§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, we move from one situation of violence to another in the valuable debate that was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I want to start by thanking him not only for raising this issue on the Floor of the House but also for the very important role that he has fulfilled, and continues to fulfil, as chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He is tireless in his efforts not just for the Kurds but for people in many parts of the world, and those of different parties greatly welcome the trouble that he takes and the fact that from time to time he raises these issues in the House.
Since I am paying compliments, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord said about the decision that was taken about 18 months ago by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to establish a human rights division. That was a most important move. Many of us who are concerned with human rights issues find that department to be very helpful. I also welcome the sensitive and compassionate approach to this issue taken by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. His was a short but caring speech.
I have some sympathy with the trade union delegation to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebuty, referred. Its members were locked up for a number of hours. Some Members of your Lordships' House will know that I had a similar experience in July and I shall begin by getting it off my chest. I had travelled from Istanbul to Diyarbakir. I had driven for five hours to Iraq in order to visit the Kurds in northern Iraq. On 16th July I returned to Istanbul making the same gruelling journey. At about midnight that night I was grabbed by the Turkish police and taken to the police station. They knew that I was a Member of your Lordships' House, although obviously I was not impressing them. They also knew that I had been in touch with the British Consul because I had said that the British Consul would come to see me and that I would prefer to go to their police station when the consul was there. That did not impress them and, with three others, I was frogmarched to the police station. The others included two Iraqi Kurds and I was most concerned for their welfare. There was also a British journalist who it may be thought had a part in this situation because she suddenly appeared late at night wearing a tee-shirt which had printed on it the word "Kurdistan". It was that which sparked off the trouble.
It was not a happy occasion. I was held by the police for 16 hours in a small and dirty police station. I was given no food or drink. There was no place to sleep and I lay on a dirty floor. We were guarded throughout and spent some time with our hands out facing a wall unable to speak or to move. It was only after several hours that we were released and I was allowed to come back to Britain.
I have sympathy with the victims of the Turkish police, who can be difficult. I was not beaten but I suspect that the Kurds who were with me would have 455 had a much tougher time had they not been accompanied by a Member of the British Parliament. I received a fulsome apology from the Chief of Police once the circumstances of the case had been sorted out. The police had thought that we might be terrorists and it was in the atmosphere of terrorism that the situation occurred. I had returned from northern Iraq to Istanbul, making the five hour drive. During that journey the atmosphere was very tense and there were many tanks and gun positions. At the end of the day I discovered that 40 people had been killed during the previous week. That was the atmosphere in which the incident took place.
While I was in the police station I was approached by a member of the Foreign Office because there was interest in the press. I said, "No press. I make no comment". It seemed to me to be to the advantage of no one that some trouble should occur. My mission had been to Kurdistan. On my return I sent a report to the noble Baroness. She has to read many reports, even a lot from me, and therefore I do not ask her to comment upon it. However, it is right that we should see the situation of the Kurds in Turkey in the context of the whole plight of the Kurdish people and of our relationship with them.
In northern Iraq I saw Kurdish people who had been cruelly treated by Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of villages have been totally destroyed, together with their people where it has been possible to kill them. I saw the horrors of Halabja, which has been totally destroyed and where poisonous gas has been used. The people now suffer from the double embargo of the UN embargo against Iraq and Iraq's added embargo against the Kurds. Perhaps there will be other opportunities to raise the specific issues relating to the Kurds in northern Iraq.
However, we must see the situation as a whole. The Kurdish people are spread across five different countries including Iraq, Turkey and Iran where their circumstances are very bad. I have received many reports of great hardships suffered by the Kurdish people in Iran. There are smaller numbers in Syria and in Russia. Eventually, the whole future of the Kurdish people must be tackled by the world community.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to their rights. The Kurdish people are "a people". Western governments, after a treaty was signed by Turkey, Iraq and Great Britain on 5th June 1926, completed the process of redefining and drawing boundaries which makes them "a people" of minority in five different sovereign nations, most of which have little respect for human rights. Therefore, the situation is most unsatisfactory. Even though the British Government concerned was in office many decades ago, the British people have a responsibility to ensure that justice is eventually provided to these people. I recognise all the difficulties. When I was in Kurdistan I said to some people, "Your demands for instant recognition are quite unrealistic". One must persuade people who are suffering from misery to be realistic but that is not easy, as many of us know.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, one cannot get away from the fact that the International Covenants 456 on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have a common article. Article 1 declares:All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development".Of course, there are problems of deciding who are "a people" for the purpose of self-determination. That issue must be properly considered by the UN. There are many alternatives, all of which have relevance to the Kurds in Turkey.
It may well be that the United Nations may decide that the Trusteeship Council should be given a new role. It may be decided that there should be a commission for self-determination where definitions can be drawn and accepted and where claims can be considered and accorded. However, to allow the situation to continue forever would be an affront to the Kurdish people who have a history, a language and a tradition of their own. They are an entity but they are divided by totally unrealistic and, for them, unfair boundaries.
I do not suggest that they are the only people who have such a claim. The same applies in a more defined form to Tibet. The same applies to the people of East Timor and to Kashmir. Often such claims for self-determination should not be accepted. The thought that everyone who claimed independence should be granted it would mean that the whole world would be plunged into chaos. However, the thought that those who have an entitlement should be refused that forever would mean that we would perpetuate injustice.
In seeking to respond to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, it is necessary for the House and the Minister—as of course she will—to put the plight of the Kurds in Turkey into its wider perspective. I do not ever tolerate violence. I would not put my signature to the actions of the PKK any more than I would to those of the IRA because I do not believe that violence can be accepted. But I know that the degree to which those people are subject to cruelty by the government under which they live is not tolerable to the rest of us. It is not tolerable to the world and it is not tolerable to the CSCE. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the way in which the problem has been analysed and reported on.
I felt a great deal of sympathy for the statement made by the chairman of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association when he said:This is a dirty war with no restrictions. The Turkish Government call it a war against terrorism, but in fact it is a war against the nation and people. Western governments should stop supplying the weapons for use against our people".We have said that in relation to East Timor. There are many other places where arms are supplied by British and other Western governments which are used for the oppression of peoples. The chairman continued:We recommend that states reconsider their arms sales policies, with a view to imposing a total embargo on the sales of weapons and ammunition to Turkey, in the light of the onslaught on the Kurdish people".I wish to associate myself also with the conclusions reached by the delegation led by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I hope that the Minister will look at those conclusions, one of which stated: 457We believe that the present wave of forced depopulation, military attacks on villages, and mass murders of Kurdish civilians by the armed forces, demands a much higher level of attention from the United Nations than it has received hitherto; that the Secretary-General's ideas on preventive diplomacy should come into play, and that the UN Rapporteurs on Torture and Extrajudicial Executions should conduct special investigations in the Kurdish region. We have also urged that our own and other CSCE Governments take steps to inform themselves about the crisis facing the Kurds".The Kurds in Turkey face their own crisis. They know that they face a much larger crisis for Kurds who are associated with them across national frontiers. I hope that in her reply the Minister, who has a great care for human rights and for whom I have much respect, will present a broader approach to the problem, rather than merely answer the Question about the Kurds in Turkey.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, sits down, perhaps I may ask this question. Does he not give some credit at least to the Turkish Government for their efforts in a number of areas, particularly in the refugee camp for Kurds in Diyarbakir, which I also saw about a year ago? One must give credit and acknowledge that the subversive actions of the PKK in some of the refugee camps have thwarted the efforts which the Turkish Government have made from time to time.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I wish that the noble Lord had put his name down to speak so that he could have shared his experiences with us in a rather more detailed way than merely by putting a question to me.
I am reluctant to make a judgment on a situation on which I am not fully informed. When people are driven from their villages into refugee camps and their families are slaughtered and houses destroyed, one cannot expect a reasonable approach from the politicians who represent their interests. I do not tolerate or give my support to violence, but I say that it is to be expected. One type of behaviour by a government leads to a certain response from peoples; and we must understand that. Where the Turkish Government have shown restraint and understanding, I give them credit for that. But, in my view, they have not seriously sought to solve the problem of a people who are oppressed as a minority within the Turkish state.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, in thinking that we should have a general and wider debate on the situation of the Kurdish people in all the countries in which they find themselves. Today I join with others who have already thanked the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the way in which he introduced this debate on the slightly narrower issue of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I have not been incarcerated in Turkey and I have yet to visit the Kurdish provinces of that country, although my son passed through them as a tourist a few years ago.
In the summer of 1988 I came to hear of Diyarbakir, Mus and Mardin because it was there that the Turkish Government put into refugee camps the Kurds from Northern Iraq who had fled from the genocide of 458 Saddam Hussein. We know that that exodus followed the poison gas attack on Halabja and the destruction or hundreds, if not thousands, of Kurdish villages.
