WASHINGTON—Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today hailed this weekend’s votes for constitutional reform in Turkey as a step forward, but cautioned that only effective implementation will lead to lasting democratic change there.
“The people of Turkey have made clear their desire for change. I hope the proposed constitutional reforms will lead to real improvements in people’s lives, including Turkey’s beleaguered ethnic and religious minorities,” said Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “Implementation of the voter-approved constitutional amendments and other much needed reforms could help Turkey overcome the legacy of the past and build a strong future firmly rooted in respect for democratic principles and human rights.”
Voters Sunday approved a set of 26 changes to the constitution that was written after a 1980 military coup. The reforms aim to make the military more accountable to civilian courts, improve gender equality, and end the immunity from prosecution coup leaders.
“These reforms could lead to greater transparency and accountability, which are essential to strengthening democracy,” said Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). “I am particularly interested to see how the government enacts the judiciary reforms as a manipulation of judicial structures would only exacerbate Turkey’s already fractured political landscape. I urge Prime Minister Erdogan to work to build a consensus that will strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, an important ally which is contributing to operations in Afghanistan.”
The co-chairmen have long supported Turkey’s ascension to the European Union. They also welcomed the recent positive step Turkey made on religious freedom. For the first time since 1922, the government last month allowed the liturgical celebration by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the historic Sumela Monastery. Chairman Cardin sponsored Senate Resolution 356 calling on the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay. The seminary was ordered closed in 1971.