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A European Union decision this week to begin membership negotiations with Turkey would ensure that essential human rights reforms in the country continue, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The EU accession process has already helped bring about significant human rights improvements in Turkey,” said Jonathan Sugden, Human Rights Watch's researcher for Turkey. “A ‘yes’ from the European Council would maintain that momentum.”

On December 16 and 17, the European Council will meet in Brussels and decide whether Turkey should start negotiations for full membership. The European Commission in October concluded that “Turkey sufficiently fulfills the political criteria” and recommended that membership talks should begin.

Human Rights Watch said that monitoring and standards inherent in the EU accession process have contributed greatly to the improvement of human rights in Turkey, by creating the political space for the government to undertake difficult reforms on the death penalty, language rights for minorities and freedom of expression. The process has also bolstered the efforts of human rights defenders and others pressing for reform in Turkey.

Significant challenges remain however, particularly in relation to torture and ill-treatment in policy custody, and the safe return of more than 350,000 internally displaced Kurds forced from their homes in the 1990s. Key human rights priorities for the coming year are detailed in a background note, “Turkey at the Crossroads,” released by Human Rights Watch today.

“The Turkish government deserves support for its work so far, but there's still much to do. In the coming months, we expect further progress from the government to fully eradicate torture and a start to the safe return of displaced Kurdish villagers,” Sudgen said.

Human Rights Watch takes no position as to whether Turkey meets the criteria for membership or whether membership would be positive for the European Union or for Turkey.

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