It is relevant to recall that the Turkish authorities kept those bona fide refugees under harsh conditions and were extremely reluctant to give access to foreign diplomats or to accept help for the refugees through the, International Red Cross and Red Crescent. That may be a partial answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
More recently, a friend of mine who has visited the region on several occasions and who speaks the local languages, reported that the Turkish army and police were confiscating cassettes of Kurdish music. She also witnessed random arrests, the breaking-up of meetings and wanton firing by army vehicles at civilian houses. I hope that many of your Lordships saw a. recent BBC 2 film presented by Michael Ignatieff. That showed the violent repression of the traditional Kurdish New Year celebrations in the town or village of Cizre. That was repression by the Turkish army.
I wish to pay tribute to the reports of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on its recent and earlier visits. I very much respect the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the observance of basic standards in an area which is easily disregarded or forgotten. The horror of Bosnia, Somalia, the Sudan, Kashmir and elsewhere should not make us oblivious to South-East Turkey; all the more so since Turkey is a member of NATO and the Council of Europe and has an association agreement with the European Community, which it aspires to join.
It is worth spending a few moments considering the background of the Kurds. There seems little doubt that they descend from the Medes, the partners in empire of the Persians, who so nearly overthrew classical Greece. The Kurds were the mountain people who fought so freely against the great army of Cyrus and later Roman expeditions. Later they found themselves squeezed between the superior power of the Ottoman and Persian empires.
In 1920, following World War I, as has been mentioned, the Treaty of Sevres provided for an independent commission to draw up a scheme of local autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish area of Anatolia. The Council of the League of Nations reserved for itself the right to grant full independence at a later stage. However, all of that came to nothing with the Treaty of Lausanne and there followed long years of struggle and suffering when the Kurdish population tried to resist the might of the new Turkish unitary state.
During those years—and indeed long after the Second World War—the official Turkish line was to deny that the Kurdish people even existed and to refer instead to mountain Turks. The separate and distinct language and culture of the Kurds was also denied and ignored. All official business had to be conducted in Turkish and attempts were made to prevent the use of Kurdish in public places. In a similar way, it was denied that members of the Alewite sect are Moslems, which they themselves claim to be.
In 1979, martial law was proclaimed in the Kurdish provinces. In April 1990, 11 years later and after 459 guerilla violence and military repression, Turkey passed an emergency regulation for the Kurdish region. That permitted forcible resettlement, closure of the press, suppression of trade union rights and immunity from prosecution for government forces. Those who refuse to join village militias, are liable to forcible resettlement and the destruction of their homes. The Minority Rights group concluded in its report dated August 1991:Repression is no solution … If Kurdish community needs are not addressed, defeated political groups will turn to urban warfare…. The international community has a responsibility to help find a balance between the legitimate sovereign requirements of governments (e.g. Turkey) and the right of their Kurdish communities to enjoy cultural expression and genuine control over their own affairs".The forecast of urban war has been borne out, alas, in recent weeks, with attacks on Turkish property in many cities, including London.
I trust that that report, together with the longer Minority Rights Group Report No. 23 on the Kurds of 1989 and the report of the Kurdistan Committee to the 47th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (which took place from January to March 1991) will be studied, not only by the Foreign Office but also by the Home Office. I urge that because the factual prose of the reports explains why there was a sudden influx into Britain of refugees from the Kurdish provinces of Turkey in the late 1980s. That flow of refugees is, as we know, now largely stopped by the imposition of visas and by the fining of air lines carrying passengers with incorrect documents. Even at this late stage, I once again urge Her Majesty's Government to allow the reuniting of those Kurdish families who already have one or more members in Britain. The seriousness of their cases has already been admitted by the granting of "exceptional leave to remain" here. The plight of the wives, children and dependants of those people is now desperate.
I turn now to the printed report of the Human Rights Group, drawn from both Houses of Parliament, which visited the Kurdish regions of Turkey between October 12th and 17th of this year. The first point to note is the unequivocal condemnation of war crimes and murders of non-combatants by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (known as the PKK). The group recommended that the International Committee of the Red Cross should persuade the PKK to observe the Geneva Conventions, which apply to all armed conflicts. The recommendation is made despite numerous violations of the convention by the Turkish Government. Therefore, there can be no question of support for terrorism.
The report itself makes grim reading. It points out the double effect of the Turkish constitution and the Anti-Terror Law which make any democratic action for change into treasonable and arrestable offences. The report deals with murder, attacks and arrests of members of the Turkish Parliament and the persecution of councillors and party workers of the Democracy Party and of the People's Labour Party. It examines the closure of newspapers disapproved of by the Turkish Government and the murders and attempted murders of proprietors, editors, journalists and human rights workers.
460 Many hundreds of villages in Turkey have already been depopulated by expelling or deporting their inhabitants. The report to the United Nations which I have already mentioned gives the names of villages cleared, and usually burnt or demolished, between January 1990 and January 1991. In the same period, it is worth noting that about 20 forests were burnt down by the Turkish Army.
The parliamentary report deals at some length with attacks on villages with extra-judicial killings, the generalised use of torture and the rape of arrested women. In one particular case, an independent witness saw three police officers sexually assaulting two women in Agri Police Station. Worse still, doctors and health workers have supervised or condoned torture or refused treatment to torture victims. On the other hand—and in defence of the medical profession—a named doctor is reported to have been imprisoned for 45 months for treating a wanted person, and a second doctor is now said to be in prison in Mus for treating an alleged guerilla. Perhaps I may reinforce the report's appeal to the British Medical Association. I trust that the BMA will persuade their Turkish colleagues to repudiate all forms of torture and that it will invite the Turkish Government to instruct all hospitals to accept all patients who may be in medical need.
The parliamentary report follows an earlier report by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his visit to Turkey in April 1992. It adds to and confirms existing information from Helsinki Watch, Amnesty International, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It cannot be brushed aside, particularly in view of the number of eyewitnesses and next of kin from whom it obtained statements. We look forward to hearing the Government's response and also their attitude to the recent detention in Turkey of a delegation of British trade unionists.
The Question refers to,the protection of the Kurdish minority in Turkey".In 1990, that minority was estimated at 10.8 million people, no less than 19 per cent. of the total population. It is, therefore, a very substantial minority. Action is possible and should be taken at many levels. The UN Security Council should be involved because of cross-border attacks from Syria and into and from Iraq. There is also the question of the head-waters and downstream flow of the Tigris and the Euphrates. A UN rapporteur—and here I agree with previous speakers—should be appointed for the human rights of all the Kurdish peoples in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Special consultative status at the UN should be provided for the Kurdish people. The UN Rapporteur on Torture should also be asked to investigate urgently all allegations of torture of Kurds, and of others, in Turkey.
The Council of Europe also has an interest because Turkey derogated in 1990 from Articles 5, 6, 8, 10, 11 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I ask: is that wide derogation still justifiable? The Council of Europe and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be asked to visit and report on all prisons and places of interrogation and detention in Turkey, starting with the south-eastern provinces. The 461 CSCE, which has also been mentioned today, now has a High Commissioner for Minorities. He should be asked to visit Turkey at the earliest opportunity. A substantial group of CSCE observers should be permanently deployed in the south-eastern provinces, which have known little peace in the past 70 years. Such action could only improve the human rights situation and help to obtain compliance with the Geneva convention.
Last but not least, Turkey is a member of NATO. All further supplies of arms and ammunition from NATO sources, including "trickle down" supplies from other NATO members, should be stopped until the Turkish forces adopt normal, civilised standards of conduct. I understand that Germany has already acted in this way. I conclude by asking Her Majesty's Government what instructions they have given, and will give, to their representatives in each of the international fora I have just mentioned.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
My Lords, I, too, begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this subject to the attention of the House. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on all he does as chairman of the parliamentary human rights group. I have attended the meetings of that group, particularly when they have concerned the Kurds. There could be no one more sincere in carrying out his work. I shall suggest in my speech, however, that the noble Lord must not consider that every single one of his ducks is necessarily a swan. He should consider that there is perhaps another side to this matter that we should discuss. The noble Lord, with his authority in this matter, should address that other side.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned the plight of the Kurds across the world. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who rightly pointed out that there are now 28 million Kurds. They comprise the largest single group in the world who do not have their own country. I am just a tiny bit younger than the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Ennals, and I would say to them, with respect, that I am determined that within my own lifetime the Kurds will gain their own country.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, pointed out, the Kurds are descendants of the Medes. They have some 2,000 years of history. They are not a bunch of upstarts. Those of us who have had the privilege of meeting the Kurds, whether in Turkey, Iraq or Iran, will know only too well that they comprise a highly civilised, middle class, well educated, well ordered and decent people who deserve our support at every level and who deserve the support of every party in our Parliament.
