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Cablegate: President's Human Rights Roundtable at 2007 Unga:


DE RUEHAK #2335/01 2561434
P 131434Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. STATE 88465
B. STATE 108924

1. (U) Turkey just emerged with strengthened democratic
credentials from a turbulent five-month period that tested
its democracy. The result is a government with a new popular
mandate, a parliament representative of 85 percent of the
voters, and a new President who is likely to take an active
foreign policy role. In the aftermath of their respective
victories, both President Gul and PM Erdogan have emphasized
their commitment to democracy, human rights, individual
rights, diversity and a constitution that protects these
individual rights. Both we and the EU - as Turkey
reinvigorates its EU accession reform agenda - are urging the
Turks to continue to expand freedom of expression, freedom of
religion and other fundamental rights. Turkey, a majority
Muslim representative democracy in a difficult region, is an
excellent candidate for this roundtable.

2. (U) Mission Turkey's program to promote human rights and
protect human rights defenders includes:

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-High-level Meetings: The Ambassador, DCM, and high-level
visiting USG officials frequently raise issues such as
freedom of expression and religion during meetings with
ministers and Foreign Ministry officials. On freedom of
expression, for example, the Ambassador has urged the GOT to
modify or eliminate controversial Penal Code Article 301,
which makes it a crime to "insult Turkishness." A vivid case
in point was the January murder of Hrant Dink, a prominent
human rights advocate who had been convicted under Article
301; the Ambassador and Consul General attended his funeral,
where thousands of Turks marched peacefully to honor Dink's
memory. Mission officers have attended Article 301-related
trials and meet often with freedom of speech advocates.
Similarly, we meet frequently with religious minority leaders
and spoke publicly to underscore USG concerns for government
restrictions on the administration of their respective
institutions. We, and high-level visitors, have asked the
Turks to find a way to re-open the Ecumenical Patriarchate's
Halki Seminary, including in a speech the Ambassador gave
which coincided with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey.

-Raising the Profile of Local NGOs: In Turkey, NGOs are
still struggling to gain influence in the policy arena; the
scope and number of these civil society organizations has,
however, expanded exponentially over the past decade. We
meet with them regularly at all levels, including to help
devise strategies to obtain funding, build effective
networks, promote interests, and follow through on issues.
In one successful 2007 case, post's human rights officer met
with leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses in Turkey who described
their great difficulties attaining legal recognition and
protection. Our entreaties with GOT officials in the
Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and Ministry of
Interior bore fruit when, several months later, the Jehovah's
Witnesses obtained legal status in Turkey.

-Coordination with Diplomatic Corps and Human Rights
Defenders: We regularly bring together diplomats, academics,
and civil society members in a number of settings to discuss
current and often controversial topics. We also exchange
information regularly with other resident diplomats on a full
range of human rights-related issues, including how the Turks
could best promote their own EU accession through political

-International Visitors Program: The Mission's IVP programs
play an important role in furthering USG human rights goals.
In the past year, 25 Turks participated in projects
specifically related to human rights and democracy, including
programs on local government, civic activism, judicial
reform, and trafficking in persons. One US-funded project
brought a delegation of Turkish high school students to the
United States for a three-week visit that examined democratic
governance and respect for human rights in the United States.

-Promotion of Media Freedom and Judicial Reform: The Mission
organized professional exchange programs for Turkish
journalists designed to foster ethics and journalistic
responsibility among younger reporters and promote freedom of
expression for editors and media gatekeepers. A wide range
of persons from both the secular and Islamist press attended
these programs. With respect to promoting judicial reform --
a key issue for the EU and our commercial interests as well
-- the USG sponsored a bilateral legal exchange project that
promoted the discussion of issues dealing with freedom of
expression, police conduct, and trial alternatives in the
criminal justice system through the exchange of visits by
U.S. and Turkish legal professionals.

-Trafficking in Persons: With the help of a US grant, the
International Organization for Migration continued work
with GOT authorities to implement a comprehensive mechanism
to protect trafficking victims and enhance the country's
capacity to combat trafficking. One-third of the grant was
used to provide direct assistance to victims. The US also
funded a major international public awareness campaign,
including television and print media advertisements for a
toll-free 24-hour victim hotline that helped rescue more than
50 victims during its first six months of operation.

-Speaker's Program: The Mission sponsors visiting speakers
who focus on human rights and democracy. For example, in
March 2007, the chair of Georgetown University's Government
Department spoke to over 400 persons about the problem of
balancing freedom and security in democratic societies. In
January 2007, a University of Virginia professor spoke about
freedom of religion in Istanbul.

3.(U) With respect to reform efforts the GOT has undertaken,
over the past five years the GOT has embarked on a series of
major legal and political reforms designed to bring its laws
into conformity with EU standards. The GOT's efforts have
been most effective in the following areas:

-Elimination of Torture. The GOT banned torture and
ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners, which has led to
near elimination of severe forms of torture and substantially
reduced general ill-treatment.

-Improving Due Process Rights. Through voluminous legal
changes and improved training the government has improved
due process rights. All criminal defendants must be
appointed a public defense attorney if he/she cannot afford
one; the government reduced to 24 hours the amount of time a
criminal suspect may be detained by security forces; and the
government abolished State Security Courts that formerly
operated outside the normal judicial system and therefore
without proper due process protections.

-Prison Reform. The government has undertaken significant
prison reform, including building maximum security prisons
throughout the country in line with European standards, and
training prison staff on modern rehabilitation techniques.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at


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