HL Deb 18 July 1997 vol 581 cc1164-86

1.43 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What reports they have received about the state of human rights in Turkey; and what action they propose to take.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary spell out the Government's human rights policy in some detail yesterday, the more so because his remarks can be applied immediately to the case of Turkey, something of a litmus test of the policy, as we have always soft-pedalled the gross and persistent human rights violations by Turkey in the past for larger geopolitical reasons. Now Mr. Robin Cook says without qualification that Britain will support measures within the international community to express our condemnation of what he describes as, those regimes who grotesquely violate human rights and repeatedly fail to respond to demands for an improvement in standards".

Turkey is not a liberal democracy, but a country governed by the resultant of a number of forces uneasily and unstably balanced against each other: the army, the Islamists, the extreme right, the centre right and the criminal elements, all competing with each other for power and forming alliances which are not subject to popular approval and which are sometimes invisible. That means that there is a declared policy, which can be studied in the speeches made by Ministers in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and at international forums, and a clandestine policy, sometimes at odds with the official version.

This is the context in which human rights in Turkey have to be considered. If one only looks at the statements for public consumption and not at what is happening on the ground, one would get entirely the wrong impression. Thus in his speech to the Grand National Assembly last week, the new Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz promised to, show extreme care to safeguard the principles of democracy, secularism, and a social state of law".

He said that his government, considers freedom of thought and expression, conscience and religious belief … as the essential principles of our public life".

He gave assurances that the government would take all necessary measures to ensure the respect for human rights, which is provided by the Turkish constitution and by international agreement.

The trouble is that Mr. Yilmaz said much the same thing when he was last Prime Minister. On 7th March 1996, in a similar speech to the TGNA, he said that, only through a strong and true democracy can the universally-accepted principles such as the sovereignty of the nation, the guarantee of fundamental rights, judicial equality, the supremacy of law, social, economic and political plurality, and participation, tolerance and compromise exist"— indeed, everything except motherhood and apple pie.

Very similar rhetoric could be found in a speech made by his predecessor Mrs. Tansu Ciller, when she came into office in June 1993. Yet, for the past 13 years, there has been a bitter armed struggle between the forces of the state and the Kurdish people of the south east of the country, involving not just a few thousand combatants in the PKK's armed wing, the Kurdistan National Liberation Army, but virtually the whole of the civilian population. That war has continued because, over this entire period and even now, the Kurds are deprived of their fundamental rights which Mr. Yilmaz says they ought to have. He describes this as, our struggle against separatist terrorism",

ignoring the fact that the PKK's goal is not an independent Kurdish state, but autonomy for the region where the majority of the people are Kurdish, and also tendentiously labelling the PKK as terrorists when the vast majority of acts of violence against non-combatants are committed by the state's armed forces, and their quisling allies, the village guards—Kurds who are paid to fight their own brothers. I am not going to talk about the propaganda war that Ankara wages in Europe and north America against the armed opposition, except to point out that if the Turkish authorities really wanted to protect civilians, they would comply with the requests by the ICRC for an invitation to visit the region, and to discuss the services that they could provide there to ensure that Common Article 3 of the conventions is being honoured by both parties to the conflict.

Will the Government urge Turkey to invite the ICRC, and to accept that the conflict in the south east is one to which Article 3 does apply? Will the Government ask the chairman-in-office of the OSCE to seek a formal opinion on the question of the application of Article 3 from a representative group of lawyers? In the meanwhile, will the Government ask the chairman-in-office to conduct an inquiry, preferably with the co-operation of the Turkish authorities—but if necessary without them—on the circumstances in which an estimated 2.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes in south-east Anatolia.

I suggest that that inquiry should be conducted in the light of the OSCE' s Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security, which provides as follows: If recourse to force cannot be avoided in performing internal security missions, each participating State will ensure that its use must be commensurate with the needs for enforcement. The armed forces will take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property".

There is abundant evidence of the incessant, systematic violation of this obligation, which merely codified what was already customary international law. I was in Sirnak in September 1992, shortly after it had been heavily bombarded by the army in August. I met some of the injured residents in hospital. In October 1993, I gathered further evidence of the forced depopulation of villages, travelling round the region in the company of Leyla Zana MP, now imprisoned for her courageous stand on behalf of the Kurdish people. The OSCE is to review the implementation of that code at a special meeting in September, and the Minister, Doug Henderson, says that this will provide an excellent forum to discuss democratic controls on armed forces with all signatory states. That is one important aspect of the code, but the section dealing with injury to civilians is also vital. Will the Government suggest a new procedure, under which NGOs could submit evidence of violations of the code to a public tribunal, analogous to the UN Human Rights Commission?

As a result of the reports that I submitted on violations of human rights in Turkey, together with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, whom I am pleased to see on the Government Front Bench, I am a prohibited person, not allowed to enter the country after four visits and four reports on what I saw and heard. Others banned are Jonathan Sugden and Helmut Oberdiek of Amnesty International, Aliza Marcus of Reuters, who suffered prosecution under the anti-terror law, and Pam O'Toole of the BBC. Will the Government request Ankara to lift these bans and allow journalists and human rights observers to travel freely in the south-east region without being escorted everywhere by the Turkish military? As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, will recall, we were so escorted when we were there in 1994.

According to a document leaked from the National Security Council, an authority dominated by the military which takes all the decisions on the south-east, it has now been decided not only to jam the broadcasts of the independent broadcaster, Med-TV, but also to monitor and obstruct human rights NGOs which draw attention to the human rights violations in the Kurdish region. The jamming of Med-TV, which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will deal with later, must be a breach of the Helsinki Accords, and should be taken up with Ankara by the OSCE. Could we prompt the chairman-in-office to do so? The intention to monitor human rights monitors from abroad is nothing new but there is a nasty suggestion that a smear campaign should be mounted against people abroad who criticise Turkish human rights abuses. Having been libelled myself in a Turkish national newspaper, which had to apologise, publish a retraction and pay me damages because copies were distributed in this country, I can well believe that defamation is now to be used more widely as an instrument against other human rights activists.