The world's attention was drawn to the plight of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein when they fled his oppression and went into the hills. I believe that if one talks to Kurds in London now they will say that almost the best result of that action was the fact that the Kurds no longer have to explain what being a Kurd means. The Kurds have spent 2,000 years explaining what that means but it took the evil of Saddam Hussein to let us 462 all know who the Kurds are. Indeed they have friends in every part of the House. I hope I may dare to make a political point, in that it was our own Government and indeed our own Prime Minister who proposed the safe havens for which the Kurds in Iraq are so grateful.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that there is a subtle difference between the Kurds in Iraq and some Kurds —I emphasise the words "some Kurds"—in Turkey. I do not wish to initiate a debate or. that point but I would point out to the noble Lord that the Kurds in Iraq have 30,000 Peshmerga soldiers to defend their borders against. Saddam Hussein. However, never once has it been stated in any newspaper that a Kurd in Northern Iraq has disrupted life beyond the 36th Parallel. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will not have come across such a comment.
Kurds in Iraq have told me again and again that, if they wished to, they could bring Baghdad to a standstill and they could reduce it to rubble. However, instead they want the whole world to view them as people who only defend that part of the land they believe is theirs and who never act in any other way.
I am worried when I read about Kurds in Turkey who have destroyed 44 schools. Of course I am referring to the PKK. There are 10 million Kurds in Turkey and I am sure the PKK constitutes a tiny group among them. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would be the first to condemn the IRA. I want him to condemn the tiny group I have just referred to and not the 99 per cent. of Kurds in Turkey who are decent and who deserve our support. However, sometimes one has to stand up and say, "Yes, I do support the Kurds but at no time will I have anything to do with terrorism of that sort". Surely nothing can be gained from razing 44 schools to the ground. That is certainly not a cause with which I would wish to be involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to a document from the Minority Rights Group International. The document is written by David McDowall. It is clearly supportive of the Kurds but Mr. McDowall states:In 1990 the Kurdish question became a major domestic issue. Scores were reported killed in the PKK's spring offensive, and 44 schools destroyed".I do not wish to exaggerate this matter. I accept that that is only one paragraph in a large document but I believe that in the position the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, holds it is his responsibility occasionally when he fights his cause to make it clear to all of us that he will have nothing to do with terrorism of any kind, whatever the cause. The Kurds in Iraq have been fighting for years to defend their borders but they would never go over those borders and they would never commit terrorism of any kind.
I have four questions for the Minister which I hope she will be able to answer. One matter in particular worries me greatly. I have only recently heard about this matter, which has been mentioned by a senior source, and I would like to hear her views on it. First, we have a new Turkish Prime Minister and we are of course aware that she has her own political problems at the moment but in 1982 the Turks passed a law which forbade the Kurds free discussion. The legal document that was passed in the Turkish Parliament mentioned the 463 "prevention of free discussion". Will the Minister say whether, when she next meets the Turkish Ambassador or the Turkish Prime Minister, she will make it very clear that those words should be removed from any legal document in the Turkish language? It cannot be right that 10 million Kurds in Turkey cannot even have free discussion. I hope she will leave the people she meets in no doubt that such behaviour is unacceptable for a member of NATO and for a nation that claims it wants one day to be part of the European Community.
Secondly, I return to the PKK issue. I cannot confirm my next statement, although it worries me sufficiently for me to raise it before noble Lords today. I hear that in London the PKK is extorting money from Turkish restaurateurs to promote its cause. Has the Minister heard this and is there any truth in it? If there is, will she tell us what is to be done about it?
Thirdly, is she aware—I am sure she is—of the success of the parliament in Erbil in Iraq, which is now almost autonomous in its running of what I call Iraqi Kurdistan? Fourthly, will she ask the Turkish Government to consider how that has worked? The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned the problems of sanctions that are working against the interests of the Kurds in Iraq. But, despite that, they are running what we might call a district council with great competence and determination. It is elected, with observers from all over the world. After 18 months we do not read in our newspapers how it has failed and does not work. We read simply that if the Kurds were given a little more they would be even more successful. I return to the point that we are dealing with a middle-class, educated people. We are not dealing with a cause that has no hope. We are dealing with a cause which demands, and lam sure receives, the support of everyone in this House and in the country.
Finally, I ask the Minister when she thinks of Kurds to think of those Kurds in six nations who make up the total of 28 million. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, proudly supports the Kurds in Turkey and I support them in Iraq. We should think of them as one nation.
I say to the noble Lord who brought this matter to the attention of the House that he and I think about this problem every day, as does the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. Sometimes people have one image of a nation. They hear the word "Kurds" and they think of Saddam Hussein. I do not want anybody who is on the outer rim to hear the word "Kurds" and think of terrorism and of people being killed by them. I want them to hear the word "Kurds" and to think of a race which is not receiving a fair deal and to feel that it is our duty to do something about it. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to think in those terms. I ask the Minister sitting on the Front Bench to do everything in her power to see that that happens.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising this Question and will admire his energy and courage in visiting south-east Turkey under arduous conditions last month and producing so quickly such a detailed report 464 for the All-Party Group on Human Rights. What he has told us, together with the additional information provided by other noble Lords, has demonstrated vividly how serious is the breakdown of human rights in Turkey.
On cue, but quite independently, the experience of a group of trade unionists who were recently detained and then expelled from Turkey has emphasised that fact. As the debate on the Unstarred Question began I was talking on the telephone to a member of that delegation, Alan Herzman, who is a member of MSF. He and his fellow delegates are still severely emotionally shaken by their experiences. He tells me that the whole area gives the impression of an armed camp. The group visited the town of Batman, which has a population of 250,000. It is occupied by no fewer than 30,000 Turkish troops. Deaths occur every day. On a number of occasions the delegation heard bursts of automatic weapon fire.
Later the delegation went to the village of Birik, which a few days previously had been destroyed by the Turkish Army. When they got there they were met by a group of women who were screaming hysterically that they should keep away because they would be in danger of being shot by the army. As noble Lords will have seen, one member of the delegation picked up some of the ash and rubble from one of the destroyed houses.
Noble Lords will have read of the experience of one member of the group, Mary Broadbin, who, while she was waiting to board the aeroplane at Diyarbakir Airport, was intimidated by an armed policeman who came close to her and fired bullets from his weapon into the ground two feet in front of her, purely as an act of intimidation.
As many other noble Lords have demonstrated in their speeches, the Kurds have been denied nationhood. As a people they are remarkably resilient. They accept adversity, but they are not deterred from pursuing their claim for self-determination, however cruel and illegal the methods used against them by Turkey, Saddam Hussein or Iran.
Until I read the noble Lord's report I had not realised how repressive are the Turkish laws against those who call for normal internationally agreed rights for minority groups. Thus, under Article 3 of the Turkish constitution, any act or statement, whether oral or in writing, which can be held to undermine Turkey's unity becomes criminal. Even the mildest assertion of Kurdish nationalism may land a person in the courts or be used to justify armed attacks by the police or the military. As has been pointed out, the penal code is incredibly harsh. It provides for the death sentence against anybody who appears to speak against the unity of the Turkish state or who advocates the separation of part of that state. Imagine the entire Scottish National Party under sentence of death.
With laws like those and the suppression of the pro-Kurdish press, the extrajudicial killings, torture and the wholesale destruction of villages, it is hardly surprising that the PKK has become an armed opposition group. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Archer, that PKK's treatment of village guards who are suspected of collaborating with the Turkish Army or police, even when they have been pressed into doing so, 465 is brutal and deserves condemnation. The same applies to the PKK's habit of taking hostages and destroying buildings and schools, and sometimes violent international activities. However, like other groups over time and throughout the world who believe that their cause is just and have despaired of receiving a fair hearing, they have taken to the mountains and to arms. However, it has to be said that they do their cause no good by carrying out summary executions without trial.
In March this year the PKK proclaimed a ceasefire, which held for about three months. During that time there was a diminution of the killing by both sides. Unfortunately no use was made of that opportunity and no negotiations took place.
I would like the noble Baroness to consider the best way in which the UK, as a member of NATO, can act in the role of honest broker in this dangerous and deteriorating situation. I have a few suggestions: first, if Turkey cannot be persuaded immediately to take a view more in line with the CSCE and United Nations' resolutions on the treatment of ethnic minorities, we may have to consider tougher and more coercive measures. Trade sanctions on a fellow member of NATO may seem difficult, and possibly unthinkable, particularly in the case of arms sanctions, since it is a military alliance. However, now that there is no immediate threat to western Europe from Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union, we have seriously to consider whether we can continue to include in the NATO Alliance states whose human rights records fall below the standards which are common to the remainder of the alliance and are in accord with United Nations and CSCE principles.
