A Belgium delegation has recently visited Kurdistan part of Turkey. Nina Henkens from Beweging voor Kinderen Zonder Papieren (Movement for Undocumented Children) was amongst them who observed the Turkish-Kurdish local election on the 29th of March 2009. The Belgium delegation from Antwerp noticed serious violations of the rights of Kurdish children during their mission to observe the local elections. According the observation of the delegation, the Turkish anti-terror law has led to the criminalisation of Kurdish children.

The mission of our delegation was not only to observe the electoral process but also to learn about the human rights situation in South-East Turkey. As we all know, the Turkish state committed and commits some serious human rights violations towards the Kurdish people. The last few years we now see specific problems with the rights of Kurdish children.

Since 2006 a change in the anti -terror law made it possible that children starting from fifteen years old can be trailed and sentenced as adults. Since that year, more than 1500 have been locked up. Most of them are charged with being a member of PKK merely for participating in street protests, which are often very violently reacted to by Turkish police . Children that sung a Kurdish hymne on a conference in the U.S. were being arrested at their return to Turkey. Human rights activists that defend their rights are harassed and arrested by the police. Most of them are not reimbursed for any of their work.

More specifically in Diyarbakir, lawyers are fighting for the liberation of more than one hundred minors that were arrested on the fifteenth of Februarys last year, during a demonstration to commemorate the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan ten years ago. After speaking tot their lawyers we learned that the conditions in which the minors are being detained are a voilation of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child. This convention ratified by Turkey, although they amended the articles about religious, linguistic and cultural rights. In South-East Turkey no detention centres and courts exist adapted to the needs and rights of minors.

Before the start of their process, the children were already in prison for more than one year. The cells are overcrowded and specific medical conditions like epilepsy are not being seen to by doctors. The children don’t have the right to go to school or to see a psychologist. Their parents are not allowed to give them clothes or medicines. Lawyers see that the children are in a very bad psychological en physical state. It seems clear that the Turkish anti – terrorism law is creating new terrorists.

It should also be clear that these kind of situations are not acceptable for a country that is negotiating about joining the European Union. Our delegation calls all Flemish, Belgian and European politicians to start a dialogue with the Turkish government about these ill-treatment’s of children and prioritise human and children’s rights during the annexation process.

We also call on them to lobby with us for the liberation of the Kurdish children. Kurdish human rights activists and lawyers have difficulties reaching international politicians and organisations because of discrimination and lack of funding.

(x) Nina Henkens is working in Beweging voor Kinderen Zonder Papieren (Movement for Undocumented Children) / Belgium