HL Deb 05 February 1996 vol 569 cc7-10

2.53 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What visits have been made by officials from the British embassy in Ankara to the emergency region during and after the Turkish general election, and what conclusions they have reached about the state of human rights in the region.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, officials from the British embassy visited Diyarbakir, Mardin and Midyat from 6th to 8th November. The next visit will be to Diyarbakir in mid-February. Their visits and other sources confirm that there are grounds for continuing concern about human rights in the emergency region. We continue to urge the Turkish authorities to deal with the conflict in the south east with due regard for human rights and the rule of law.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, did the officials obtain any information about the voting arrangements for the 2½ million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the south east by the conflict? Can the noble Lord say whether on the advice that he has received so far the ceasefire which was announced by the PKK has been properly observed, and what inquiries have been made about the murder of 11 passengers in a minibus near Sirnak recently which was ascribed to the PKK by the authorities but which eye witnesses have now said was perpetrated by the security forces themselves?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, as to the second part of that question, the credibility of any ceasefire declarations by the PKK is to be questioned. The PKK conducts terrorist acts which we unreservedly condemn. However, it is for the Turkish Government to decide how to react. It is unclear who is responsible for the killing of 11 people in a minibus in Sirnak province on 16th January. The Turkish Government initially stated that it was carried out by the PKK. The PKK has denied this.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case that this is an extremely serious matter and that the conduct of the Turkish Government is totally unsatisfactory? While it is good to know that the Government have made representations to the Turkish Government, is not this a matter which should be taken to the United Nations as well?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we are trying every area that we can to exert influence on the Turkish Government to respect the human rights situation in Turkey.

Lord Cledwyn of Penhros

My Lords, I asked a question which I hope the noble Lord will be good enough to answer. Have the Government considered taking this matter to the Security Council of the United Nations?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the most effective way of helping progress in human rights is to encourage closer ties between Turkey and the western institutions. A Turkey/EU customs union and increased political dialogue are an important part of that process.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I recognise the dilemma that isolating Turkey will simply encourage a move towards fundamentalism. But will it be made clear to the Turkish Government that that argument rests on the assumption that the present Turkish Government are more likely than any alternative to observe human rights; to reach an accommodation with the Kurds; to put an end to the torture and the disappearances; and to permit free expression? If there is nothing to choose between the present Turkish Government and the alternatives, then isolation is the inevitable consequence.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, it is important that we set the concerns about human rights in a broader context. We want Turkey firmly anchored to western institutions. The closer Turkey is to western institutions, the better we are able to put across our concerns on human rights and the more influence we can bring to bear. Co-operation is a much more effective approach than confrontation.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that so long as human rights are treated in Turkey in much the same way as they are treated in Bosnia, we will oppose Turkey joining the European Union?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I wish to stress the point that I have made; namely, that the closer we can get to Turkey, the more influence we can put on it to make certain that the human rights situation is properly regarded.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the specific question put by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn concerning reference to the United Nations?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I cannot answer that question. I shall write to the noble Lord with the answer.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the recent elections in Turkey there was widespread intimidation of supporters and members of HADEP—the party that represents Kurdish interests—as well as the inability of many of the displaced persons to vote at all, with the result that that party did not gain representation in the Turkish Parliament? Will this not drive Kurdish people to support the PKK, whereas if they had had democratic representation in parliament, that might possibly have moved them away from supporting that particular organisation?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, some problems did occur in the election on 24th December. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is not present, for sharing with us his observations following his visit to Turkey in December, in particular on the situation in the south east. It is unfortunate that the 10 per cent. national threshold prevented smaller parties from winning seats in parliament. Neither HADEP nor MHP is represented In that parliament. However, HADEP did well in areas where it was expected to do so. There is no doubt that some harassment of the HADEP party took place. However, it is not clear that that affected the party's performance in the polls. The outcome of the general election for the three largest parties broadly reflected the preference of the people.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why closer ties with Turkey are deemed to be the best way to eliminate human rights abuses in that country, whereas in the case of Nigeria, where abuses of human rights have taken place and still occur, isolation is recommended?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, that is slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I remind your Lordships that there will be a full debate on this matter on 14th February.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, the noble Lord seems to he optimistic about the outcome of discussions with Turkey. On what does he base his optimism? How does he equate that with the abysmal record of Turkey over Cyprus, despite 20 or so years of negotiation?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I would hope that one could always be optimistic in these matters. There is still much room for improvement. We shall urge the new Turkish Government, when in place, to maintain the momentum of democratic and human rights reforms and in relation to Cyprus.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister noticed that in the annual report of the OSCE reference is made to 12 conflict situations in the region where the OSCE is involved in conflict resolution and crisis management and that the situation in the south east of Turkey is the one instance where the OSCE is excluded? How does the noble Lord reconcile that fact with his assurance that membership by Turkey of western institutions will enable us to have any influence on it?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I am afraid that I rather lost the thread of that question. Is the noble Lord prepared to repeat it?

Lord Avebury

My Lords, briefly, how does the noble Lord reconcile the fact that Turkey has been a member of the OSCE for many years but has not allowed the OSCE to visit the region with his assurance to the House that Turkey's membership of western institutions will enable us to influence it in the direction of better observance of human rights?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we continue to stress to the Turks the importance of respecting international obligations on human rights. However, we believe that a more interventionist approach, such as using all enforceable mechanisms available through the OSCE, would be counterproductive. Turkey invited the OSCE parliamentary assembly delegation to visit in May 1995. If interventionist mechanisms had been applied the delegation might not have been able to enter the country at all.