Perhaps as a minor diversion from the Question, I may put this forward as a subject for consideration. Do we not need to rethink the whole purpose of NATO, which was set up as an organisation to resist possible aggressive and expansionist attacks by the Soviet Union? Because of its notoriously bad human rights record, not simply in relation to its Kurdish minority, many of us have been worried for a long time about including Turkey in NATO. The Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs. Cillar, put forward constructive suggestions to improve relationships with the Kurdish minority last June. The fact that she was overruled, presumably by the military group which holds power, suggests that democracy in Turkey is a facade largely put on to please us. It would seem right that Turkey should now be required to enter into a dialogue with its Kurdish minority, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, pointed out, comprises one-fifth of the nation, end the repression of which we have heard details today, and allow free discussion of the Kurdish case both within and outside Turkey. Despite past favours by Turkey to us—I refer to the provision of NATO bases, putting its army at the disposal of NATO, and helping us in the Gulf War—we do not now need Turkey for our security, although of course we still need Turkish facilities to gain access to the Kurds in Iraq and friendly relationships with any nation are beneficial for all of us. But has the time not come for the United Kingdom and 466 the remainder of NATO to put pressure on Turkey to put its house in order? Not only the Kurds but the ordinary hard-pressed people of Turkey would thank us for that.
Finally, as a doctor, I was disturbed, as was the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to read in the report of the all-party group about the involvement or connivance of doctors in torture, and that doctors have been detained, arrested or even tortured themselves for treating guerrillas and PKK members. Particular mention was made of the case of Dr. Ilhan Diken, who was given a 45-month sentence. Dr. Tasci is still in Mus prison awaiting trial for giving medical treatment to an alleged guerrilla. Such action naturally makes doctors hesitant to treat those who could be held to have been wounded or tortured by the Turkish security forces.
In 1981 Islamic doctors issued the Declaration of Kuwait, which pledges the Islamic doctor,to be all the way an instrument of God's mercy, extending ray medical care to near and far, virtuous and sinner, and friend and enemy"—a rule in line with our own Hippocratic Oath. The ethical committee of the BMA has received a copy of the report. I anticipate that it will be in touch with its Turkish opposite number. I hope that Her Majesty's Government too will take these further violations of basic human rights into account in their future dealings with Turkey.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords. I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on raising this important issue, and doing so on the basis of first-hand experience, visiting some parts of the region and meeting with some of those who are suffering in this tragic situation.
I speak with some diffidence, not having been able to see the situation for myself. However, I participate in this debate in your Lordships' House because the predicament of the Kurds in Turkey raises some fundamental issues on human rights. Moreover, sadly, it is possible to see many similarities between the suffering of the Kurds in Turkey and that of the Armenians, both historically and in the present day, with whose tragedy I have some familiarity.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has recounted today, and spelt out in great detail in his excellent report, some of the brutal policies inflicted by Turkey on the Kurds in recent times. There are, too, other sources which describe Turkey's acts of aggression, with the murder of tens of thousands of people, and the destruction of hundreds of villages. Since President Demirel reportedly recently declared that Turkey would wage a. "war of extermination" against all those defined as rebels, about 400,000 Kurds now fear that they are in imminent danger as their villages may be alleged to be supporting the PKK. Indeed many now believe that Turkey is about to seek a "final solution" of the Kurdish question.
The suffering of the Kurdish people has been beyond description. I shall add only a few more details and examples to those given by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others. The attack on the village of Lice on 22nd October of this year involved the massacre of 467 civilians and the use of flamethrowers, with the destruction of hundreds of houses, according to the Belgian Dr. Geert van Moorter of Doctors for the Third World. Most of the 10,000 now homeless villagers have fled through the cold to seek refuge elsewhere, but they testify to the fact that the destruction of their town was carried out exclusively by Turkish military forces.
Such barbarities have been continuing for some time. For example, the United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1992 described attacks by the Turkish army on towns and villages suspected of harbouring PKK terrorists. For example, the report gives a graphic and very disturbing account of attacks on the provincial town of Sirnak, with security forces firing on homes and shops for 44 hours, killing 14 civilians and forcing more than 20,000 people to flee their homes.
There is also great concern among some of the remaining Christians in Turkey that they are being caught in the cross-fire between the Turkish Government and the PKK, and the Turkish military forces' attempt to annihilate those they define as PKK supporters. As my noble friend Lord Brentford emphasised, the Christian village of Hassana was subjected to brutal deportations. On 4th November the mayor of that village was arrested and told to evacuate his people by 20th November. In an appeal for help to the authorities, he was just told by Turkish military personnel that he should obtain assistance from Churches in the West. Having seen the treatment meted out to other villages under threat, he and his people had no option but to leave. On 14th November the village elders pleaded: "The first snows of winters have already fallen and in less than a week we must abandon our homes, our livelihoods and our possessions with nowhere to go."
It is perhaps not irrelevant to note that at the beginning of the 1960s there were about 40,000 Christians in that area. The village of Hassana had Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, as my noble friend said. But on the eve of the latest government offensive, there were only 2,000 Christians left in the region. The people of Hassana were among those most committed to remaining in their homeland and had long resisted pressures to emigrate. In mid-November of this year, News Network International reported mounting anti-Christian sentiments in Turkey over the past four months. The NNI states:In the south-east, where more than 11,000 have been killed in the past decade, the intensified violence threatens to expel the region's tiny Syrian Orthodox Christian minority, whose heritage stretches back to the 4th century … according to a Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) statement on October 7, a total of 720 villages in the south-east had been forcibly emptied by security forces in the past 2 years; by early November, Turkish newspapers and TV broadcasts were reporting that as many as 600–900 villages in PKK-dominated provinces of the south-east are being evacuated by security forces".The Syrian community are not Turk, Kurd or Arab, but they are caught in the web of offensives between the PKK and government security forces and consequently are suffering mass deportations to the point of extinction from their ancient homeland.
468 Another very disturbing development related to this issue is the growth of the use of allegations of Armenian complicity with the PKK to whip up a growing wave of anti-Armenian feeling being generated throughout Turkey. Indeed, there are some rumoured allegations that the PKK leader is an Armenian. But although rumours abound, the Turkish daily news admitted on 11th November:that there seems to be no concrete evidence for such an (Armenian) connection in Ankara's hands".Nevertheless, such rumours of PKK connections can lead to pretexts for aggression and hostility towards Armenians in Turkey and elsewhere. There are reports of a dozen violent attacks against Armenian churches and institutions in Istanbul.
Like my noble friend Lord Archer of Western-super-Mare, I hold no brief for terrorism or for terrorist acts of violence perpetrated by the PKK. But the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has addressed their predicament and their policies very well in his excellent speech. Whatever the nature of the conflict which has tragically developed between the Kurds and the Turkish Government, it cannot be outside the bounds of possibility to see Turkish behaviour towards its Kurdish people as part of a continuing trajectory of expulsion or annihilation of ethnic minorities from Turkey. That trajectory saw the death of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 and also of Turkey's Aramaic-speaking Christian population so that by 1918, Anatolian Turkey was virtually devoid of those minorities which had numbered over 2.5 million people.
Then in 1921, there followed the expulsion of Turkey's Greek population, so that the Kurds have been left as the only sizeable ethnic minority in Turkey capable of sustaining an identifiable, distinctive communal life. There are many sad similarities between the treatment being meted out to them now and that inflicted on the Armenians and other minorities in earlier years.
The question must therefore be asked whether the international community, and in particular, Her Majesty's Government, are doing enough to put pressure on Turkey to desist from its brutal policies. In so doing, I wish to raise a few questions. I apologise that I have not been able to give my noble friend more notice, but I was abroad last week and have given very short notice of the questions. First, I should be grateful if my noble friend could indicate now or at a later time by what authority Turkish armed forces undertook attacks on Kurdish people outside Turkish territory in Northern Iraq. As a member of NATO, Turkey presumably had to receive permission to undertake a military offensive in another sovereign state. How was this permission given, by whom and when?
Secondly, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether, since we are a member of NATO, she can reassure your Lordships that no British or NATO arms or money are being spent on Turkish attacks against Kurdish civilians?
Thirdly, could my noble friend the Minister indicate what is being provided in the form of humanitarian aid 469 for the Kurdish people suffering from these deportations and acts of aggression, and what is the policy of the Government towards the provision of aid to them?
Fourthly, is my noble friend able to say what steps the CSCE is taking to try to persuade Turkey to desist from the gross violations of human rights? More generally, how is the CSCE endeavouring to achieve a balance between the twin pillars on which it was founded—its commitment to the principle of territorial integrity and its commitment to the protection of human rights? It appears that so far there has tended to be a greater concern for commitment to the principle of territorial integrity than for the protection of human rights. There is a real danger that if this imbalance continues, it will be seen as a mandate for repressive regimes to discriminate against, or even to wage war upon, their minorities with impunity.