In an important judgment last September, the European Court of Human Rights found against Turkey in the case of Akdivar, who successfully claimed that his rights were violated by the destruction of his home in the village of Kelekci in September 1992. That case was also important because the court noted that all applicants must be able to communicate freely with the European Commission without being subjected to any form of pressure from the authorities to withdraw or modify their complaints. Akdivar's was one of 62 cases brought with the assistance of the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project which have so far been declared admissible, and one of two where the court has delivered judgment, the other being the case of Aksoy, who was tortured when he was detained for 14 days in the Mardin headquarters of the anti-terrorist branch.

There are literally hundreds of other cases in the queue. In an Answer to me the noble Baroness indicated that 562 were registered in 1996 alone. However, the Turkish authorities are doing their best to ensure that it is impossible to collect further evidence. Many journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have been murdered or disappeared in the south-east. On 23rd May the Diyarbakir branch of the Turkish human rights organisation was closed down, and the president, Mahmut Sakar, and at least five officials were taken into custody. As Amnesty International pointed out, the closure followed years of harassment including the arrest, abduction and extra-judicial execution of officials, bomb attacks and a hail of litigation. Four other offices of the IHD—the human rights organisation—have been closed since then, in Konya, Malatya, Sanliurfa and Balikesir, and since the IHD has been the main organisation collecting witness statements for ECHR cases, this appears to be a systematic attempt to obstruct the work of the Commission, contrary to law.

The attacks on the IHD are also a part of the wider assault on freedom of expression, in the light of which Mr. Yilmaz's assurances ring hollow. Before Turkey was invited to join the European customs union at the end of 1996, Mrs. Ciller, the then Prime Minister, conceded changes in the anti-terror law, the importance of which was greatly exaggerated by Mr. David Davis, then Minister at the Foreign Office.

Last Sunday President Demirel expressed regret to a visiting delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists, led by the former hostage Terry Anderson, that Turkey is the country with the largest number of journalists in prison—at least 78, according to the CPJ. Yet in the same breath he seemed to be making excuses, by saying that if somebody supports terrorism he deserves to be locked up. In Turkey, the definition of terrorism extends to any speech or writing which may undermine the unity of the state. If we had such a law in this country, it would mean that no one could advocate a referendum on the Scottish parliament, which your Lordships might think would save a lot of time in this House!

Human Rights Watch named Turkey and China earlier in the month as the top persecutors of writers. The last case list of the Writers in Prison Committee had eight pages on Turkey, more than any other country except China. The UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Mr. Abid Hussain, reported that there were consistent and credible reports of: The death or torture of press professionals while in police custody", and of all the other allegations that we know only too well from other sources such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He recommended that writers and journalists who had been sentenced for the peaceful expression of their views, even when these ran counter to the philosophy of the state, should have their sentences annulled. Among the long list of cases he invited the Turkish authorities to reconsider were those of the 185 writers, publishers, intellectuals and artists who were picked from 1,080 who collectively issued a book entitled Freedom of Thought in Turkey, consisting of a collection of writings for which the authors were on trial or imprisoned.

Another case he mentioned was that of Ms. Leyla Zana MP, whom I have already mentioned, who was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, along with three of her parliamentary colleagues. The UN working group on arbitrary detention had declared in November 1995 that the detention of these MPs was arbitrary and had asked the Turkish authorities to release them. The Inter-parliamentary Union, at its meeting in Seoul last April, welcomed the initiatives the Turkish authorities said they were taking to bring Turkey into line with European human rights standards, and again strongly hoped this would lead to the release of the imprisoned MPs and the lifting of sentences imposed on their colleagues.

Amnesty International has expressed particular concern about the detention and torture of children. It says that children are often detained under the anti-terror law and have none of the safeguards which apply to adults. It is still receiving credible reports of the torture of children.

There is no time to go into detail on the extent of torture in Turkey, which Mr. Yilmaz, like his predecessors, has pledged himself to abolish. In October 1991 Mr. Demirel, who was then a candidate for the office of Prime Minister and is now president, promised, a new Turkey—the walls of all police stations will be made of glass".

Yet in March 1997 Human Rights Watch still reported widespread police torture in pre-trial detention by the anti-terror police. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, after visiting places of detention on a number of occasions over recent years, most recently in September 1996, asserted that, resort to torture and other forms of severe ill treatment remains a common occurrence in police establishments in Turkey. To attempt to characterise the problem as one of isolated acts of the kind which can occur in any country—as some are wont to do—is to fly in the face of the facts".

There are a couple of glimmers of light amid the darkness. The period of incommunicado detention allowed under the law has been reduced, and the right of access to a lawyer after four days in custody for suspects under the anti-terror law has been restored. That seems to have had some effect on the number of cases of torture that are being reported, although closure of the IHD offices may account for at least part of the reduction.

Further, Turkey has invited the UN Working Group on Disappearances and the rapporteur on torture, Dr. Nigel Rodley, to visit Turkey but I gather from Dr. Rodley this is not until the end of 1998. It has to be recognised, however, that many of the recommendations made in the past by the CPT and the UN Committee Against Torture have not been implemented. There is no point in agreeing to receive visits unless there is an intention to comply with the suggestions that are made.

Finally, I refer to the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq which is an illegal escapade that has resulted in further violations of human rights in those parts of the territory which are occupied by the Turkish forces and in the sector run by their allies, the Kurdistan Democratic Party under Massoud Barzani. Ministers have confirmed that under Article 51 of the UN Charter, Turkey should have reported this operation immediately to the Security Council. We have reminded them of their obligation to do so. Has that been done? Has it reported to the Security Council? If not, do we as a permanent member intend to lay the matter before the Security Council as a breach of the charter? Mr. Yilmaz's only reference to the matter in his speech to the TGNA was the sentence: We will continue to take all kinds of measures in southeast Anatolia until the power vacuum in northern Iraq—which constitutes a threat to the security of southeast Anatolia and consequently of our entire country—is eliminated and until Iraq's territorial integrity is restored".

