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Council of Europe report slams Greece, Turkey over treatment of minorities January 29, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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A top European human rights watchdog’s report on problems encountered by non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece will be finalized today after being debated at PACE, and is expected to level heavy criticism at both Greece and Turkey.

A top European human rights watchdog has started debating a report on the problems encountered by non-Muslim minorities in Turkey as well as by the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece.

The draft report, to be finalized after being debated at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) late on Wednesday, slams both Turkey and Greece for not fulfilling the demands of religious minorities in their respective countries. The assembly, under the chairmanship of Turkish deputy Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who was elected as its new president on Monday, will review the report and approve its final draft after a number of challenges raised by deputies were addressed on the floor.

The report, titled “Freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace [Eastern Greece],” was written by Michel Hunault, a French deputy from the European Democrat Group (EDG) for the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. In a nutshell, Hunault suggested to the Council of Europe that “Greece and Turkey should have all their citizens belonging to religious minorities treated in accordance with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, rather than rely on the ‘reciprocity’ principle stated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne to withhold the application of certain rights.”

Turkey and Greece blame each other for not fulfilling the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne and both decline to provide broader rights and freedoms to minority groups based on the narrow definition in the 1923 treaty. The “reciprocity” clause is often invoked when one of these issues emerges in bilateral relations.

The PACE report asserts, however, that the two countries should take care of all of their citizens without discrimination, regardless of the way in which the neighboring state may treat its own citizens. The report argued that the recurrent invoking of the principle of reciprocity by Greece and Turkey as a basis for refusing to implement the rights secured for minorities in the Treaty of Lausanne is “anachronistic” and could jeopardize each country’s national cohesion.

A top European human rights watchdog’s report on problems encountered by non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece will be finalized today after being debated at PACE, and is expected to level heavy criticism at both Greece and Turkey.

It urged the two countries “to take measures for the members of the religious minorities — particularly as regards education and the right to own property — and to ensure that the members of these minorities are no longer perceived as foreigners in their own country” while encouraging them to sign and/or ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Report faults Turkey on a number of areas

PACE urges Turkey to recognize the legal personality of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of İstanbul, the Armenian Patriarchate of İstanbul, the Armenian Catholic Archbishopric of İstanbul, the Bulgarian Orthodox Exarchate, the Chief Rabbinate and the Vicariate Apostolic of İstanbul, saying, “The absence of legal personality which affects all the communities concerned having direct effects in terms of ownership rights and property management.” It specifically asks for constructive solutions concerning the training of religious minorities’ clergy and the granting of work permits for foreign members of the clergy in Turkey.

As for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of İstanbul in particular, PACE claims that Turkey needs to give the patriarchate the freedom to choose to use the adjective “ecumenical.” It further argues that a resolution should be reached with representatives of the minority with a view to the reopening of the Heybeliada Greek Orthodox theological college (the Halki Seminary).

It lists the question of the registration of places of worship and the question of the mazbut properties confiscated since 1974 and says, “They must be returned to their owners or to the entitled persons or, where the return of the assets is impossible, to provide for fair compensation.” The report specifically mentions the Orthodox Syriac monastery of Mor Gabriel, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, founded in A.D. 397. It says the land of monastery should be protected in its entirety.

It advises the Turkish government to take practical measures to make it possible for members of minorities to join the police force, the military, the judiciary and the bureaucracy. The report asks for the full implementation of Law No. 3998, which states that the cemeteries of minority communities cannot be handed over to municipalities so as to prevent the building of housing, something which has occurred at certain Jewish cemeteries.

In the light of recent attacks on religious minorities, PACE asks the government to firmly condemn all violence against members of religious minorities, conduct effective investigations and promptly prosecute people responsible for violence or threats against members of religious minorities, particularly in light of the murders of a Roman Catholic priest in 2006, three Protestants in Malatya in April 2007 and prominent Armenian-Turkish writer Hrant Dink in 2007.

In an attempt to revitalize the minority schools that were closed in Turkey due to low enrolment, the assembly urges the government to adapt legislation so as to allow children from non-Muslim minorities, but who do not have Turkish nationality, to be admitted to minority schools.

Finally, PACE recommends that Turkey should institute an office of ombudsman as soon as possible to avoid tension in society and make anti-Semitic statements and other types of hate speech criminal offenses. As in the Greek case, it also urges the development of a code of ethics by the media on respect for religious minorities in Turkey.

To-do list for Greece

PACE urges Greece to provide support for minority schools, resolve problems with vakıfs (foundations for the Muslim minority), allow the Muslim minority to choose its muftis freely, promote economic and infrastructural development in Thrace, resolve nationality issues and fully implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning freedom of religion. It calls for freedom of association with respect to titles, allowing associations to use the word “Turkish” in their name.

What is more, the PACE report asks for the full and speedy implementation of the 2008 legislation that provides for quota-based admission to the civil service for members of the Muslim minority. It calls upon the Greek government to embark on a national campaign against racism and intolerance, stressing that diversity is to be regarded not as a threat but as a source of enrichment. In that respect, it also asks the government to encourage the development of a code of ethics by the media on respect for religious minorities and to penalize any incitements to hatred passed on by the media.

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