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Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 46. Mr. Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if he will make a statement on talks he has had with the Turkish Government on the situation of prisoners in Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10262/02]

 49. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if he will make a statement in relation to the human rights issues posed by the conditions in Turkish prisons and those on hunger strike in particular. [10266/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 49 together.

Since the hunger strike in the Turkish prisons was last raised in the House on 22 November, the number of prisoners or their supporters who have died has risen to 49. The most recent death was that of Mr. Tuncay Yildirim, who died on 21 March in Izmir, following the granting of a six month release on health grounds. His death, like the deaths of all the other hunger strikers, represents a tragic waste of life.

[784]Since the hunger strike began in October 2000, I have indicated to the House on a number of occasions the grave concerns of the Government about the human rights situation in the Turkish prisons. The matter has been raised by the Irish Ambassador to Turkey at the highest level, including with Foreign Minister Cem. We will continue to raise the matter with the Turkish authorities on every appropriate occasion.

The European Union too has been actively involved in encouraging efforts to bring the hunger strike to an end. The 2001 Regular Report on Turkey's Progress towards Accession, released by the EU Commission on 13 November last, emphasised that the continuing loss of life as a result of the hunger strike was unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view and encouraged Turkey to ensure that prison reforms were fully implemented. The next meeting of the EU Association Council with Turkey on 16 April will provide another opportunity to raise the matter with the Turkish authorities.

I refer also to the role of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, CPT, which is continuing to work with the Turkish Government and with the prisoners in an attempt to resolve the crisis. In this connection, I welcome the fact that the Turkish Government has given its agreement to the publication of the preliminary observations of a delegation of the committee which visited Turkey from 2-14 September last and that these observations, together with the response of the Turkish authorities, were published on 19 March.

I note, in particular, that the delegation proposed that immediate steps be taken by the prison authorities in relation to the provision of communal activities in the F-type prisons involved, a key element in the dispute. The delegation also indicated its view that the satisfactory operation of the prisons would depend in large part on the attitude and quality of staff.

In response, the Turkish Government has stated that the F-type prisons are high-security prisons which were built in accordance with the minimum prison standards of the Council of Europe and of the United Nations. Communal facilities are available but the great majority of prisoners held for terrorist offences refuse to make use of them, despite the efforts of the prison administration. The Turkish Government also states that, for security reasons, the number of prisoners allowed to take part in communal activities at any one time may not always be at the level – nine persons – recommended by the CPT delegation. The authorities accept that achieving more satisfactory results in the prisons will depend on the quality of the staff. They note that 200 staff members have completed training in the prison staff training centre in Ankara and have taken up duty in the F-type prisons. In addition, 210 staff members employed in the prisons have started training in the centre.

A number of legislative measures have been adopted in Turkey in relation to prison reform, [785] including a law on the establishment of monitoring boards for punishment enforcement Institutions and detention houses, which will establish 133 monitoring boards to carry out inspections on conditions in penal institutions. I welcome the adoption of this legislation, but take this occasion once again to urge all the parties involved to exercise restraint and to make every additional effort necessary to ensure that further loss of life, both inside and outside the prisons, can be avoided.

Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 35.

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