While appreciating the important role of the CSCE's Commissioner for Minorities in trying to prevent violence against minority groups and while appreciating the considerable success he has already had, I understand that it is outside his remit to address situations where violence has already occurred. That is understandable, but it seems to leave a vacuum, with some of the most vulnerable peoples exposed to brutality, without any kind of redress or mechanism of appeal. I understand that the Council of Europe may be considering some means of filling this vacuum, but I wonder whether my noble friend could give some idea of how the matter will be dealt with and how soon.
With regard to the European Community, the Turkish Government place a high priority on Turkey obtaining membership of the European Community. Can my noble friend indicate the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the expansion of the EC to include Turkey and provide some assurances that the United Kingdom will oppose Turkish membership until such time as the rule of law prevails and human rights are adequately guaranteed in Turkey?
There is a grave fear in Armenia, where I was last week, that Turkey may be using the policy of a war of extermination of those Kurds it defines as rebels in order to attack Armenia itself, by alleging that it is harbouring Kurds. There is particular fear that Turkey may undertake a military offensive in the region of the Lachin corridor—that vital lifeline which links Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, without which Nagorno Karabakh could not survive. That would enable the Turks to achieve a military coup which would greatly help their friends, the Azeris, with their attempts to annihilate the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh.
In conclusion, I should just like to say that of course I understand that the West is keen to see Turkey become a bridge between East and West; that Turkey has strategic significance for NATO and western defence policy and is a significant source of trade for Britain. However, does that mean that we should mute our expressions of anxiety over well-documented and gross violations of human rights or not seek adequate mechanisms to protect very vulnerable groups, such as the Kurds, who are suffering from Turkey's brutal policies towards them, before it is too late and they go 470 the way of the Armenians in 1915, or the Greeks in 1921? Or is that bridge between West and East to be littered with even more corpses?
It is perhaps not irrelevant, as I finish, to recall in your Lordships' House this afternoon the report of the speech given in this House many years ago by Lord Bryce on 6th October 1915. Speaking of the Turkish massacre of the Armenians, he described in horrible detail the systematic massacres and deportations, with details which are grimly reminiscent of recent reports of similar brutality inflicted on the Kurds. As he drew to a conclusion, he said:I am sure we are all heartily agreed that every effort should be made that can be made to send help to the unfortunate survivors, hundreds of whom are daily perishing by want and disease.He urged the public opinion in the world and especially neutral nations:Let them now tell the Turkish government that there are some things which the outraged opinion of the world will not tolerate.I believe that the echoes of Lord Bryce's message speak today in your Lordships' House on behalf of the Kurds and I hope that they will not speak in vain.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I wish to add my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Avebury for initiating this debate. In the first seven months of this year four journalists were killed in Turkey. In southeast Turkey, one newspaper distributor and a newspaper vender were killed during the same period. The Turkish Government have made little effort to find and prosecute their killers and many other journalists, newspaper vendors and distributors have received death threats. Journalists who are part of what we may call the mainstream of the press are left alone, but journalists from Left-wing newspapers are frequently attacked, arrested or brought to trial. In south-east Turkey, journalists are particularly at risk.
Although the coalition government that came to power in November 1991 suggested that past restrictions on freedom of expression would be lifted, their actions have been extremely disappointing. More than that, it is clear that the Turkish Government are very keen to prevent knowledge of their strategy and tactics in south-east Turkey from reaching the outside world.
The repression of freedom of speech includes other, somewhat less brutal matters. In 1988, Edip Polat published his first book The Truth about Diyarbakir, a first-hand account of conditions suffered by mainly Kurdish political prisoners in the notorious military prison of that name. Its second edition, with a new foreword by the author, led to his imprisonment for six weeks and his eventual acquittal on charges of "making separatist propaganda".
In 1992 Edip Polat wrote a second book which described his trial for his first book. In December 1992 he was convicted under the same law—Article 142 of the Turkish penal code. He was sentenced to two years in gaol. He also received a record fine, which was imposed upon him and his publisher. The fine was later overruled by the court of appeal.
471 Polat's third book, Kurds and Kurdistan in the Language of Science, published in 1992, lists plants, insects and one mammal which contain references to Kurdistan in their Latin classifications. The book also gives the view of Turkish scientists on the use of such classifications and describes the uneasiness with which those classifications have been met in some academic circles in Turkey. For that, Polat was indicted and faced a prison term of up to five years and a fine of 50 million Turkish lira, which is about £4,270. The publisher and Dr. Ismail Besikci, who wrote the preface, were tried with the author. Polat and Besikci were acquitted on 2nd April. The court agreed that the book contained scientific content.
There are other similar cases which demonstrate beyond question the policy and practice of the Turkish Government to silence opposition to their policies and to prevent the truth from becoming known. It is interesting to note that some of the structures of a civilised society are still in place in Turkey. We have heard how terror subverts humanity, how some doctors have gone along with the terror and how some doctors are fighting it. It seems that the Turkish courts system still operates according to the rule of law.
I should also like to refer to a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, about the dual nature of the persecution. The noble Lord referred to the religious as well as the ethnic aspects of this terrible situation. I wonder whether the Minister can tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government agree that there is a need greatly to strengthen the Copenhagen Declaration, which encompasses both ethnic and religious minorities, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, to strengthen the powers of the Commissioner for Human Rights?
Finally, I realise that although the Cold War is over, the area of south-eastern Europe and south-western Asia is in many parts facing an uncertain future. I can see that we need all the sturdy allies that we can get. I have to conclude that that need is the reason why so little pressure has been brought to bear on the Government of Turkey by the governments of western Europe.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, I have travelled through Kurdistan half a dozen times in the past 25 years, and so consider myself one of that region's oldest friends in this House or the other place. As such, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Avebury for putting down this Question today. I apologise for not being in the House when my noble friend rose to speak owing to the late arrival of my flight from Belfast.
I wish to refer for just a couple of minutes to one subject only; namely, the Treaty of Lausanne, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hylton. As he told noble Lords, although rather vague promises had been made to the Kurds in the preceding treaty of Sevres, which was never ratified, there was no mention whatsoever of them in the Treaty of Lausanne, which replaced it in 1923. Nonetheless, it is important that 472 noble Lords should remember that under that treaty very important civil rights were guaranteed to all minorities in Turkey. I quote from Article 38 of the treaty:The Turkish Government undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion.All inhabitants of Turkey shall be entitled to free exercise, whether in public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, the observance of which shall not be incompatible with public order and good morals".Article 39 says:All the inhabitants of Turkey, without distinction of religion, shall be equal before the law.Differences of religion, creed or confession shall not prejudice any Turkish national in matters relating to the enjoyment of civil or political rights, as, for instance, admission to public employments, functions and honours, or the exercise of professions and industries.No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press, or in publications of any kind or at public meetings.Notwithstanding the existence of the official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Turkish nationals of non-Turkish speech for the oral use of their own language before the Courts".That treaty was ratified in 1923. The principal signatories were the British and French Governments and their empires and the representatives of the Ottoman Empire, which was in the process of breaking up. I put it to noble Lords that that gives Britain, as one of the signatories, a duty to see that it is fulfilled. From the moment the treaty was signed, successive Turkish governments have totally disregarded those articles, and have denied all the most basic human rights to the unfortunate Kurdish people in their country. I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to give some assurance that, even at this late date, Britain can do something to support what was signed 70 years ago.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by echoing what has been said by many noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The House is grateful to him for drawing our attention to the situation in Kurdistan. Not for the first time has the noble Lord spoken for those who are denied a voice, or evoked the conscience of the international community on matters which it is all too easy to overlook because they are far away and out of sight.
I believe that there will be a time—I believe it will be in the lifetime of some noble Lords—when there will be a supranational authority that is as capable of enforcing a global consensus on human rights as the police and the law courts are of enforcing the civil rights of our citizens within our national borders. I believe that it will be accepted as as natural and unquestioned a part of the global community as our civil institutions are accepted in this country. Then one day it may occur to someone to write a history of how it came about. When that happens I am certain that there will be a chapter which recognises the part played by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the Parliamentary Human Rights Group.
At the outset let me echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lord Ennals as to the benefits which I believe have flowed from the establishment of a Human Rights Division within the 473 Foreign Office. We all recognise the part that it has played. The House will particularly appreciate the fact that, in advance of this debate, we have been given the opportunity to read the report of the mission led by the noble Lord. As one who has participated in numerous missions of that kind, perhaps I may say that it is a model of what a report should be. It reports in detail the words of those to whom the members of the mission spoke. It carefully distinguishes fact from comment and provides a helpful and sensitive historical background on how the situation arose.
