Church in France Concerned About Human Rights in Turkey

Appeals to Chirac for More Clarity in Talks With the European Union

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PARIS, DEC. 12, 2004 ( The president of the French bishops’ conference sent a letter to President Jacques Chirac expressing the Catholic Church’s concern over respect for fundamental rights in Turkey.

In the letter, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux stressed that «some fundamental rights, in particular religious freedom, are not totally respected in Turkey, despite the reforms undertaken,» according to a statement published by the episcopal conference.

The archbishop expressed his regret that «the opening of eventual negotiations with Turkey was not subordinated to complete respect for all fundamental rights, whether freedom of expression and association, the status of women, or religious freedom, rights that constitute the foundation of the European Union’s cohesion.»

As the European Council will be meeting Dec. 16-17, Archbishop Ricard appealed to Chirac to see that France «exacts as a condition for eventual negotiations with Turkey respect for religious freedom, the recognition of religious minorities, and a juridical status in keeping with conventions in force.»

Archbishop Hippolyte Simon of Clermont, vice president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, reported on questions relating to Turkey addressed by the prelates of COMECE during a Nov. 18-19 meeting in Brussels.

In another published statement, the archbishop emphasized that «the question of Turkey’s accession [to the European Union] is a strictly political question, in the most profound sense of the term.»

«Therefore, it seems to us extremely important that questions that are truly religious not be manipulated in this debate,» he stated. «Given that the European Union is, precisely, committed to religious freedom and the distinction between religion and the political sphere, religious questions must not serve as an excuse in a debate that affects all citizens.»

«Therefore,» the prelate continued, «it is necessary to reflect on political questions which willy-nilly are posed: the concept of democracy, respect for human rights and, in particular, the rights of minorities, the Union’s capacity to integrate countries, etc.

«One might also add the unavoidable question of geographic boundaries, in particular in the East, of the European Union. The question is posed today in the case of Turkey and it will be posed sooner or later in the case of Ukraine, although this country has not presented itself yet as candidate for accession.»

«After seeing a report dedicated to the question of the status of religious minorities in Turkey, the COMECE bishops were surprised by the fact that the European Commission’s recommendation of last Oct. 6 is silent about the failures observed in Turkey in the matter of religious freedom,» lamented the episcopal statement.

Archbishop Simon said that COMECE «is asking heads of state and government to see that the Turkish state commits itself henceforth to grant official juridical status to religious minorities present in that country. This commitment is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights. It should form part of the conditions prior to the opening of accession negotiations and to the conclusions of the next European Council.»

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