public positions on issues going beyond its sphere, including on foreign policy issues. Full civilian supervision of the military and parliamentary oversight of defense expenditures still need to be established.

Reform process: The EU regrets the limited progress achieved in political reform in 2007 but notes the Turkish government’s declared intention and renewed commitment to continue the reform process and address the existing shortcomings. It looks forward to seeing these commitments soon translated into real and tangible actions and welcomes the steps already taken. The EU notes the government’s intention to revise the Constitution. This will constitute a key opportunity to fully enshrine European standards in Turkish constitutional law.

Torture: The EU welcomes the fact that the Turkish legal framework includes a comprehensive set of safeguards against torture and ill-treatment and that the downward trend in the number of reported cases has continued. However, it regrets that cases are still reported especially before detention starts. Turkey needs to vigorously pursue its efforts to ensure full implementation of existing legislation and to investigate more thoroughly allegations of human rights violations by members of the security forces. The EU recalls that the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is crucial to provide for the establishment of independent national mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

Freedom of expression: Prosecutions of citizens for the expression of non-violent opinions continue to occur. In this context, the EU welcomes that the Turkish Parliament amended Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which has been used to open hundreds of such cases. The EU will follow up closely on the implementation. Furthermore, the EU recalls that other provisions have been used to restrict freedom of expression and urges Turkey to bring the relevant legislation and its implementation fully into line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Freedom of religion: The EU welcomes the adoption of the Law on Foundations, which has a particular relevance, inter alia, as regards the right of non-Muslim foundations to acquire and manage property, and addresses a number of the relevant issues in this area. The EU will continue to follow closely the implementation of the law. Notwithstanding the potential benefits of the Law on Foundations, there is still a need to establish and enforce a legal framework in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights so that all religious communities, including non-Muslim religious communities and the Alevis, can function in law and in practice without undue constraints.

In particular, as regards non-Muslim religious communities, Turkey needs to ensure that they can acquire legal personality, exercise their property rights and train their clergy. In this context, the EU emphasizes that the re-opening of the Greek Orthodox Heybeliada (Halki) Seminary would lead to Turkey meeting the latter obligation as regards the Greek Orthodox community. Turkey needs to ensure equal treatment of Turkish and foreign nationals as regards their ability to exercise the right to freedom of religion through participation in the life of organized religious communities; also, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is free to use the ecclesiastical title “ecumenical.” The EU calls on the Turkish authorities to make more strenuous efforts to prevent discrimination, intolerance and religiously motivated acts of violence. It calls on Turkey to carry out a complete investigation into the murders of the three Protestants in Malatya and take the necessary measures to establish an atmosphere of tolerance conducive to the full respect of freedom of religion in practice.

Cyprus: The EU recalls its conclusions of Dec. 11, 2006, and notes with regret that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligation of full non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and has not made progress towards normalization of relations with the Republic of Cyprus. The council will continue to follow up and review progress made on the issues covered by the declaration of the European community and its member states of Sept. 21, 2005 in accordance with its conclusions of Dec. 11, 2006. Swift progress on these issues is expected.

The EU expects Turkey to actively support the ongoing process agreed on March 21, 2008, leading to a comprehensive and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework and in line with the principles on which the EU is founded, as laid down in Article 6(1) of the EU Treaty and consistent with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. This support should include concrete steps to contribute to a favorable climate for such a comprehensive settlement. The EU also underlines the importance of progress in the normalization of bilateral relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus. In this regard, the EU calls on Turkey to stop blocking the accession of member states to international organizations and mechanisms. Furthermore, the EU recalls the sovereign rights of EU member states to enter into bilateral agreements in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The crisis of 2007: The EU welcomes the resolution of the 2007 political and constitutional crisis. The conduct of the July 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections in full respect of democratic standards and the rule of law, the high voter turnout and the broader representation in the new Parliament demonstrate the wish of the Turkish people for democracy, stability and progress.

Iraq: The EU calls on Turkey to exercise restraint, to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq and refrain from taking any military action that could undermine regional peace and stability. The EU welcomes the ongoing dialogue and cooperation between Turkey and Iraq and recalls the importance of reinforcing this dialogue and cooperation in order to ensure that Iraqi territory is not used for any terrorist actions against Turkey.

Terror: The EU condemns all terrorist attacks and violence in Turkish territory and expresses its solidarity with the people of Turkey as well as its support for Turkey’s efforts to protect its population and fight terrorism, while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Minorities: The union notes that restrictions continue to apply, in particular as regards the use of languages other than Turkish in broadcasting, in political life and when accessing public services. The EU urges Turkey to adopt appropriate measures to ensure cultural diversity and promote respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the principles laid down in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and in line with best practice in member states. Action is also needed to resolve problems encountered by the Greek minority, in particular as regards education and property rights. The Roma population experiences discriminatory treatment in access to adequate housing, education, social protection, health and employment. Forced evictions remain a serious problem.

Kurdish question: As concerns the East and Southeast, the EU underlines the importance of a comprehensive approach to address the economic and social difficulties facing the region and to creating the conditions for the predominantly Kurdish population to enjoy full rights and freedoms. The EU welcomes that compensation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has continued under the Law on Compensation of Losses Resulting from Terrorist Acts. The EU stresses the need for a national strategy to address the IDP issue, including return. The system of village guards needs to be abolished.

Economic criteria: The EU notes that Turkey can be regarded as a functioning market economy as long as it firmly maintains its recent stabilization and reform achievements. Turkey should also be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the union in the medium term, provided that it firmly maintains its stabilization policy and takes further decisive steps towards structural reforms.

Further significant gains on macroeconomic stabilization have been achieved over the last year. Due to a rigorous and cautious policy mix, fiscal consolidation continued and debt dynamics improved, while economic growth has slowed in comparison with previous years. Inflation -- pushed also by high food and energy prices -- increased significantly above the central bank’s target. Considerable progress has been made on improving public financial management and control, and as a result fiscal transparency has increased. A reform process has been initiated for the social security and health systems, aiming at curbing deficits in the long run and providing universal health insurance for all. The social security bill was adopted recently by the parliament.

To build upon this progress, macroeconomic stabilization, based on budgetary restraint, should be further pursued. The recent sharp increase in the current account deficit requires careful monitoring and a readiness to take prompt actions.

The balance sheet: In line with the council conclusions of Dec. 10, 2007, the EU notes progress made by Turkey in its preparations for accession, which allowed for the opening of six chapters and the provisional closure of one chapter. The commission has sent 32 screening reports to the council. For 22 screening reports proceedings have been completed in the council. In 12 chapters opening benchmarks have been set. The EU invites Turkey to address the opening benchmarks in all outstanding chapters and welcomes that Turkey has started preparations in this regard. Turkey has forwarded its national position on the chapters Company Law and Intellectual Property Law. The EU is preparing its position on both chapters.



Source: Today’s Zaman


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