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 Turkey needs reform of juvenile laws under which hundreds of Kurdish children have been jailed: EU

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Turkey needs reform of juvenile laws under which hundreds of Kurdish children have been jailed: EU  8.7.2010  

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July 8, 2010

STRASBOURG, — A top European human rights envoy urged Turkey on Thursday to radically reform its juvenile justice system, under which hundreds of Kurdish children have been jailed in violation of international human rights laws.

"Too many children are detained in Turkey. This situation is at variance with international and European standards," Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a letter sent to Turkey's Justice Ministry.

"Detention of children should be an exceptional measure and a means of last resort," added the letter, which was emailed to Reuters by the Council.

Hundreds of Kurdish children -- some as young as 11, according to activists -- have been prosecuted by Turkish authorities fighting Kurdish rebels in the country's southeast.                   

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Activists say children are being sent to adult prisons after receiving long sentences in anti-terrorist courts, sometimes for offences such as throwing stones at security forces or participating in a protest considered to be supporting the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group.

"The very heavy sentences imposed under the law on combating terrorism on children for acts deemed minor offences in other jurisdictions raise serious questions of proportionality between the sentences and their aim," the letter said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, which has passed laws to expand the rights of Kurds in the hope of ending a decades-long conflict with Kurdish separatist rebels,
www.ekurd.nethas said it is working to change such punishments.

A bill to reduce penalties for children accused of terrorism-related offences and stipulating that minors be put on trial in juvenile courts is being debated in parliament.

"I hope that the proposal to reform the anti-terrorist laws and their future application to children will help establish a more child-friendly justice focused on education and alternatives to detention," the letter added.

Hammarberg, the envoy of the 47-member Council of Europe, visited Turkey in May and met with 18 minors aged 15-18, including two girls, who were being held in detention in a prison in the city of Diyarbakir for six-to-nine months.

In a separate letter to the Interior Ministry, Hammarberg said he was also concerned about the long-term pre-trial detention of elected local representatives in the southeast.

Kurdish activists say hundreds of Kurdish politicians, including mayors, have been detained by Turkish security forces for suspected links to the PKK.

Since 1984 the PKK [Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan] took up arms for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey [Turkey-Kurdistan] which has claimed around 45,000 lives of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish PKK guerrillas.

The PKK demanded Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demanded an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms.

A large Turkey's Kurdish community estimate to 25 million openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered a 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

http://www.coe.int/t/commissioner/News/2010/100708Turkey_en.asp
PDF: Letter from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to Mr Sadullah Ergin, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Turkey (8 June 2010)
 
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