When we hear of the atrocities spoken of by a number of noble Lords today, it is easy to find ourselves tempted to say that they are unique. It would be some comfort if they were. But the kind of debate that we have had today is all too typical of many debates in your Lordships' House in which the noble Baronesses, Lady Chalker and Lady Cox, other noble Lords and I have participated. It falls into a tragically familiar pattern. A population with its own history and culture which seeks to assert its identity begins by claiming the right to decide questions affecting its own interests. The state in which it constitutes a minority responds without the understanding and sensitivity which might lead to an accommodation and the authorities find that what began as a claim to a limited series of rights has been transformed by their intransigence into a separatist movement among a whole people. By its very nature, a separatist movement is an attack upon the integrity of the state, which the state feels called upon to repress. If there is no lawful way of pursuing their objective, the separatists will be tempted to pursue it unlawfully. So repression leads to the politics of violence; the violence leads to yet more violent repression and then there is civil war.
Perhaps I may say at once to the noble Lord (and my namesake), Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, that I deplore, as he does, the unnecessary and mindless violence from some of the Kurdish groups. I believe that they do as little good for their cause as many other terrorists do for the causes which they purport to espouse.
In any armed conflict, unless the military authorities on each side are able and willing to maintain a high degree of discipline, frustrations will be vented on those who are nearest and most defenceless: the civilian population. One atrocity leads to reprisals, and reprisals lead to counter-reprisals. So it goes on. Your Lordships' House heard some references to that in another context earlier today.
It is a tragically familiar pattern in many parts of the world. In the case of the Kurds, history has added a number of factors which exacerbate that process. First, as my noble friend Lord Ennals reminded us, the Kurdish people are a minority in five (I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Archer, said six) different countries, where they believe that they are entitled to a future as a single united people.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for interrupting him. Since Russia has broken up into several countries, 474 it is hard to express where the one and a half million Kurds in those countries now belong, and they are suffering an even greater problem in some ways.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was trying to do the arithmetic; but I fully understand his point. One thing on which we are certainly united is that they are the largest national group in the world which does not have nation-state status.
Secondly, as the report makes clear, modern Turkey emerged from the decay and final disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. It was not surprising that those who founded the new state and drafted the Constitution were concerned—perhaps "obsessed" would be a better word—with maintaining the unity of the new state and preventing further fragmentation.
The report refers to Article 3 of the constitution which declares that the Turkish state, its territory and nation, is an indivisible entity, and its language is Turkish. There was to be no political separatism, not even an assertion of a cultural identity. That was reflected in the penal provisions to which some noble Lords have alluded today. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, told us that there is repression of all expression of Kurdish nationalism in the area. The singing of a Kurdish song can be construed as:aiming at damaging the indivisible unity of the State".That is a quotation from Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law.
On 12th October Amnesty International reported an increase in the number of arrests and proceedings against the press and publishing community. Amnesty referred to a military briefing in June announcing what it called "total struggle" against the Kurdish Workers' Party and calling on the press to report "in a spirit of unanimity" with the Government. We know that from cases like Recep Mavasli, who was indicted for issuing separatist propaganda, having been released only in 1991 after nine years of imprisonment and torture.
But it is equally clear, as some of your Lordships have pointed out, that even with the advantage of repressive laws on the statute book, the authorities are not content with gagging the press by the measures prescribed by law. There is the documentation to which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred from Human Rights Watch. The report contains a horrifying chapter on the beating-up of newsboys selling newspapers of which the authorities disapproved. There are many reports of murders of journalists, as the noble Lord mentioned a few moments ago, such as Fernap Tepe and Kamal Kilic. The authorities do not admit responsibility for those murders, but no one has been brought to justice.
Where there are systematic crimes—clearly they are systematic crimes—against individual victims, any government has a heavy obligation to bring the perpetrators to justice. I am bound to say that nothing that we have heard from the authorities indicates any burning concern on their part to do that.
As so often in this kind of situation, excesses on the one side invoke imitation from the other. The report recounts how, on the last day of the visit, the PKK 475 warned reporters from the Turkish media to leave the region because they said that what they were saying amounted to government propaganda. As the mission pointed out, the best hope of minimising atrocities would be to encourage journalists from all publications to visit the region and report without any inhibitions. Some will report with more regard to their prejudices than to the truth. That has always been the case. But daylight is a more discouraging atmosphere than darkness for deterring repression.
Caught in the middle of all this are the unhappy villagers, whose involvement is simply that they happen to live in the area where the fighting takes place. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke movingly of their plight. The military descend on a village which is believed, rightly or wrongly, to have been used as a shelter by insurgents. If they identify a target, they are not deterred from firing because civilians may be in the line of fire. We heard tragic stories of children killed in that way. Nor will they observe the safeguards of a proper trial if someone is suspected of having fired upon them.
All that is understandable in the heat of a military engagement. Those responsible for unleashing any war must know that it is not always possible to guarantee observance of the rules of law. But it behoves military commanders to maintain discipline among those whom they command. Where there have been breaches of discipline, they should bring the perpetrators to justice publicly so that the commanders' commitment to the rules can be seen. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated, the military appear to be wholly beyond the control of the civil authorities and, in many cases of their own commanders.
A report of Amnesty International issued in July of this year gives one example that has already been referred to by some of your Lordships. It relates to the village of Ortasar and states,On 21 June several hundred soldiers and special team members entered the village… According to an account received by Amnesty International the soldiers began hitting the villagers with the butts of their weapons. Electric cables attached to armoured vehicles were used to give the villagers electric shocks, and cigarettes were stubbed out on them. Women and children were beaten. The villagers of Ortasar had refused to join the village guard militia".Villagers are required to join the militia to fight the insurgents or they will be subjected to reprisals of that kind. That was reinforced on page 16 of the report. There is a mention by a farmer of the village of Kele, who said,On October 11 at about 1.30 pm we heard firing and saw a large column of armoured vehicles … The army gave us until Thursday to join the village guards, or we would be bombarded. We didn't join and the village was attacked, killing two people. The army said afterwards that 9 terrorists had been killed".Perhaps one is bound to add, with the noble Lord, Lord Archer, that it is tragic that the PKK have adopted a campaign of counter-terror. Villages where people assist the military or join the militia are subject to reprisals. The villagers are the nuts in the nutcrackers. They are terrified to give assistance and terrified to refuse.
Yet again we find ourselves asking what, if anything, the international community can do to help. The report 476 makes clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, mentioned a moment ago, that we cannot dismiss the matter by saying that it is none of our business. Those who were responsible for the peace settlement with Turkey after the First World War clearly were not above sacrificing the aspirations of the Kurds to the political requirements of the moment. It is true that the Treaty of Lausanne recites the rights of minorities within Turkey; but there appears to have been no great international consensus to enforce that recitation at a later stage.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
My Lords, for the second time I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may say that his remarks are just as true today. During the Gulf War, the Kurds in Iraq played their part in trying to bring down Saddam Hussein. President Bush and the United States did not back up the Kurds in Iraq after they had played their part.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord says. In fairness, there was a genuine difficulty. The forces acting in the Gulf War were acting on behalf of the United Nations and with its authority. They could not go beyond the authority bestowed upon them. However, I deplore the general absence within the international community of the concern which might have been shown in some quarters. It is true that even after years of reflection those who led the thinking of the international community declared in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,All people have the right to self-determination".There is not one word in regard to the criteria by which we decide who are the peoples who can exercise that right and, more particularly, what their remedy is to be.
The mission, in its report, makes a number of helpful recommendations which could well form the basis of the way forward. It cites the declaration of the CSCE at Copenhagen, affirming the right of national minorities,freely to express, preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity".I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McNair, asked whether the word "religious" was in that document. If that was his question, the answer is that it was.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I knew that the word was included. I was hoping for the whole declaration to be reinforced.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I certainly echo what the noble Lord said.
I was privileged to be in Copenhagen for some of the discussions. They were dealing, of course, not with a right of independence, but with rights that are exercisable within a state where the people in question constitute a minority. There is reason to believe that, if there was dialogue, even the PKK might settle for less than total independence. The mission recommends that the CSCE enlarge the powers of the High Commissioner for Minorities to entitle him to undertake fact-finding missions. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, I was somewhat surprised that he did not already have that power. If he does not, one would hope that that 477 recommendation will be acted upon, and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, can assist us on that point when she replies. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, it is clear that we have a declaration from the CSCE recognising responsibility for the international protection of minorities.
The mission recommends that the EC states should instruct their embassies in Turkey to visit the region. Whatever else we may say about the EC, it is clear that membership of it now entails more than merely economic obligations. It entails a commitment to civilised treatment of one's subjects. As I believe the noble Baroness reminded us. Turkey is at least an applicant for membership of the EC.
The mission suggests also that the UN might send a special representative to the region. Turning from governments to NGOs, it recommends that as many human rights NGOs as possible interest themselves to the extent of sending missions. I endorse that and look forward to hearing the views of the Government on that suggestion. Sending a mission will not be without its dangers. At the weekend we saw an example of that in the intimidation of the trade union delegation referred to by my noble friend Lord Rea. We heard from my noble friend Lord Ennals regarding his experience there.