That appears to confirm that the occupation is indefinite, making it impossible for UN monitors to do their work under Resolution 986 in that part of the territory and raising the fear that widespread human rights violations are occurring in the occupied part of northern Iraq as the troops hunt for the PKK guerrillas whose supposed presence there is the excuse for the invasion.

Mr. Yilmaz says that his main priority is to prepare a new electoral register and to establish the legal and administrative arrangements for a new election. That process may take six months, and in that time I suggest that it would be unrealistic to expect the human rights situation to be transformed. The most that can be expected is that specific reforms may appear in the manifestos of the parties, and that the election will be held under conditions which enable the Kurds to have a voice in the new parliament, opening the way for a negotiated settlement of their claims for autonomy and the right to maintain their identity.

We cannot allow the Kurdish party to be excluded by violence and intimidation, as they were in the local elections of 1994, or by an unrealistic threshold, as in the general election of 1995. This may be the last chance for a peaceful settlement of the problem which has handicapped Turkey for the whole of the 75 years of her existence as a modem state. We should make it plain to Ankara that it is the last chance for Turkey to secure entry to the European Union. If it cannot find a peaceful way of accommodating the Kurdish people within a new constitutional framework, we shall be unable to admit it to a Europe whose values it has rejected.

2.2 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, as well as congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on keeping so effectively this important subject on the agenda, I commend my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary for timing his speech on human rights to fit in so well with today's Unstarred Question.

I have visited Turkey only once, but I have met many Turkish people, including the Turkish ambassador to London. I have always found Turkish people to be friendly and courteous on a personal level. Turkey is an important player in the world scene, situated as it is, between Europe, central Asia, Russia and the Middle East. That is why we would like to be on good terms with Turkey, especially as it is a very beautiful country to visit, with a rich cultural heritage, and not least because of its excellent cuisine. Turkey is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. It has signed a number of international conventions on human rights and trades extensively with Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. Yet with all those advantages and aspirations, and its democratic façade, Turkey still has one of the worst human rights records in the world. I note that mention of Turkey was carefully omitted from the Foreign Secretary's speech, along with a number of other countries with bad human rights records. I believe that the Foreign Secretary was always diplomatic and has learned perhaps to be even more so at the Foreign Office.

The Turkish police and security forces have inherited a tradition of cruelty from the days of the Ottoman Empire. Torture and beating of suspects while in detention has been the norm for centuries. Unfortunately, despite claims by Mrs. Ciller, Mr. Yilmaz and President Demirel, the practice continues even though, we hope, it is diminishing slightly. As I reported the last time we debated this issue in February 1996, Dr. Nigel Rodley, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, placed Turkey in the highest position listed with regard to the numbers of cases of torture reported to him. My noble friend will be aware of the extensive documentation by Amnesty International of arbitrary arrest, torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances, the disruption of public meetings and the persecution of trade unionists, human rights organisations, and those who uphold Kurdish self-determination. As the noble Lord described fully, freedom of the press is heavily curtailed. I could go on.

As a doctor I am very concerned about the coercion with which medical personnel are faced in order to make them provide medical certificates on prisoners which omit evidence of torture or ill treatment that has clearly taken place. Those who refuse to give those false, whitewashing certificates are threatened, sometimes later beaten up and occasionally killed. A full report on this coercion was provided by Physicians for Human Rights and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last August. The report describes the results of a survey of 60 Turkish forensic physicians attending a conference in Istanbul. Of those doctors, 60 per cent. agreed that almost everyone held in detention in Turkey is tortured; and they did not include beating as torture.

For me the Unstarred Question is also timely because it allows me to report to the House and to the Government on a conference that I attended in Hamburg at the end of last month. It was sponsored by the Kurdish Red Crescent, an organisation not yet recognised by the International Red Cross or Red Crescent because Kurdistan is not an independent nation. The conference was entitled: "War and Health in Kurdistan". About 20 speakers described various aspects of their experiences of the impact of the conflict, on health and healthcare services, mainly in south-east Turkey but also to some extent in Iraq.

This conflict, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, implied, is a low-intensity guerrilla war. The Turkish Government wish the outside world and the population of Turkey to regard the conflict as a mopping up operation against the PKK, which they label as a purely terrorist organisation. My noble friend Lady Symons, following this line, used the same terminology when answering a Starred Question about a month ago. Turkish government sources suggest that the organisation can be defeated militarily, that in fact it is on the verge of collapse if only its bases in northern Iraq could be destroyed.

In the view of almost all non-Turkish observers—the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, gave quite a long list of them—that is a false picture. The PKK has indeed carried out acts of violence which have resulted in the deaths of non-combatants, and for that must stand condemned. However, Abdul Ocalan, the PKK's leader, has now said that the PKK will observe the common article of the Geneva convention relating to non-combatants and prisoners in internal conflicts as well as international conflicts.

The PKK came into being because the Kurds of Turkey could make no progress in achieving their legitimate rights through the democratic process. It now has the covert support of a large part of the Kurdish population, who, incidentally, constantly replenish its armed wing. My noble friend will be fully aware that the Kurdish language is forbidden in schools and that the Kurdish cultural identity is denied. Entry into the main stream of Turkish social and political life is only possible for Kurds if they deny their Kurdish identity.

