On 8 March 2019 the Brussels Court of Appeal (Indictment Chambers) dismissed the case in which the Belgian Federal Prosecutor prosecuted 41 individuals and entities as leaders of- or participants in the activities of a terrorist organisation (meant is the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK). The decision of the Court of Appeal found that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation but a party in a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) opposing the Kurds to the Turkish State. That is why the Brussels Appeal Court concluded that international humanitarian law (the laws of war) and not anti-terrorism legislation applies.

The Federal Prosecutor appealed this important decision in the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation rejected that appeal on 28 January and upheld the previous decision of the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Court of Cassation not only ends 10 years of proceedings in this specific case but most likely also the criminalisation of the PKK and other Kurdish organisations or activists which -according to the Federal Prosecutor- are related to it.

This important decision comes shortly after the decision of the Court of First Instance of the European Union which in its decision T 316/14 of 15 November annulled for an insufficient statement of reasons all decisions of the EU taken between 2014 and 2017 to include the PKK in the European terrorist listing. The European Union appealed that decision and immediately decided to include PKK again in the terrorist list. That decision is however based on an identical statement of reasons as the previous decisions that were cancelled because the European Court of First Instance found that statement of reasons insufficient. The PKK appealed this new and manifestly unlawful decision immediately.

Both decisions from the judiciary are of great importance for the PKK and by extension for the Kurds.

The conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish State has been ongoing for decades. The Turkish State has criminalised the Kurdish emancipatory movement in the broad sense as “terrorist” and “PKK-controlled”. That criminalization has been the pretext for massive violations of fundamental rights, such as the right to expression, the freedom of association, the right not to be tortured and the right to life of those who stood up for the rights of the Kurds in Turkey. It has also led to massive military campaigns against the Kurdish population such as the one at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 during which several Kurdish cities were completely destroyed and during which war crimes were committed on a massive scale by the Turkish security forces, all of this in the name of “struggle against terrorism”.

While most countries in the European Union took a very critical stand towards this Turkish criminalisation policies during the 1990’s they gradually took adopted similar policies after 2001 and criminalised the PKK (and everybody who was supposed to be related to it) as “terrorist”.

The 2 recent decisions could be a turning point in those policies.

By considering the PKK not as a terrorist organisation but as a belligerent party in a civil war, the legal approach to the Kurdish movement is not only brought in line with international law. The way is also cleared for a more balanced approach of the Kurdish-Turkish problem. And above all a space is created for diplomatic initiatives to support and encourage a political solution for the conflict. As long as the EU and its members took the position that PKK is “terrorist” and therefore that there is a “good” and a “bad” party in the conflict, that was impossible because terrorism can only be fought. A conflict on the contrary should be solved.

During a press conference on 30 January (see more detail on our website – Activities) Kurdish prominent persons, accused in the Belgian proceedings, will comment on the decisions of the Belgian and European Courts and on their significance for the Kurdish community. Members of the European Parliament will discuss how these decisions open new perspectives for the EU to contribute positively to a political solution for the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Lawyers will comment on both the decision of the European and Belgian Courts.