ANKARA (Reuters)–Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said on Thursday that Turkey should grant education and broadcasting rights to minority Kurds to advance its case for membership in the European Union.
Sweden has been an outspoken critic of Ankara’s shaky human rights record and was for long opposed to Turkey being named a candidate for EU membership for just that reason.
"From the point of view of Sweden and the European Union–it is very important to have full human rights–the right to have broadcasting and education in different languages," she told reporters after meeting Turkish rights campaigners.
Turkey’s constitution–drawn up under army rule in 1982–bars the country’s 12 million Kurds from being educated or broadcasting television or radio in their own language.
Many Turkish leaders regard any expression of Kurdish identity as the first sign of a creeping separatism which could potentially lead to the break-up of the Turkish republic.
The constitution manages to ban Kurdish education and broadcasting without actually mentioning the word "Kurdish."
The 15-nation EU dropped its objections to the overwhelmingly Moslem country eventually becoming a member in December – but that was after Turkey pledged to clean up its rights record.
Many of the alleged rights abuses–including charges of police torture and extrajudicial killings–stem from a 15-year-old conflict between security forces and Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdish separatist guerrillas.
Turkey has enacted a number of laws to clamp down on abuses–but–according to rights activists–torture and disappearances still occur all too often.
"The question is not only of changing and amending legislation but also of implementation," said Lindh. "For instance torture is already forbidden–but it is important to implement the law."
Lindh examined bullet holes in the door of the downtown offices of the Human Rights Association (IHD) left when right-wing gunmen burst in and shot and wounded the former head of the organization–Akin Birdal.
Birdal was later jailed for advocating a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict–a proposal that was deemed separatist propaganda by the courts.
"I hope the IHD can continue its important role without problems for the leadership or members," Lindh said–standing next to Birdal.