HL Deb 06 July 1999 vol 603 cc717-9

2.45 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions they draw from the 130 cases brought against Turkey to the European Commission and Court of Human Rights, and in particular those ofMentes v. Turkey, Akdivar v. Turkey and Selcuk and Asker v. Turkey, concerning the destruction and depopulation of villages.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have repeatedly made clear their condemnation of so-called "village clearances". We welcome the fact that such forced evacuations have virtually ceased since 1996.

On the basis of those cases where the European Court of Human Rights has already ruled against Turkey, Her Majesty's Government conclude that the instances of forced evacuations of villages were at odds with Turkey's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. We have repeatedly urged the Turkish Government to comply fully with rulings of the ECHR.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and particularly for her condemnation of what has taken place. However, does she fully appreciate the scale on which these activities took place? Is it not the case that 3,000 villages were completely cleared, displacing approximately 3 million people? That is slightly more than the total population of Kosovo.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware that over 3,000 villages and hamlets were forcibly evacuated in the course of the conflicts between the Turkish security forces and the PKK. We condemned the brutal and counter-productive policy behind those evacuations. But criticism alone will not bring about the improvements that we want to see in Turkey's performance over human rights. That is why we continue to encourage the Turks to implement a package of measures which is aimed at improving their record on human rights. For example, we have been giving them help in training lawyers and police and raising their standards to international levels.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the Minister says that village clearances have virtually ceased. But does she appreciate that in 1998, according to the IHD—the foremost Turkish human rights organisation—30 villages were demolished? Does she agree that the Home Office figure of 500,000 people being displaced by these clearances, which was quoted in the assessment used by the Home Office for immigration and asylum purposes, does not stack up with the 3 million mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and endorsed by such British authorities as David McDowall? Is the displacement of these people who are now living in shanty towns outside Diyarbakir and in the slums of western Turkish cities the reason why the Turkish authorities did not invite the OSCE to monitor their recent elections, knowing that it would discover that all these people were disenfranchised?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope I have made clear in robust terms to the House the views of Her Majesty's Government on these village clearances. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury—as did the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—quoted the figure of 3 million. I am given to understand that the figure was some 500,000. I do not want to bandy figures with noble Lords. These are enormous numbers of people. This was a lamentable piece of policy. The recent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that position and Her Majesty's Government have no hesitation in criticising that record. As I understand it, there was a considerable slow-down of village evacuations after 1996 and the current position is that the Turkish Government are encouraging those who were evacuated from the villages—that is, the Kurdish population—to return to those villages. We are doing our best to encourage them in that endeavour.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that many of us are encouraged by the robust terms in which she has replied to this Question? Indeed, we should like to congratulate the Government on the firm stand that they are taking. However, if NATO is to have increasing responsibility in making an effective stand for human rights in various parts of the world, does my noble friend agree that issues may be raised about how far it is possible to co-operate in such action with a nation state which has a record of this kind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I understand why there is an implicit suggestion—I put it no higher than that—in my noble friend's Question that there is an analogy, if I may put it that way, with the situation in Kosovo; namely—and I paraphrase what my noble friend said—that for one of our own allies to have been in this position does not bear a great deal of scrutiny. When looking at this Question I, too, raised that issue. But having looked at what has actually happened, I really do not believe that the comparison stands up. It is not sustainable to argue that the Turks have pursued what might be described as a "Serbian-style policy" of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds. They have not sought to expel ethnic Kurds, who are Turkish citizens, beyond their borders; nor has there been any attempt, since the clearances, to re-settle ethnic Turks into the villages which were evacuated. However, nothing in that detracts from the robust criticisms that Her Majesty's Government have made of these village clearances or our continuing criticisms of Turkey's record on human rights.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us what difference the exchanges in your Lordships' House this afternoon have made to the Government's attitude to Turkey's application to join the European Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government always listen with very great interest to the wisdom that your Lordships are able to bring to bear on a whole range of different issues. However, the Government have pursued the right policies in encouraging our friends in Turkey to improve their record on human rights. Her Majesty's Government do that not only through our contacts in relation to the European Union; indeed, we have also done so through a series of practical measures of help on human rights issues—for example, helping to establish an independent police complaints authority, a young lawyers' exchange scheme, and a pilot on citizens advice bureaux. We shall shortly be announcing a further package when my right honourable friend Miss Quin visits Turkey later this month. We listen; of course, we do. However, it is also important that noble Lords should be aware of the measures that are going forward to try to help Turkey improve.