There are significant Kurdish minority populations in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and parts of Syria. There are some 14 million people of Kurdish ethnic origin living in Turkey. The Government's concerns about human rights in Turkey, including the situation of the Kurdish population, are raised regularly in official contacts with the Turkish Government and its representatives, and in co-operation with our partners in the European Union. We continue to monitor the human rights situation through the embassy in Ankara and through our membership of international organisations, including the Council of Europe.
I welcome the very significant progress which Turkey has made in legislating for human rights reform during the past two years. Legislation has been enacted which is aimed at strengthening the enforcement of human rights and enhancing the cultural rights of all citizens, including those of Kurdish origin. Nevertheless, the European Union considers that further progress is required. The revised accession partnership with Turkey, which was adopted by the Council in May 2003, provides the framework for an intensive dialogue between the European Union and Turkey on its preparations for accession, including its legislative reform programme. Since the beginning of 2003, progress on the introduction and implementation of political and human rights reforms has also been monitored closely in regular political monitoring meetings between the EU and Turkey.
Representing the Irish Presidency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, headed an EU ministerial troika delegation which visited Ankara on 8 March for meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. The discussions covered the full range of issues in EU-Turkey relations including progress on political and human rights reforms. The EU emphasised the importance of ensuring implementation of these reforms at all levels of the administration. On the issue of cultural rights, Deputy Cowen pointed to the restrictive nature of the current regulations for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish and the relatively slow progress on moves to permit Kurdish language teaching. The EU delegation was briefed on plans by the Turkish Government to promote the economic development of the south-east region ofTurkey where Kurds form the majority of the population.
I recognise that the Turkish Government is committed to ensuring the full implementation of the reforms, including those directly relating to the rights of people of Kurdish ethnic origin. The progress made will be a significant element of the decision to be taken by the European Council in December on Turkey's fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership. If that decision is positive, the EU will open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.
In Iraq, it is clear that the situation for the Kurdish people has improved since the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein. There are five Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi Governing Council and the level of autonomy the Kurdish people enjoyed previously has been retained in the transitional arrangements now in place. These arrangements are set out in the Transitional Administrative Law, signed by the Iraqi Governing Council on 8 March. This will, we hope, open the way for the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraq in which the rights of the Kurdish population will be respected fully.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The Government is not aware of any current discrimination against Kurdish people in Iran specifically related to their ethnic origin. However, the overall human rights situation in Iran continues to be a matter of concern. Ireland co-sponsored a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly last December, which expressed serious concern at the continuing violations of human rights in Iran. Among a number of recommendations, the resolution called upon the Government of Iran to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on religious grounds or against persons belonging to minorities.
Speaking on behalf of the EU at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last week, Ireland, as holders of the Presidency, regretted that there has been little improvement in the human rights situation in Iran. As holders of the Presidency, we are working with the Iranian Government to agree dates for the next round of the EU's human rights dialogue with Iran. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Iran, including the situation of the Kurdish minority, through our embassy in Tehran and in co-operation with our EU partners.