The attempt to crush the PKK has turned into a war against the Kurdish population as a whole, with the wholesale destruction or evacuation of some 3,000 villages in an attempt to deprive the PKK of its support and supply base. That is a technique familiar to Britain. I am not sure that we did not invent this method of countering guerrilla warfare. We certainly used it in India and more recently in Malaya in the 1940s and 1950s. This has resulted in a very large internal refugee problem for Turkey, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned, of some 3 million people—some estimates are much higher. These populations have very largely been left to fend for themselves, with those who are lucky staying in very overcrowded conditions with friends or relatives in the larger towns and cities or else building their own shanty town structures on the edges of these towns.

One of the problems in measuring the extent of the human impact of the conflict is the lack of accurate statistics, both on the size of the displaced population and as a proper measure of the health impact of the conflict. Evidence from the Turkish medical association and my personal observations on a visit to Diyarbakir two years ago confirm eye witness reports and local research presented at the conference in Hamburg that health services and the state of public health have greatly deteriorated as a result of the conflict.

To summarise, that means that, as a result of the ensuing poverty and malnutrition, poor housing and overcrowding, lack of clean water and disruption of basic healthcare, the incidence of infectious diseases such as typhoid and TB and the infant mortality rate are increasing. In this relatively backward area steady progress was in fact being made in public health up to the mid-1980s (with WHO assistance). One of the demands of the Hamburg conference was that the area should be opened to a permanent delegation of the International Red Cross in concert with the Turkish Red Crescent. Another demand was that the World Health Organisation should, take note of the enormous inequalities in the health situation and medical aid ascertained by the Turkish Chamber of Physicians and other organisations and take the necessary measures". One of those would be to make a rapid but accurate independent assessment of the deplorable public health situation. The conference also called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to register statistically and take under its mandate the approximately 5 million Kurdish refugees resulting from this conflict— a request which would, if granted, be a vital first step in providing appropriate help.

As an aside, I should mention that UNHCR is in fact involved in assisting the resettlement in Turkey of the refugees who were displaced by the closure of the Atrush refugee camp for Turkish Kurds in the safe haven region of Iraq. So far, very few of those have returned to Turkey and my information is that little has been done to resettle them, although the UNHCR provided Turkey with the necessary funds. All the demands made by the Hamburg conference in reality depend in the first instance on a request from the Turkish Government to the international organisation concerned, which at present they are not prepared to make. Presumably that is because they do not want the outside world to know the true situation.

Can I ask my noble friend, through the Foreign Office, to press the Turkish Government to ask these international humanitarian agencies—that is the International Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and UNHCR—for their assistance in addition to allowing access to the human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and the OSCE, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury? If the Turkish Government were to answer those requests, world opinion and many human rights organisations would applaud, whereas if they continue to refuse, the conclusion will be drawn that they have something to hide. If a country has something to hide, should it still remain a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE? Should we still be collaborating with it militarily as a full member of NATO, supplying weapons and assistance with military training, as my noble friend Lord Gilbert confirmed in a Written Answer to me two weeks ago—although he declined to say what kind of training it was? In parenthesis, I appreciate the Foreign Secretary's reference in his speech to the review of our military training assistance programme and its possible diversion to encouraging good practice. It is something which has a particular application to Turkey.

Is it not reasonable to ask that, if Turkey wishes to remain in those organisations—the Council of Europe, OSCE and NATO—it should be required to put its house in order or face expulsion?

Finally, could I ask my noble friend to confirm that we shall not only raise the issue of individual prisoners of conscience at bilateral meetings (as Robin Cook promised in his speech), but that we shall raise the wider issues that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury and I mentioned today, whenever the opportunity arises? If there is no response, if there is no steady improvement, will the Government consider, together with others, the imposition of a progressive series of sanctions, starting with expulsion from the organisations that I mentioned which, after all, exist very largely to uphold and defend human rights?

2.16 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising the Question today since it is both topical and urgent. It may be helpful to have a brief look at the history of minorities in Turkey. I start with the Armenians who were once a large and thriving group. By 1918, however, hardly any were left alive in eastern Turkey. A "final solution" had been found for them. Genocide is, I fear, not an exaggerated term.

The Assyrians are another Christian minority living along Turkey's border with Syria. Their numbers have fallen from well over 100,000 to a good deal less than 3,000. The causes are voluntary emigration, reinforced by real discrimination coming from the Turkish state. Assyrians could not expect to find employment in the civil service or in state industries. In the past 13 years they have also been caught in the cross-fire between the Turkish army and the insurgents.

The Laz, another small group of people living in north-east Turkey along the boundary with Georgia, have complained of lack of education in their own language and of the consequent dangers of their culture and identity disappearing.

Far greater and more longstanding are the problems facing millions of Kurds. At the origin of the Turkish Republic, the new state was supposed to be a partnership between Turks and Kurds. AtatÜrk, however, devised a unitary state and proclaimed the slogan, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk". In 1994 I saw those words painted in huge letters on the mountainside above the city of Van, formerly Armenian and now largely Kurdish in population. The Kurds were not allowed even to describe themselves as a national community and were officially referred to as "mountain Turks". Is it surprising, therefore, that in the 1920s and 1930s there were constant uprisings of Kurds against Turks and a permanent severe repression of the Kurdish population?

The Kurdish language, which is akin to Iranian, has never been permitted in the schools and universities of republican Turkey. Kurdish may not be used in law courts or for any form of public business. No Kurdish newspapers, radio or TV are allowed, despite the recent considerable proliferation of radio and TV stations. Even tapes of Kurdish poetry and music are regularly confiscated and destroyed by the army and police. The Kurdish language only survives because it continues in full use in family life. Such is the level of cultural intolerance to be found in a member of NATO and in a country which has signed the European Convention on Human Rights, which belongs to the OSCE and which aspires to full membership of the European Union.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt. I am in profound sympathy with the noble Lord. Can he tell us whether Kurds are treated worse in Turkey than in other countries?

Lord Hylton

Perhaps the noble Earl is referring to Iran or Iraq, both of which have extremely repressive regimes. He must draw his own conclusions.