It is clear that the visit of my noble friend Lord Ennals and the visit of the trade union delegation worried the authorities in Turkey. That is the purpose of sending a delegation. They knew that somebody cared and those who are the victims in the villages know that someone abroad is trying to establish some solidarity with them. I hope therefore that those who go to the regions on behalf of NGOs will be supported by their governments and that there will be insistence that their safety is regarded by the authorities as a matter of the highest importance.
It was also recommended that the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial execution, Mr. Ndiayo, make a study of the situation and ask the authorities to permit a representative to visit the region. I look forward to hearing that the Government will support that.
The mission recommends too that as many parliamentarians as possible visit Turkey, not only to inform themselves of what is happening in the region but in order to afford a degree of security to their fellow parliamentarians who are vulnerable to death threats, woundings and, as we know all too unhappily, assassinations. It recommends that the International Committee of the Red Cross should make contact with the leaders of the PKK urging them to respect the rights of non-combatants. It recommends that the BMA makes contact with the Turkish Medical Association to make representations on the need to provide treatment for people in custody, but particularly the victims of torture. I echo the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and of my noble friend Lord Rea. I have a feeling that the Turkish Medical Association would welcome representations of that kind. I do not think that it would be embarrassed by them.
I should like from this Bench to endorse all those recommendations. It used to be accepted that the way in which a government treats its own subjects within the confines of the existing state is a matter between 478 government and governed and that any intervention by the rest of the world would be an invasion of national sovereignty. One of the earliest question-marks over that doctrine arose in the 19th century from the treatment by the Ottoman Empire of some of its minorities; and early in this century, as referred to by noble Lords, the massacre of the Armenians by the Young Turk Government was a further atrocity which awoke the conscience of the world. Turkey has the unenviable credit for stimulating the world community to action in defence of human rights.
Turkey is a member of a number of international organisations; for example, as my noble friend Lord Rea reminded us, of NATO. We may have to insist that membership of those organisations carries with it a responsibility for observing certain standards of civilised behaviour. I hope that in that context the Government will press the Government of Turkey to recognise its obligations under the Geneva. Convention, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. And perhaps, looking forward a little further into the future, we may give further consideration to the establishment of an international criminal court with jurisdiction to hear and, where appropriate, punish offences against internationally recognised codes of conduct.
Finally, I hope that the noble Baroness, when she replies, will indicate that the British Government will consider responding to the invitation put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to reunite the families of Kurdish refugees—those who have already been accorded refugee status in this country.
That brings me back to where I began. The world is being driven by events to become less hypnotised by the sovereignty of the nation state and more prepared to recognise the mutual responsibilities of the human race. I hope that that message will go out from this House tonight. When the bell tolls for those about whose tragedies we have heard today, it tolls for us all.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I want to begin by thanking very sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and all noble Lords and noble friends who have spoken in the debate. l rarely remember such unanimity—maybe with a few small points of difference—on a subject which obviously concerns your Lordships' House and concerns governments all across Europe. I think that what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, was saying just now is one of the clear unifying points among all nations which believe in democracy; that what is going on in Thrkey brings everyone down. That is why action must be taken.
It is easy to say that; it is far less easy to have it implemented. I am very sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his comments tonight, was seeking to advance the work that he has done for so many years in the most beneficial way for the ordinary Kurdish people, those civilians who are so sorely oppressed both by the PKK, on the one hand, and by the excesses of Turkish troops on the other.
Perhaps I may get one matter out of the way and then return to the main purpose of the Unstarred Question, 479 which was put down before the visit of the trade unionists, about which we have heard a great deal, this weekend. It is important that I should put the facts of that situation on the record. The party of British trade unionists very unwisely travelled to South-East Turkey last week, given that the region was under emergency law. There was a subtle difference between their visit and the visit of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, last July. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was in touch with the British Consul before he went. I had my eye very firmly on what was happening and I remember welcoming him back unscathed to the House thereafter.
Unfortunately, the trade unionists who went did so against the specific advice of the British Government to those who travel in Turkey. I quote from that advice:Do not go therereferring to South-East Turkey, the emergency law areaunless on essential business, in which case advise the British Embassy in Ankara or the British Consul in Istanbul of your travel plans in advance".The group informed neither Her Majesty's Government nor the embassy or the consulate in Istanbul. I understand that the group's visit was organised by the Kurdish Solidarity Committee. It was accompanied by two journalists working for a pro-Kurdish newspaper (who were also detained). The group apparently wished to investigate reports that in their attacks on PKK terrorists the Turkish security forces evacuated villages. The group was detained by the security forces some distance from the main regional town, Diyarbakir, on Friday. The group was held overnight and released without charge on Saturday afternoon. The group has now returned to the United Kingdom.
On instructions, our British Ambassador in Ankara has asked the Turkish Government for a full explanation of this incident. He has asked that the relevant local authorities should be reminded that foreign nationals who are detained for whatever reason must be given early access to consular assistance. He has also reminded the Turkish authorities of the need for there to be full respect for all international human rights rules. I shall say no more about the visit. It has served to publicise a situation which we all find totally unacceptable, but it was unwise and it might have resulted in far more difficulty for the individuals involved without advancing the case of the ordinary Kurdish people about which your Lordships' House is so concerned.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I absolutely agree with the action taken by Her Majesty's Government and defined by the noble Baroness. If one is seeking facts, the best thing is to work with the authorities, including our own authorities. I wish to make one point which I did not make in my speech. Although I had informed the British Consulate, and the British Consulate knew what was going on, the Turkish authorities refused to the British Consulate at 3 a.m. access to me and my colleagues. That was quite deplorable.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I was aware of the failure of the Turkish authorities to give 480 access to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, by the consular authorities in the early hours of the morning. We have already made our views known on that. But the point that I simply make in the case of last weekend is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has made—while one would never be welcome by the Turkish authorities in South-East Turkey under the present circumstances, at least the British Embassy might be able to help if things went wrong. That is why prior guidance is helpful for all concerned.
A great deal has been said in this debate which, in one sense, is worthy of repetition, but as time is passing I shall try not to repeat things with which I agree. I agree so much with what the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said in his speech tonight. I do not believe that there is any difference between us. I shall look very carefully at what he said. We have to find a way of working together to resolve a very unacceptable situation.
My noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare talked about the behaviour of the local Turkish authorities. I say to him and my noble friend Lady Cox that their behaviour has been quite inconsistent with a country seeking closer relationships and indeed membership of the European Community. We find it very difficult that a good and supportive member of NATO should behave in this way towards her own population. That is an essential problem with which not only Britain but all members of NATO must wrestle.
I believe that the late President of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, was arguably right to describe the situation in Turkey as going beyond the simple dimensions of terrorism and as,perhaps the most significant problem in the history of the Republic".We have had many references to that history in the most interesting speeches tonight. I welcome this debate and the fact that the problem is being discussed not only here but that it is being discussed more openly in Turkey as a result of the pressure from fellow member countries on Turkey.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, told us, on his notable visit to the south-east region of Turkey he saw how the people there were caught up in the struggle between the Turkish security forces and the PKK. His most useful report details some of the worst abuses of human rights which continue to be committed by both sides.
Perhaps I may say a word here which echoes what my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare said about the PKK. They are involved in attacks on ordinary people as well as on Turkish military and government installations. They are involved in the ambush of security patrols which are actually not doing any harm. They are involved in many other brutal attacks on villages which are believed to be pro-government and which contain innocent civilians. The murder of teachers and government officials in the area is no excuse for the claims that they make. As your Lordships will know, there have been unexplained killings of many civilians, including local politicians and journalists, as a number of noble Lords mentioned. We 481 know that acts of torture have been carried out not only by government forces but also by the PKK. That is why there is such concern about the situation in the area.
In March this year the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire. In return they wanted government recognition of the Kurdish identity and language, the release of political prisoners and a general amnesty for PKK members. I believe that in that they were seeking to push forward their efforts to achieve a change in the way in which all these matters are handled. It is very sad that that effort came to naught. There was initially a relatively peaceful period and we hoped that that would continue. But when the ceasefire broke down in June both sides blamed the other. As your Lordships have clearly stated, since then the confrontation in the south-east has deteriorated with the death toll in recent weeks reaching new peaks.
As my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare said, it would be a very good thing if something like the Iraq-Kurdistan parliament could be repeated in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. But at the moment I see little hope of that, which I find very sad. Nevertheless, where moderate Kurdish views can be expressed within a country then there is some chance that those people will get their rightful recognition. The difficulty is that those moderate Kurdish views are completely over-shadowed by the terrorist activity which is going on.
