Ankara pledges EU reforms amid growing human rights concerns -VoA

Ankara has pledged to speed up judicial reforms as the country tries to get its decades-long European Union membership effort back on track, with Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul announcing the unveiling of a judicial reform strategy earlier this year, Voice of America (VoA) reported.

Turkish officials met Tuesday to address the country’s EU membership aspirations, which have all but collapsed amid growing human rights concerns following the July 2016 coup attempt.

Turkish ministers gathered under the auspices of the Reform Action Group (RAG), created to expedite EU-required membership reforms. The reconvening of the group, which has been moribund for years, is interpreted by some as a sign of a new impetus in Turkish-EU relations, VoA said.

Critics maintain that Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU are lower than they have been at any time since talks began in 2005, with the country’s increasingly authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan being accused of driving the country further away from the bloc, which remains Turkey’s dominant trading partner.

"It is the second meeting of this year, and it is really significant. We are looking forward to the results on the basis of what was indicated in the August meeting," it quoted a high-level EU official as saying.

Turkish ministers pledged reforms on fundamental rights, justice, freedom, and security in August.

"The aim of the new strategy is to further enhance trust in the judiciary, improve access to the justice system, increase its effectiveness and provide better protection for the right to trial within a reasonable time,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Turkey is continuing to cooperate with Brussels in controlling illegal migration into EU territory as part of a deal agreed to in 2016, VoA said.

Turkey has most recently come under fire from the European Court of Human Rights for failing to observe the ruling calling for the release of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former chair Selahattin Demirtas. Turkey has said it’s bound by the decision, even though the country is a member of the court.

Dozens of parliamentary HDP lawmakers, as well as scores of journalists are among the tens of thousands jailed under anti-terror laws following the 2016 failed coup.

“We have seen continuing evidence of the systematic targeting of journalists who are doing their jobs,” VoA quoted executive IPI member Sandy Bremner as saying.

“We have continually heard government assurances that Turkey is committed to free speech, human rights and the rule of law,” he added. “These assurances will only mean something when Turkey is no longer the world's worst jailer of journalists.”

Erdogan, speaking Monday at a meeting celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Universal Humans Rights, underlined “No one can lecture our country about democracy, human rights, and freedom.”

Analysts suggest it remains neither in Brussels' or Ankara’s interests for a breakdown in ties, VoA noted, and both sides must continue to work on a thaw in the deep freeze that has damaged relations in the last few years.
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