Against that background I want to tell the story of Med-TV, mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The company is registered in England as Med Broadcasting Limited. It is licensed by the Independent Television Commission and maintains a London office, thus providing some limited employment here. Its main studios are in Belgium and Sweden and it provides television to the Middle East by European satellites. It broadcasts for about nine hours a day, mainly in Kurdish but also in Turkish. Its transmissions are received not only in Turkey but also in Syria, Iraq and Iran; in short, in all the main areas of Kurdish population. Owing to the differences that exist in the Kurdish dialects, great efforts have had to be made to use words that are most widely understood.

When I went to Diyarbakir and Mardin in December 1995 for the Turkish general election, I inquired particularly whether that TV station was being received and what was the public response. I was told that the viewers were positively rapturous. Old people had wept for joy after such a long period of cultural starvation. For all, it was a new window on the world and, what is more, in their own language. The poorest families clubbed together to buy sets and satellite dishes.

Let us see what has been the response of Turkey to something which most people would consider a desirable development in international communications. Turkey first tried to have the company's British licence revoked. The Independent Television Commission quite properly refused. Turkey then tried to put pressure on Mr. Major when he was Prime Minister. Between times, it attempted to jam the transmissions of the original European satellite being used. Fortunately, that also was unsuccessful. Last September, the offices of Med-TV in London and in Belgium were simultaneously raided by the local police force, acting no doubt at the request of the Turkish Government. Files and computer data were removed but nothing incriminating was found in either case and no charges were brought. In Turkey itself soldiers have many times confiscated dishes and damaged TV sets which they considered to be receiving Med-TV's broadcasts. Another tactic is to cut off a village's electricity supply at peak viewing time.

In November 1996, a director of the company, waiting for a train at Duisburg in Germany, was suddenly and viciously beaten by four men who spoke Turkish among themselves. No one has been arrested for that attack. In June of this year the family of another director living in Sussex was followed and photographed by someone of Turkish appearance. Police protection may therefore yet be needed for persons connected with the company.

Meanwhile, there has been further jamming. INTELSAT cannot apparently be jammed, for some technical reason. But dishes receiving it in Turkey need to be pointed in a particular direction. That enables the police to identify them quite easily. For that reason, the company had begun experimenting with broadcasts from EUTELSAT, a different satellite system, which would not suffer from the same problem.

By 2 p.m. on 1st July jamming started, thought to come from Turkey. EUTELSAT operators complained to Turkey, pointing out that broadcasts were suffering interruption, which included and affected some Romanian language services. The Romanian service, I am glad to say, is now free from interference but the Kurdish service is still being interrupted.

Will Her Majesty's Government inform Turkey that jamming of international TV transmissions is a serious violation of recognised freedoms of expression? It is entirely unacceptable and almost certainly violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Helsinki conventions of 1979, to which Turkey was a party. Will Her Majesty's Government make clear that attacks on, and harassment of, Med-TV personnel will not be tolerated? Will they also consult with the German, Belgian and any other relevant European governments on that issue and on the issue of jamming?

I should like to ask another important question. Do Her Majesty's Government agree with the Geopolitical Narcotics Monitor which stated that 70 per cent. of illegal drugs entering Europe come through Turkey? Can they confirm the view of Mr. Tom Sackville who said, when still a Home Office Minister, that 80 per cent. of the heroin seized in Britain came via Turkey? He also alleged that official Turkish leaks caused some anti-drug operations to fail. What is being done about that unsatisfactory situation?

Turkey itself has serious problems. Despite a 6 per cent. growth rate, inflation has been running and still runs at 80 per cent. per year. Debt is high with interest absorbing over 70 per cent. of tax revenues. The currency depreciates steadily. The prime cause is over-large military spending and the cost of war in the east and south-east. I suggest that attention will have to be paid to the known views of TUSIAD, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association, and indeed to those of the Kurdistan parliament in exile.

In my view, Turkey should one day become a full member of the European Union. The European Union should state clearly that minor cosmetic improvements in human rights such as we have seen will not be enough. The key lies in a political solution to the Kurdish question and to the 13-year long war. That alone will end the emergency, demilitarise the country, make possible the rule of law and remove the overall control exerted by the national security council. Until those things happen, the prospects for human rights are bleak. The European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE can all help. But Turkey needs to find its own Gorbachev. Friends of Turkey should all help her to find such a leader.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he say why he considers it desirable that Turkey should join the European Community?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, Turkey is our neighbour. It has been our partner in NATO for many years. There is a large population of Turks living in Europe, particularly in Germany. I do not believe that the two can permanently be separated.

2.29 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this debate. Anyone who has listened to your Lordships' speeches knows that it is a disturbing debate—disturbing because there is little doubt that Turkey's human rights record does not measure up to internationally acceptable standards. Indeed, for many years now the international community has made its position clear: that the Turkish Government must increase their efforts to stamp out human rights abuses with lasting and meaningful legislation and with respect for internationally acceptable human rights norms.

There have been recent glimmers of hope that the Turkish Government will act responsibly, not least as a result of the customs union agreement signed with Turkey in December 1995. The agreement aimed to bring Turkey further into alignment with its trading partners of the West and encourage Turkey to develop closer working partnerships with the European Union. The agreement also proposed a substantial aid programme for Turkey in return for commitments that progress would be made on the key issues of democracy and human rights.

In October 1996 the European Community reported back on the progress made as a result of that agreement. Although some positive steps have been taken, particularly with reference to trade in the industrial sector, the longed for progress on human rights issues had not taken place. When the customs union agreement was signed, Turkey committed itself to the aspirations of the OSCE but has repeatedly failed to comply with that organisation's guidelines.