I must take this opportunity to condemn the recent fire-bombings of Turkish diplomatic and civilian properties in London and in a number of other European cities. It appears that these were carried out by supporters of the PKK. That organisation does not limit itself to attacks even on the Turkish authorities. As the report of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, showed in so many ways, and as noble Lords have declared tonight, civilians are attacked without provocation and without reason. Earlier this year the PKK attacked Western tourist targets in Turkey, seeking to undermine the income going into that country which the people of south-east Turkey need as much as anybody in terms of investment. I believe that these terrorist attacks show the kind of ruthless opponent against whom the moderates in the Turkish government are struggling. That makes it all the more difficult for those moderates.
In the debate several of your Lordships have spoken about Prime Minister Ciller of Turkey. But as we know well, she does not have a secure position. I believe that she is quite sincere in wishing to make an attempt to revise the 1982 law, but that may well not succeed. But I believe that in the international sphere we may be able to help. That is why we urge the Turkish Government to resolve their problems in the south-east. We urge them to do so in conformity with the norms of governmental behaviour which they have accepted in subscribing to various international conventions. We say to them that the clear evidence of human rights abuses by both sides is cause for justifiable concern by the international community.
In our debate we have heard a good deal about the need for self-determination. We have heard a good deal about CSCE, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. There are various reports and comments to 482 which I wish to turn now. The right to self-determination is important to UK foreign policy, but we always balance that alongside other principles such as the principle of the territorial integrity of states. There are various mechanisms within the UN which deal with the issue of self-determination. We believe that these are the mechanisms which should be enforced.
I shall not go into all the detail of the articles of the two basic human rights covenants, but they should be respected. I shall return to that matter in a moment. Turkey is not a state party to the covenants on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We believe it important that they should be. But we believe that while there are attempts to reach a peaceful and lasting solution on the issues in Turkey we do not support the idea that a group within a state or a minority automatically constitutes a people with a right to self-determination. Any suggestion that such a group might cede without the agreement of the state within which it exists goes against the principle of territorial integrity enshrined in the UN Charter. It is important to understand that clearly when we talk about self-determination.
My noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare mentioned the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament and underlined the difficulty of any moderate Kurdish view being expressed in Turkey because it is automatically lumped together with all activity which is opposed to the Government. That is why we sincerely hope that elected representatives should be able to give non-violent expression to their beliefs even when they do not agree—as clearly they will not—with some members of the Turkish Government. We have seen promises from the Turkish Government of reforms aimed at greater democracy. I believe that this House and all members of the CSCE urge the Turkish Government to make early progress to achieve that because, if the moderate Kurdish view is allowed to be expressed peaceably in Turkey, the terrorists of the PKK will be isolated—and that is what will protect the civilians to a greater degree than anything else.
My noble friends Lord Brentford and Lady Cox raised the issue of the role of the CSCE in this awful situation and asked what we were trying to do to stop the violations of human rights. On behalf of the European Community and member states, the United Kingdom raised the issue of Turkey's compliance with its CSCE commitments at the Human Dimension Implementation Review meeting in Warsaw between 27th September and 15th October, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned. Many states criticised Turkey in similar terms.
Although a number of mechanisms are available to the CSCE to investigate violations of Human Dimension commitments, they have not been much used. Some of the measures do not require consensus, so they could not be blocked by any single state. However, the Warsaw meeting, to which I referred, recognised that lack of action and recommended various measures to improve the monitoring of human rights. Most notably, it proposed that non-governmental organisations should be able to inform the CSCE's Office of 483 Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of human rights violations, and that that office should have the right to pass on substantiated reports to the CSCE's political bodies, such as the Committee of Senior Officials, which could then decide on the follow-up action to be taken.
However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, recognised, there is a problem: CSCE provisions are not legally enforceable. Yes, they have a moral and political force, but nothing more and, as yet, there is no machinery to ensure that governments who sign up—those who signed up in Copenhagen and those who agreed to other CSCE declarations—actually give effect to or abide by them. There is, therefore, a further step that needs to be taken to rectify that shortcoming.
A number of your Lordships have called for the involvement of the CSCE's High Commissioner for Minorities in these matters. Although I am sympathetic to that idea, I must warn your Lordships that the High Commissioner's mandate precludes him from considering national minority issues even in situations involving organised acts of terrorism. However, given that the Kurdish problem is not only a national problem and that, as my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare has pointed out, it is happening in a number of countries, perhaps some way could be evolved to deal with the lack of a mandate in that respect.
The proposal to appoint a UN special rapporteur, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brentford and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is certainly a possibility because, within the UN system for protecting human rights, a special rapporteur can be appointed for an individual country. That should be done through the Commission on Human Rights. I hope that, if the commission is as concerned as we are at the reports which have been mentioned in your Lordships' House tonight, it will take the first usual step, which is to pass a resolution. As yet, there has been no such resolution on Turkey, but I am sure that, in the light of the Warsaw and Copenhagen meetings, it will not be long before such a resolution comes forward.
My noble friend Lady Cox and the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in their very interesting speeches, asked about national minorities. The House will be aware that the Council of Europe summit in Vienna on 8th and 9th October decided on four main areas to follow-up. The first was to draw up confidence-building measures aimed at increasing tolerance and understanding among peoples. The second was to offer help in negotiating and implementing treaties on matters concerning national minorities. The third was to draft a framework convention, setting out the principles which contracting states would commit themselves to respect in order to assure the protection of national minorities. The fourth was to begin work on a protocol complementing the European Convention on Human Rights in the cultural field with provisions guaranteeing individual rights, particularly for persons belonging to national minorities.
We shall continue, as a Government, to contribute fully to the work of the Council of Europe on national minorities because we recognise the urgency which 484 your Lordships have underlined so clearly in tonight's debate. We believe that measures to increase tolerance and mutual understanding must be at the heart of all efforts to solve national minority issues.
In opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about signatories to the Geneva Conventions. I can assure him that not only does the UK uphold the provisions of Common Article 3, but that Turkey, as a state which is party to the Geneva Conventions, is bound to apply the provisions of Common Article 3 during non-international armed conflicts. There is absolutely no debate about where Turkey should stand on that matter. That is also something to be followed through after this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as well as—
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, will she deal with the other question that I raised in this connection, which is whether the ICRC—
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, my next note was to raise the issue of the ICRC, of which both the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke. The UK has always supported the activities of the ICRC, which has a unique role to play here as the guardian of international humanitarian law—not only in upholding, but also in promoting the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols. I believe that the ICRC's impartiality is not only well known and respected but permits it to act as an intermediary in a way that no other body can. I believe that its involvement as a protector of victims of armed conflicts is an important one. It is certainly one that I shall follow up.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I am sorry to have to interrupt the Minister, but there is a secondary point. The ICRC might have a role to play in humanitarian relief operations for the many thousands of people who have been displaced from villages and who are now living without shelter or food in temperatures that are 5 degrees below zero, including those in the village that was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I had already made a note of that. I shall be following up the humanitarian issues which have been so clearly expressed in this debate and which we have questioned previously. I very much hope that help can be got through, but there must be some agreement in order to deliver that help in the area. We are somewhat too well experienced in trying to get assistance into areas and in being stopped from giving humanitarian assistance for me to be able to give the noble Lord a categorical assurance at this moment.
There is much more that can be said on this very vexed issue. But I can assure your Lordships that we are determined as Foreign Office Ministers and senior officials to continue to stress these points at each 485 opportunity when we meet our Turkish colleagues. Other western countries are doing the same. Most recently at the Turkey/EC Association Council in Brussels earlier this month European Union Ministers made clear to the Turkish Foreign Minister their collective anxiety that both sides in the conflict in the south-east should show respect for human rights.
The Turkish Government have made some efforts to improve matters. They passed a new law earlier this year to improve human rights provisions under domestic law. But the task remains to ensure that Turkish police in South-East Turkey abide by the code and that the tight against terrorism is conducted by security forces within the framework of proper respect for domestic and international human rights obligations. It was those issues about which your Lordships expressed such anxiety tonight.
Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this timely debate and discussion of a difficult issue. I am sure that it will serve to remind the Turkish authorities of the entirely legitimate anxieties in the UK and other western countries. It is appalling that large numbers of innocent 486 civilians find themselves caught up in this conflict, threatened by the PKK on the one side, and by the actions of the security forces on the other. We must make clear that moderate Kurdish views should be allowed to find expression within Turkey. That will strengthen the hand of the Turkish Government, in dealing with ruthless terrorists. We in the United Kingdom know that that is far from easy; but the police and the security forces engaged in the conflict in South-East Turkey must abide by the international standards of human rights. We must do all that we can to ensure that the Turkish Government respect human rights in every way.
I hope that a way can soon be found of bringing lasting peace to the region; one which encourages the Kurdish people in the south-east to find their democratic feet; to proceed by peaceful argument and to establish their rights within the Turkish state as a democratic force for good for their people. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate.
§ House adjourned at eight minutes before seven o'clock.