1. Stage THE KURDS IN TURKEY
President of Defend International WIDAD AKRAWI
We are launching our new joint campaign, entitled "The Kurds and International Agreements". The first stage of this campaign will focus on the Kurds in Turkey.
Any hasty review of the general situation in Turkey shows that for almost the past 80 years the majority of Kurds have learned the Turkish language, and Kurdish males over the age of 20 have performed military service in a state that does not recognize the existence of the Kurdish ethnicity. Efforts to organize themselves politically or even culturally are seen as offences against the Turkish State, a violation of its law, acts punishable by law. This policy has existed in Turkey for decades, and after decades of peaceful activities the Kurds were left with no alternative, but to defend themselves.
One way Turkey has chosen to deal with the Kurdish issue is through using the term "terrorist".
By branding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as "terrorist", Turkey seeks to insinuate that any Kurd who demands Kurdish rights is a "terrorist", even those who do so peacefully. This is illegitimate reasoning and will simply prevent to reach a comprehensive approach to the settlement of the Kurdish question in Turkey. Indeed even Turkey in the end will suffer from its inflexibility which has forced the Kurds to fight for basic Kurdish rights. In the long run Turkey will be stronger by accepting and implementing these rights.
The fact that the EU has been persuaded to "list" Kurdistan Workers Party on the terror-list is a major reason that the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the long conflict has been almost impossible and that the Kurdish people currently face grave violations of human rights.
The label of Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist organisation is both legally and factually incorrect. This labelling flies in the face of International Humanitarian Law. A fundamental rule of the humanitarian law is that only certain designated individuals have the right to participate in an armed conflict, and those are entitled to combatant status. Combatant status means that a combatant can attack "enemy" soldiers without committing a crime. This principle has been one of Customary International Law for centuries, as well as referred to in treaty-based humanitarian law, such as Article 1 of the Hague Regulations. Kurdistan Workers’ Party meets all factual and legal tests for combatant status under International Humanitarian Law rules. The most important elements of the combatant status are as follows:
o Belonging to an organized armed unit or force which forms part of a belligerent party;
o Serving under organized and responsible command;
o Having a fixed and clear distinction from civilian persons;
o Carrying arms openly; and
o Complying with the rules and laws of armed conflicts.
PKK combatants fight militarily openly on military battlefields. They have military bases both inside and in border regions of Turkey and fight in accordance with the laws of war. Kurdistan Workers’ Party has signed the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocol I of 1977 and the Ottawa landmine treaty.
International Humanitarian Law should govern the conflict between the government of Turkey and Kurdistan Workers’ party. Common Article 3 of Geneva applies to armed conflicts not of an international character, taking place between governmental forces and the forces of one or more armed groups or between such groups only. The two criteria of the Common Article 3 are met:
* First: The armed confrontation has reached a "minimum level of intensity"; in fact the government of Turkey has used military forces for several years, instead of police forces. Turkey is using tanks, airplanes, armoured vehicles and other military materiel. On several occasions Turkey’s parliament authorized military incursion into Northern Iraq. All this confirms an armed conflict is occurring with varying degrees of intensity.
* Second: the non-governmental group, in this case Kurdistan Workers Party, must be considered as "party to the conflict", as they possess organized armed forces. They are under a certain command structure and have the capacity to sustain military operations.
The definition of Non-International Armed Conflicts in the Meaning of Article 1 of Additional Protocol II is also met. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party exercises territorial control which enables them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol.
It is a well-known fact that during times of armed conflict, many countries refrain from a formal declaration of conflict. Typical of the tactics used by governments is to characterize the conflict as "terrorism" and "counter-terrorism" rather than armed conflict.
It is necessary that the difference between armed conflict and terrorism is borne in mind. Please review the table on screen to see the differences between terrorist activities and military operations.
To label Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist group is incorrect. Terrorist groups are not wearing uniforms or emblems, that identify them as fighters, do not carry weapons openly, and do not use the traditional military operations as does the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. We welcome the recent decision of the European Court in Luxembourg on April 2008 saying the 2002 decision to proscribe the PKK was illegal under EU law and it should be removed from the blacklist. We appeal to de-list the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist organisation. The labeling is politically motivated; the decision has no basis in law.
We believe that unarmed peaceful methods, dialogue and negotiation, no matter how difficult and frustrating the process may seem are the only way to bring lasting peace that both Kurds and Turks deserve.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has declared unilateral cease-fires several times as a way to find a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey.
During the nearly 24 years of sustained armed conflict, the Turkish government has reportedly carried out serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. In its rulings, the European Court of Human Rights found the government of Turkey guilty of burning and other destruction of Kurdish villages and the disappearance of some of its inhabitants in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms & Protocol No. 1. Many deaths in custody and countless reports of torture remain uninvestigated. Turkish authorities frequently claim that deaths in custody are suicides. The verification is a big challenge because the Turkish authorities deny access to international impartial monitors. Over 52 journalists covering this conflict have been killed. Captured combatants have been shot summarily and denied all POW rights.
The seriousness of these violations led Turkey not to acknowledge that a Non-International Armed Conflict exists in the South-eastern region. The government managed successfully to attempt to label Kurdistan Workers Party to:
o Avoid any judgment on its military actions under International Humanitarian Law;
o To Avoid international censure;
o Avoid application of International Humanitarian Law to this conflict;
o Receive indemnification for the damage caused by opposition forces, in terms of insured military targets; and to
o Receive support from foreign donors who mostly restrict aid during periods of armed conflict or only allocate funds to combat "terrorism".
So to sum up, this analysis illustrates that the use of the "terrorist" label against Kurdistan Workers’ party contrasts with international humanitarian law, thus a delisting process should be initiated as soon as possible. We hope that the European countries will remove this party from the blacklist in line with international humanitarian law. In addition this will enable proper review of the conflict under applicable norms; will facilitate negotiation; will enhance the democratic process and discourage the use of force and arms in Turkey towards the achievement of peace and security in the region.
To conclude our remarks, we would like to point out that respect for international agreements and promoting human rights are essential components of peace-building throughout the world. Civil Society organisations can take part in helping societies to build peace. The fact is undeniable: this debate is necessary and important. It is high time the international community discuss the human suffering caused by labelling the Kurdistan Workers Party. Our vision is to create needed environment where peace can become achievable.
Thank you very much.
WIDAD AKRAWI is the Chair of Defend International, an NGO working to stop human rights violations, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. She has nearly 20 years experiences as a human rights defender, including service on the policy commission of Amnesty International and on the board of Amnesty’s Danish section. Her areas of expertise are international human rights and international humanitarian law, disarmament, international security and peace.
E-mail: [email protected]