I should like to address Turkey's human rights record and to look at the ways in which it falls far short of our hopes and desires. As your Lordships will be aware, and as was so admirably outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, since 1984 the Turkish Government and their military have been engaged in confrontation with armed guerillas of the PKK in the south-east of the country where the Kurds form the majority of the population. The PKK has an estimated strength of some 10,000, largely operating from bases outside its border, not least Syria and the Lebanon. The south-east of Turkey remains under martial law and more than 10,500 people have died in the 12 years of warfare.

This is sadly not a straightforward battle of good versus evil. Criticism has been levelled at both sides of this bloody conflict. While the Turkish army has on occasions violently opposed the PKK, the PKK has attempted to gain the Kurdish population's support sometimes by intimidating and executing those who oppose it. Their actions have, nevertheless, been generally unsuccessful.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the south-east of the country. In May this year they crossed over the border into northern Iraq in their quest against the Kurdish people. The ensuing violence in Erbil has already been reported to this House in very distressing terms by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on another occasion, and we all appreciate the scale of the alleged atrocities. The south-eastern region of Turkey is now completely out of bounds to foreigners lest they be caught in crossfire. Four tourists, including a Briton, died in bomb attacks in Marmaris and Istanbul in 1994. The PKK has made repeated threats against tourists, most recently in June this year. As your Lordships will know, several western tourists were kidnapped by the PKK in the summers of 1993, 1994, 1995 and as recently as September of last year.

Inevitably, there is some sympathy for the Turkish Government in having to deal with what is perceived by some as a violent, uncompromising and bloodthirsty opponent. But meeting violence with violence only escalates the bloodlust. It is incumbent on responsible governments to take the high ground, to set an example and ultimately to ensure that the basic human rights of all those affected should be upheld.

The United Kingdom has a particular understanding of the situation, dealing as it does and must with the problems faced in Northern Ireland. In the words of the former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind: We know that the light against terrorism can only ultimately he successful if it recognises the human rights and the legitimate concerns of the people who are caught up in it". It is only in these circumstances that government can be respected by its people and prove worthy of the powers placed upon it.

It is true to say that in recent years there has been some liberalisation of the application of Article 8 of Turkey's anti-terrorism law which seeks to prevent freedom of expression, although the law itself has not been altered and, as we have heard today in this debate, continues to be used to prosecute people for their beliefs. Insufficient action has been taken against the torture and ill treatment of prisoners. Disappearances and extra-judicial executions still take place. Access to Turkish prisons on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied repeatedly since 1983. There are reports of pressures placed on non-governmental organisations suspected of actively supporting the Kurdish cause.

The excellent report and work undertaken by Amnesty International elaborates on that point. It made a series of important recommendations. I very much hope that they will be considered very carefully by the Government and indeed by everyone to whom they were addressed, not least by members of the Council of Europe and UN member states. To the European Union member states Amnesty International said that it sought to sustain close monitoring of freedom of expression in Turkey, as recommended by the European Parliament in its approval of the 1995 customs union, and use all means at their disposal to encourage the Government of Turkey to effect genuine reform of those laws under which prisoners of conscience are held.

There have been reports that the Turkish Government have instituted proceedings in a number of cases against those accused of torture, but as long as the practices that both I and more ably Amnesty International have outlined continue it is incumbent on all of us, from whichever side of the House, to highlight them.

There is no doubt that Turkey needs to reform her policy on human rights. This is imperative not only for peace and prosperity within her own borders; it is of international concern. Turkey is a strategically important and valued member of NATO. Her territories span the great divides of the world: to the north the fledgling democracies of the former Soviet Union; to the east the volatile areas of the Middle East; to the south the occasionally turbulent North African countries and to the west, Europe.

We need to encourage her stability and prosperity. I also share with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the view that we look forward to the day when she may join us in the European Community. Her accession would help to seal peace and security in a key entrepÔt of the world. In view of that wider hope, NATO has actively supported her military. Over the years it has supplied her with 500 combat aircraft, 500 combat helicopters, 5,000 tanks and thousands of artillery weapons, mortars, machine guns and assault rifles. But it is absolutely essential and right that we seek to ensure that those weapons are not put to ill-use either in Northern Cyprus or in the southeast of Turkey itself. It is a delicate balance between the need for global peace and the needs of the Turkish citizens. The lasting solution is a sea change in attitude from the Turkish Government towards human rights abuses.

So how is such a sea change to be delivered? I am in no doubt about it. It will only come if we continue to work closely with Turkey. We should persist with the customs union agreement, which admirably reflected the view that Europe should seek to influence the domestic policy of her neighbours by holding out the carrot of stronger trading ties and financial assistance. An antagonistic approach in this instance will only lead to Turkish isolation, which in turn may force her to look for other allies in less peaceful and stable regions of the world.

I am aware of the Government's admirable policy to place human rights at the core of their foreign affairs policy, a commitment which was reinforced only yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. But I would be interested to know whether such a policy will mean stronger action on behalf of the Government towards the perpetrators of human rights abuses. Will they attempt to impose greater penalties on the countries concerned?

I do not see a more antagonistic approach to other governments necessarily securing the desired response. Far from it. I believe that it could drive them further away from our aspirations and those of the international community. In Turkey's case that could have immeasurable consequences for Cyprus, NATO, Europe and peace in the eastern Mediterranean.

In conclusion, while I have concentrated my remarks on the issues of Turkey, particularly the human rights issues relating to that country, this debate, as noble Lords have mentioned, fortuitously coincides with the announcement of the Government's foreign policy and the place that human rights will have within that foreign policy. On 12th May, announcing the mission statement, the Foreign Secretary put, human rights at the heart of our foreign policy". By yesterday in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office he had moved discernibly to "the centre". There is only one centre so it necessarily displaces other priorities in its wake. He said that the fact that we are witnesses in our sitting rooms to these events requires us to take responsibility for our reaction to such gross breaches of human rights. Many of the Foreign Secretary's words yesterday would have been welcomed by noble Lords on all sides of the House. But East Timor has provided an opportunity to note the difference between rhetoric and action. There will be many others. The gap between the rhetoric and the actions of this Government should and will be constantly examined from all sides of this House. However good the intentions, at its widest the gap between rhetoric and action can best be defined as hypocrisy; at its narrowest the gap will represent a breach of faith.

