HL Deb 22 February 1999 vol 597 cc831-4

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they consider should be taken by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to ensure that the general elections to be held in Turkey are free and fair.

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

My Lords, like all participating states, Turkey is committed under the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Copenhagen Document of 1990 to ensure that its election procedures are free and fair. Should Turkey be found to be in breach of its commitments with regard to the conduct of the elections, it will be for participating states to consider what action should be taken.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, considering that the OSCE, through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has monitored some 80 elections in the past and plans to take an interest in no fewer than 12 during the current year, does the Minister not agree that it is extraordinary that Turkey should be omitted from the list? Has the Minister noticed that attempts are being made to ban the only pro-Kurdish party in the field; that several hundred of its leaders, including Murat Bozlak, have been arrested and are charged with very serious offences; that the offices have been raided; and that every measure has been taken by the Turkish authorities to prevent HADEP from having a fair chance?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is aware that some 3,000 HADEP members were arrested in November last year. The overwhelming majority of them were released. In the past week or so 500 have been arrested and we must wait and see what arises. I think the noble Lord must accept that it is usual for OSCE countries which are having elections to invite OSCE monitors. The OSCE does not go in unless invited. I can safely say that Her Majesty's Government would be delighted if the Turkish Government were to consider an OSCE invitation appropriate.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government invite the Turkish Government to give such an invitation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure we can raise the matter with the Turkish Government but, as I am sure the noble Lord will understand, it is always preferable if the inviting government really are prepared to co-operate with those who are sent in to monitor; otherwise the monitoring process becomes largely null and void.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is it not the case that several Turkish members of parliament are either imprisoned or in exile, that 14 separate political parties have been banned since 1982, and that military courts regularly try civilians for political offences?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords, we are extremely worried about the operation of the state security courts. It is one of the issues regularly raised with the Turkish Government, bilaterally as well as through the European institutions. Moreover, we have repeatedly raised the imprisonment of the Kurdish DEP members of parliament, including, of course, Mrs. Leyla Zana, whom we have discussed previously in your Lordships' House. We have stressed that the conviction of elected politicians for the non-violent expression of their opinions can only damage Turkey's international reputation and standing.

Lord Rea

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government agree that conditions inside Turkey leading up to the elections would be much calmer if Turkey were openly seen to be fair during the handling of the interrogation and trial of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader who has just been captured, and to be adhering to the convention on torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners to which it is a signatory? Will the Government make representations to that effect?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is, of course, to be desired that the widespread reports of the use of torture in Turkey are properly investigated. To that end, we are very pleased that the UN special rapporteur on torture has now been able to complete his visit to Turkey. In respect of the position on Mr. Ocalan, perhaps I may say that many have commented on the helpful part that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, played last week in ensuring that the difficulties experienced outside the Greek Embassy were properly addressed and peacefully resolved. But, of course, the trial of Mr. Ocalan, will be very much a touchstone. At present we have no knowledge of the proceedings, venue, or, indeed, the type of trial to which he is likely to be subjected. We hope that the undertakings made by Prime Minister Ecevit that the trial is a fair one will be honoured.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, in this House we all value human rights and care for human dignity. Can Her Majesty's Government give consideration to the situation of a state dealing with citizens who deny the validity of the state, a problem which Her Majesty's Government also face?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we understand that Turkey has perfectly proper security considerations, which tend to be centred on the existence of the PKK. Like the Turkish Government, we have very considerable anxieties about the operation of the PKK and its espousal of ceasefires, unfortunately, it seems, closely followed, by the breaking of those ceasefires. We are worried by a number of incidents, including those on 17th November last year, in which citizens have been injured. We are also concerned about attacks on a number of public servants in Turkey. I think they bear out the anxieties to which the noble Lord refers.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, in view of the forthcoming elections and in the light of the recent mass protest by Kurds and the impending trial of Abdullah Ocalan, is the Minister concerned that there will be an escalation of Kurdish separatist violence and of subsequent repression? Given that the Turkish Prime Minister has recently said that the Kurds will never have political autonomy, do the Government have an ethical strategy for a just and lasting peace in separatist conflicts within sovereign states?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have addressed the issue of the Kurds with the Turkish Government on a number of occasions. As is our practice in all such matters, we have urged the Turkish Government to respect the cultural traditions of the Kurdish people. Where people are arrested and become subject to trials, we have urged that those trials should be fair, observable and open. Moreover, we give help bilaterally to the Turks on the question of the institutions of justice and the police. We also help through the European institutions. I believe we have a fairly comprehensive package on the points which the noble Lord raises.

Lord McNair

My Lords, does the Minister feel that the American Government share the concerns that she has indicated in respect of the attitude of the Turkish Government to the elections?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the attitude of the American Government is a question for them. I have no detailed knowledge of that. I am well aware of the position in Europe, and the Question is about the OSCE. However, as the noble Lord has referred to the attitude of the United States Government, I shall make it my business to find out and write to him accordingly.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is it not profoundly unsatisfactory that the OSCE rules, to which the Minister referred in her Answer, allow a state to escape scrutiny simply by not issuing an invitation to observers and that the Turks have consistently done that for the past 15 years as regards the conflict in the south east? Will the Minister consider proposing at the next OSCE summit that the rules be amended so that elections and other human rights matters dealt with in the various Helsinki instruments can be scrutinised, notwithstanding the refusal of the state concerned to issue an invitation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I have said that we shall do what we can to encourage the Turks to issue the invitations to which I referred. However, participating states cannot escape scrutiny altogether if they choose not to invite observers, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware. Turkey knows that it has clear commitments under the OSCE. It knows that the participating states expect it to fulfil those obligations. We expect the relevant organs of the OSCE, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the representative on freedom and the media, to take up any shortcomings with the Turks. The fact that a state does not invite observers does not mean that no action will be taken.

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