One month before a presidential election in Turkey, an international tribunal has issued a stinging condemnation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, charging him with war crimes against the Kurds in Turkey and saying that he has been “causing incalculable suffering” to the Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey.
A verdict released by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT, the Tribunal) calls for Erdoğan to enter into immediate negotiations with the Kurds, restore the rule of law and withdraw completely from the largely Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria.
The PPT’s verdict was released Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, with UK MEP Julie Ward saying it showed Erdoğan waging a war “against every aspect of Kurdish culture.”
Philippe Texier, Tribunal president and honorary judge at the French Court of Cassation who has also served on the UN High Commission for Human Rights, announced the verdict, saying that the “key cause” of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds was the denial of the Kurds’ right to self-determination.
The Tribunal, known formally as the Permanent People’s Tribunal, was founded in Bologna in 1979 as a forum for hearing complaints against countries that do not subscribe to human rights conventions such as the Rome Statue and International Criminal Court. The panel consisted of seven esteemed judges from various European nations who were convened by the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights and other legal institutions for a two-day hearing on Turkey and the Kurds.
It took testimony on March 15-16, 2018 in Paris about two specific charges against Turkey: that during the period of June 1, 2015 to January 31, 2017 it committed war crimes against the Kurdish people, by bombing, bulldozing and indiscriminately shooting at the population in several towns in Southeast Turkey including Diyarbakır; and that it facilitated common crimes such as bomb attacks, targeted assassinations and kidnappings, both on Turkish soil and abroad, including the murder in 2013 of three Kurdish women in Paris.
In the verdict and recommendations released May 24, the Tribunal found that the Turkish state was responsible for “denying the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people’s identity and presence, and the repression of its participation in the political, economic and cultural life of the country.”
Importantly, it declared that the Kurdish struggle is not a “terrorist” issue as Erdoğan claims, but rather a “non-international armed conflict ruled by international humanitarian law” and thus should not be subject to anti-terrorism legislation. The Tribunal noted that the Kurdish movement has repeatedly tried to negotiate a peaceful solution with Turkey and has been rebuffed by Erdoğan.
The report contains a number of findings and recommendations including:
- Turkey must immediately end all military operations carried out by its army in Syria and must withdraw its troops to within its national borders.
- Turkey must investigate and punish the persons responsible for war crimes in Southeast Turkey during the period June 1, 2015 to January 31, 2017 as ascertained by the Tribunal.
- Turkey must restore the rule of law, release still-detained magistrates and journalists, restore freedom of the press, end the state of emergency and fully implement the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Turkey must resume negotiations in good faith for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which it halted in October 2014, and complete them within a reasonable time frame.
- An amnesty must be granted for the crimes committed by all parties during the conflict and all still-detained political prisoners must be released.
In announcing the verdict, the Tribunal president noted that the testimony presented during the trial showed clear evidence that “the right to self-determination has been consistently denied to the Kurdish people” in contravention of Articles 1 and 2 of the International Covenant on Social Rights and the International Convenant on Political Rights. Turkey has conducted war operations designed to force the Kurdish people from their homelands, he said. He laid blame squarely on Erdogan, saying he “incited and legitimized disproportionate violence” against the Kurdish people.
MEP Ward chastised UK Prime Minister Theresa May for meeting with Erdoğan, saying it was “an appalling thing for us to witness – those of us who stand for democratic values, for peace.” She said that May was now “holding hands with some of the most unsavory characters around the world” and “engaged in an unholy headlong descent into a world that says: trade at any cost,” as a result of the Brexit vote.
“We have to stand in solidarity with the Kurdish people who are struggling against one of the most fascist, racist regimes that we currently have in Europe,” she said. Noting that the Kurds have begun to implement a new feminist, democratic and environmentally sensitive society in the area known as Rojava in northern Syria, she called on all those who support women’s rights and protection of the environment to press for the rights of the Kurdish people.
The EU countries must acknowledge that Erdoğan’s “attacks are being made on a new system of democratic values, governance and social justice which is being practiced on a day to day basis in a conflict zone, which is extraordinary,” she said.
Simon Dubbins, international director of UNITE, Britain’s biggest trade union, with 1,4 million members, who also spoke at the verdict announcement, said it is a “criminal act” that the international community stood silent when Erdoğan razed the Kurdish communities of southeastern Turkey in 2015 and 2016.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is an even bigger crime that the international community has stood by silently while Erdoğan in northern Syria has invaded, occupied and ethnically cleansed what was a peaceful region,” using, in addition to Turkish troops, a force of “the very ISIL militants that we’re trying to get rid of.”
Dubbins, whose union is also calling for the release of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said Öcalan’s release is more important than ever and would be the theme of an upcoming convention at which thousands union members will attend.
Margaret Owen, MBE, an international human rights lawyer who was recently in Turkey to attend the trial of Selahattin Demirtaş, the Kurdish leader imprisoned by Erdoğan and now running for president from his prison cell, said that trials in Turkey were “totally unfair, purely political” and the result of “extraordinary fictions” based on indictments that are groundless. She noted that there are currently 70,000 university students, many of them Kurds, now awaiting trial in prisons that amount to “concentration camps.”