I end by posing two general questions in this context. Given the new human rights policy of the Foreign Office, by how much further does the level of human rights atrocities in any country with whom we trade have to deteriorate before the Government impose trade sanctions? If the Government are not considering the implementation of trade sanctions, how will they reconcile the inherent tension between a policy of dialogue together with non-isolation of a country on the one hand and its human-rights foreign policy approach on the other? Given the current Government's new foreign policy objective, I believe that it is right to put these key questions to the Government in the context of the Starred Questions and debates that we have had so far this Session—for example, those relating to Burma, the Sudan, Indonesia and, through a question of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, to the Minister today, Turkey.

2.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising this Question today. I am sure that all noble Lords are very much aware of his dedicated work in the field of human rights. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his ceaseless efforts to raise the profile of debate in this vitally important area. For him, as for many others, Turkey has been a particular focus, and rightly so. In Turkey there are obvious problems and clear opportunities to put those problems right.

As my noble friend Lord Rea remarked, only yesterday my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made a speech on human rights issues. I shall not repeat today what he said, but I echo the spirit of his words. Human rights are fundamental to this Government's foreign policy objectives. That is not a promise to preach to the world on how other countries can improve themselves. To do so would be both arrogant and counter-productive. I mean that respect for the rights of individuals should run as a thread through all our deliberations and contacts with the world at large, and Turkey is no exception.

Many noble Lords have raised specific issues and a number of differing approaches have been suggested. I shall try to address as many points as I can. Initially, I shall examine why the Government regard Turkey as an important interest to Britain and to Europe. Much of Turkey's significance lies in the fact that it is itself a part of Europe. Successive Turkish governments have restated their commitment to establishing a European identity for Turkey. Turkey is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. It aspires to membership of the European Union. The customs union with Europe, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred, is a concrete indication of Turkey's position in the European home. It has its imperfections; it has its critics, many of them in this House.

Of course, Turkey is also a long-standing NATO ally. Its importance to the security of the alliance has not diminished since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Geopolitically, Turkey occupies a crucial position on the threshold of a region of tension and uncertainty. It has ties with the Middle East, the Islamic world, the Caucasus and central Asia. Its tradition of secular democracy in a predominantly Moslem country is an achievement we should not undervalue.

And yet, as all noble Lords have pointed out, Turkey's human rights record remains poor. I share your Lordships' concerns expressed here today about reports of torture, abuse, unwarranted detentions and "disappearances". There can be no excuses for extra-judicial killings or intimidation of those carrying out their professions, such as journalists or lawyers. Indeed, it is incumbent upon those who regard Turkey as a friend not to remain silent in the face of clear breaches of basic rights and freedoms. I believe that the Government of Turkey understand that there will remain serious obstacles in the way of progress towards a closer relationship with Europe while Turkey remains so far short of European standards in human rights. Our challenge will be how to help Turkey reach those standards. We have a duty not just to criticise, but, where we can, to help.

The new Government in Turkey have pledged themselves to the improvement of human rights in the programme they announced two weeks ago. We welcome that commitment. It follows modest progress on reform under the previous administration. But announcements will not be enough. There will need to be a thorough reappraisal of the administration of justice in Turkey: reductions in the periods of detention of suspects; a hard look at the workings of the state security courts; and effective enablement of the rights of freedom of expression, before we can say that there has been a sea change in Turkey's behaviour.

Turkey has duties and obligations under the international treaties to which it is signatory, as noble Lords have mentioned. It should not be surprised if other signatories expect it to conform to those treaties in word and deed. Without significant movement towards European standards, Turkey will continue to be embarrassed and discomfited by the attention of her friends and allies in the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

We were glad to see the adjustments that the previous Turkish government were able to make in this area. I am encouraged by the new Government's announcement earlier this week of the amnesty to all journalists currently imprisoned for "crimes of expression". This is a welcome and long-overdue reform. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will have welcomed the release, albeit on bail, of Mr. Sanar Yurdatapan, on whose behalf he has campaigned so vigorously.

But, as our debate today has demonstrated, these are but drops in a large pool. There is a Turkish expression which runs Drop by drop, the lake forms". I do not believe that in the field of human rights either Turkey or her friends have time for such an unpredictable meterological progression.

The problems of the Kurdish minority have rightly featured prominently in today's debate, and I shall discuss them in more detail later. But the issue of terrorism will not alas distance itself far from those considerations. There is no doubt that Turkey faces a serious threat from the terrorism of the PKK. Sadly, we recognise that threat. Britain itself has had to cope with terrorism for too long not to. We understand the difficulties in tackling that threat. But we also know that military actions can never provide the whole solution to the problem. We do not question Turkey's territorial integrity; there should be no ambiguity on the point. But Turkey must look at the legitimate concerns of its Kurdish population in terms of housing, employment, social and healthcare, and education.

Those deep-rooted problems must be seriously addressed. Only then can a credible long-term stability return to the troubled provinces of the south-east. Only that can effectively undermine support for the terrorists. Heavy-handed and indiscriminate suppression are not the answer. For us, condemnation alone will not promote improvement. If we can approach the problems that Turkey faces in a mood of support and co-operation, we will get further quicker than through direct confrontation. I do not say this as an apologist for the abuses that we have heard about today. I say this as a realistic way to try to make a difference. Through firm action in international fora with our allies, and through supportive educational and vocational training exchanges, we can help to bring about an improvement in the understanding of human rights issues. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday in his speech on human rights: Wherever possible, our approach should he to encourage improved standards through dialogue". The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was kind enough to give me notice of the specific questions which he intended to raise today. I shall try to address some of them, although the list was long. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not answer all his questions but I shall write to him.

