Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president with limited powers elected, as of an October 2007 referendum, by popular vote for a maximum of two five-year terms. Seven parties are represented in parliament after the 2007 parliamentary elections, which were considered free and fair. The government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remain in the areas of torture, unlawful killings, and abuse by security forces. Prison conditions remain poor. There are reports that some officials in the elected government and state bureaucracy at times attempted to undermine the judiciary's independence. The overly close relationship of judges and prosecutors continues to hinder the right to a fair trial. Excessively long trials are a problem. The government limits freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws. Limitations on freedom of expression apply to the Internet, and courts and an independent board have ordered telecommunications providers to block access to Web sites on more than 1,000 occasions. Non-Muslim religious groups continue to face restrictions on practicing their faith openly, owning property, and training leaders. Violence against women, including honor killings and rape, remains a widespread problem, along with child marriage. Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation, and to a lesser extent labor, is also a problem, as is child labor more generally.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

Turkey must continue to make progress on democratic and rule-of-law reforms. Through dialogue with domestic human rights NGOs, human rights activists, civil society, and the EU, the U.S. Government has developed priorities for promoting democratic principles, practices, values, and human rights in the country. The U.S. Government's primary goals are to promote a more democratic government, with a deeper respect for human rights and rule of law, and to support legal reforms, including constitutional revisions, that lead to more democratic, transparent, and accountable government institutions, including a more independent, objective judiciary. The United States also seeks to foster an independent, professional press. Public diplomacy efforts form a core part of the U.S. strategy to advance freedom and democracy and to protect the universal rights of freedom of expression and religion. In addition, the United States seeks to build respect for individual human rights, civil society, and ethnic diversity. The United States also continued work to eradicate trafficking in persons in the country.

The U.S. Government encourages the government to continue to reduce restrictions on the use of non-Turkish languages in the public realm; expand freedom of expression for those who express minority viewpoints or address controversial topics, such as the 1915 massacres; protect freedom of religion and allow the free functioning of non-Muslim religious institutions, such as the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary; and take concrete steps to address concerns of the ethnic Kurdish and other minority communities.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

To help promote the rule of law and develop a modern, impartial judiciary, the United States has reached out to numerous national legislators, local political leaders, judges, justice officials, journalists, academics, and NGO officials via public diplomacy programs and has increased training to help develop an objective judiciary. During 2008 more than 100 persons traveled to the United States for extended periods on a variety of programs, met their American counterparts, became more familiar with the structure and functions of U.S. political, judicial, and social systems, and observed U.S. human rights and democracy promotion efforts. Public diplomacy showcasing American values is essential to promoting liberal values that can underscore needed legal reforms in the country. These activities include U.S. speaker programs, exchanges, and disseminating accurate information through public speaking by U.S. officials and at Information Resource Centers around the country. The United States funds International Visitors Leadership Program exchanges on topics including citizen participation in a democracy, grassroots activism, and promoting tolerance. U.S. officials travel throughout the country to discuss human rights issues, hear new viewpoints, and seek partners beyond the large urban areas. U.S. officials participate in conferences, seminars, and programs to explain U.S. policies and American values and highlight Turkish-American shared interests. Where appropriate, U.S. officials join with EU colleagues to deliver a unified call for increased freedom of expression and religion and greater tolerance for diversity.

The United States promotes a vibrant free press that demonstrates objectivity and high professional standards as critical to helping cultivate more democratic, transparent, and accountable government institutions that respect the viewpoints of civil society, minorities, and non-Muslim religions. To foster press freedom and responsibility, journalists from all forms of media participated in visitor programs focused on investigative journalism and the elements of responsible reporting, the U.S. political system, and U.S. foreign policy and human rights issues. In 2008 these included several programs in the United States where journalists observed and reported on the U.S. presidential primaries, debates, elections, and the inauguration. Projects for the year also included numerous speakers and programs on the U.S. elections, freedom of expression, the foreign policy formulation process in a democratic society, civil and minority rights, and information literacy.

To promote further the growth of civil society and an understanding of its role, the United States sponsored visitor programs related to religion and the community, the role of civil society in a democracy, managing diversity in a multi-ethnic society, and promoting tolerance through the arts. Visitor programs for NGO and religious leaders also played an important role in promoting the value of stable, reliable political processes and the benefits of a pluralistic, religiously and ethnically diverse, tolerant society. Subjects included U.S. legislative, judicial, and social systems, the rule of law in the United States, and the roles of religion and religious institutions in American life. A summer student leader exchange program complemented these projects by introducing the next generation of local leaders to these same U.S. institutions, traditions, and processes. U.S. officials also meet regularly with members of the legislative and executive branches as well as with the judiciary to encourage continued broad reforms, such as increased protection for free speech, respect for the rights of non-Muslim religions, and tolerance for minorities and minority viewpoints.

To expand efforts to promote legal reforms in the country, the U.S. government hosted a conference on criminal pretrial resolutions attended by 45 prosecutors and judges. The conference encouraged the adoption of the tool of plea bargaining. The United States cohosted with the Ministry of Justice a conference on terrorist extradition to promote greater legal collaboration between Turkey, other European countries, and Iraq and to strengthen professional judicial standards and enforcement of the rule of law. The U.S. Government also organized a study tour to the United States for prosecutors to share best practices on terrorism legislation, children's issues, and other legal topics of mutual interest. Helping the country eliminate trafficking in persons continued to be a U.S. priority. U.S. officials remained in close contact with the lead agencies, international organizations, and NGOs engaged in antitrafficking efforts. The United States supported a three-day visit in December 2008 by a U.S. official who met with senior government officials, and representatives of NGOs and international organizations, to reinforce the urgency the U.S. attaches to eliminating modern-day slavery. Public diplomacy programming in this area included four projects in the southeastern part of the country to empower women and girls economically, legally, and socially.