The menu for change about which we have heard is full. The question for us is how best to encourage the Turkish authorities to digest such a menu. I believe that for many people there is an understanding that in Turkey there is now an appetite for change. We will persist in urging on Turkey the advantages of welcoming objective observers to help clarify where problems lie; for example, in the displacement and other hardships of the people of south-east Turkey and in the functioning of Turkey's democratic institutions and electoral systems.

That applies to individual observers. As regards the specific point made by the noble Lord, we will again take up with the Turkish authorities their prohibition of certain individuals, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. That applies, too, to representatives of the international organisations mentioned by many noble Lords today; for instance, the UN rapporteurs, the OSCE and the ICRC. In all cases, the message must be that the involvement of observers and experts is important. Indeed, it is vital. The openness and transparency which they can bring to addressing the problems can help towards solutions. They are not an unwelcome distraction.

The noble Lord spoke movingly of the torture of children. Sadly, we are indeed aware of reports that children have been the subject of torture. Let there be no doubt that Her Majesty's Government condemn any torture. We welcome the decision earlier this year to reduce the maximum detention periods for people held in custody. That may help, but it is not enough. Only by full co-operation will the international bodies responsible for monitoring and investigating such allegations can Turkey really convince the international community that it has acted to stamp out the scourge of torture in that country.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the question of the review in September of the OSCE code of conduct on the politico-military aspects of security. We believe that the seminar will provide an excellent forum to examine democratic controls on armed forces. As a signatory state, we expect Turkey to meet her obligations under the code and we will work with our partners to ensure adherence to all OSCE commitments.

The noble Lord also referred to the code of conduct and the chapter on the human dimension which were both attached to the Budapest Declaration of the OSCE of December 1994. The code of conduct focuses on politico-military aspects of security and standards for democratic control under armed forces and the protection of civilians. It does not have an enforcement procedure and is regarded as politically but not legally binding. Paragraphs 34 to 37 of the code refer to respect for commitment under the international law and, in particular, the Hague and Geneva conventions dealing with the laws of war.

The chapter on the human dimension focuses on human rights questions. Under that, it is open to governments or NGOs to ask the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to refer human rights questions to the chairman in office of the OSCE.

The noble Lord referred also to two specific cases—the Akduvar case and the Aksoy case. They went against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights. The British Government regard those as important test cases in relation to Turkey's compliance with European human rights standards. We expect Turkey to meet the requirements set out by the court. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the House that we have reiterated that in the recent review in Strasbourg.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of the Kurdish minority. The conflict in south-east Turkey between the Turkish security forces and the PKK indeed casts a dark cloud over the security and livelihood of the region's people. But of course, a state of conflict or emergency must not be made into a pretext for a denial of basic freedoms and rights. That cannot be the way to win the battle for peace and prosperity in the region. Village clearances, as have been described, forcing large-scale relocation of huge numbers of people, have clearly been a part of the Turkish authority's strategy and have not brought solutions. They have compounded the problems in many cases, increasing the discontent which feeds the appeal of violence and terrorism.

But in recent months we have seen signals of a growing awareness in Turkey that the relentless pursuit of a military solution will not provide the answer. Significantly, Turkish business leaders have clearly identified the need for economic regeneration in the region. They have called for increased investment there. It is welcome too that some senior figures in the Turkish military establishment have begun to speak publicly about the need for a humanitarian and developmental dimension to address the problems of the south east. We shall continue actively to encourage words such as those to be followed by actions.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, raised the problem of the deterioration in public heath and the need for a permanent delegation from the International Red Cross. The Government will indeed encourage the Turkish Government to understand that international organisations such as the ICRC can help to address the problems which confront the south east of Turkey. We shall continue to press that point with them.

The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Hylton, referred to the problems concerning Med-TV. Questions about jamming have been raised. We have received no confirmation of the source of the problem. We have been told that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is investigating those incidents. We shall continue to press for information about where the jamming is coming from.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the reports of the assaults, which were indeed terrible. We are aware that investigation into those alleged criminal activities is under way. I hope that something may come of those investigations and that we can report further to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

The noble Lord asked also about drug trafficking. We know that a large proportion of the heroin entering the UK arrives via Turkey. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed that with his Turkish counterpart when they met earlier this month. Both my right honourable friend and the Turkish foreign minister agreed about the usefulness of enhanced co-operation in that area, both bilaterally and with our European partners.

Several noble Lords have referred to Turkey's EU application. The European Commission has just put forward its Agenda 2000 containing proposals on how to handle further enlargement of the EU. On the question of Turkey's aspiration to join, the Commission endorses the view that Turkey is eligible to join and that its candidacy should he judged on the same criteria as those for other candidates. The Government support that approach.

However, it is clear to us that one criterion on which Turkey falls a long way short is its performance in human rights. Turkey's path to membership must include a thoroughgoing reform in that field.

I do not believe that anyone listening to this debate believes that the human rights position in Turkey will be improved by isolation or by dissociation. We must work with Turkey, but we must work firmly and insistently through the various international organisations about which so many noble Lords spoke today. During his meeting with the new Turkish foreign minister, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary broached the issue of human rights and asked how we might help. Mr. Cem welcomed our suggestions. There are a number of areas in which we will be looking to take forward practical proposals, such as educational and vocational training programmes and seminars for lawyers and barristers to familiarise themselves with the implications of European legislation, human rights awareness training for police officers, and support for advice centres in the field of basic rights and redress.

Those measures will not by themselves be crucial. The fact is that only Turkey and the Turkish people can achieve the changes needed, because it is ultimately their interest which will be most directly served by their improvement. However, we can try to make a difference. The Government are determined to continue to work to that end.

House adjourned at three o'clock.