UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's regional role - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

3 Turkey's domestic political development and human rights

50.  Turkey's democratic and human rights practices matter for the UK Government's ambitions for the UK-Turkey relationship. We therefore decided to devote a chapter of our Report to their consideration. Supporting further improvements in Turkey's democratic and human rights standards is among the aims of FCO policy.[99] Given the Government's declared support for human rights as a central element in its foreign policy,[100] it would face a reputational risk in developing a "strategic partnership" with Turkey if Turkey's democratic and human rights standards were poor or deteriorating. Turkey's practices in this respect, especially its legal and judicial systems, affect the environment for UK nationals working, living and visiting in Turkey; and a perception that Turkey has a poor democratic and human rights record seems likely to be partly responsible for the country's relatively low standing with the UK public.[101] If the Government is to achieve its aim of seeing Turkey inside the EU, the Member States will need to be able to state that Turkey fulfils the political criterion for accession, of exhibiting "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities".[102] Finally, the UK holds the six-monthly Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from November 2011. The Government's top priority for its Chairmanship is reform of the European Court of Human Rights, with the intention, among other objectives, of reducing its backlog of cases.[103] At the end of 2011, of the 47 states whose citizens can apply to the Court, Turkey accounted for 10.5% of the 151,600 pending cases requiring a judicial decision, second only to Russia.[104]

The nature of AKP rule

51.  Turkey's recent politics have consisted most prominently of a struggle between, on the one hand, the secular republican establishment (including the military), committed to perpetuating what it sees as the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic; and, on the other, political forces with 'Islamist' roots. The struggle has been conducted through constitutional amendment, judicial proceedings and military intervention as well as elections. Since the parliamentary elections of 2002, which re-ordered Turkey's political landscape, the main Kemalist political party has been the social democratic Republican People's Party (CHP), while the 'Islamists' have been represented by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Having won office in 2002 and re-election in 2007, the AKP won a third successive victory in the election held in June 2011. It again increased its share of the vote, to 49.8%. Dr Dimitar Bechev of the European Council on Foreign Relations told us that the AKP had "largely won [the] battle to emerge as [the] dominant force in Turkish politics".[105]

52.  The degree and pace of change being wrought in Turkey under AKP rule was one of the main themes to emerge from our inquiry. Professor Dodd described the changes as "little short of revolutionary", [106] and one of our independent interlocutors in Turkey said that the country was one of the fastest-changing in Europe.

53.  Our witnesses and interlocutors were in agreement, in particular, that AKP rule has seen a decisive and welcome assertion of civilian over military political authority. The resignations and replacements of the chief of the general staff and all three service chiefs in July 2011 were seen as especially significant.[107] We heard from no-one who thought that another military intervention in politics was likely in the foreseeable future.[108] Dr Robins described the military as "chastened", and said that it was seeking "almost a partnership with the government", whereby it could still influence policy in security matters that were properly within its remit, while being aware that it could no longer define almost any subject as a security issue.[109] Some interlocutors attributed the military's reticence partly to the AKP government's continuing popularity, which might be vulnerable were the economy to deteriorate (see Chapter 5). Dr Robins speculated about an international turn back towards authoritarian rule, under extreme economic conditions, in which case a military comeback in Turkey might "seem less outlandish". However, under current circumstances, he advised that "the working position would be that the weakening of the military's influence is irreversible".[110] Some of our interlocutors said that there was still a way to go to entrench in lasting institutional terms a proper role for the military and comprehensive civilian oversight of it. The new constitution planned by the re-elected AKP government was highlighted as an important opportunity in this respect (see paragraphs 86-90).

54.  Western responses to AKP rule have typically been conditioned by the party's 'Islamist' roots. This has been the case especially because of the charged international atmosphere surrounding the relationship between political Islam on the one hand, and democracy and the West on the other, in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on the US and the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Madrid and London. We heard that President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoðan and others in the core AKP circle were personally pious Muslims. We also heard that the AKP's rule reflected and fostered the values of its often devout electorate, which were undoubtedly more socially conservative than those of opposition voters.[111] However, all our witnesses who addressed the subject distinguished these characteristics from an 'Islamist' political agenda and said that it would be a misconception to see the AKP as seeking to 'Islamicise' the Turkish state.[112] John Peet told us that the AKP had "governed in many respects as a fairly normal centre-right party, akin to a European Christian Democratic party".[113]

55.  During his high-profile visit to Cairo in September 2011, aimed at promoting Turkey's influence in Egypt and other revolutionary Arab states (see paragraphs 104 and 132), Prime Minister Erdoðan advocated the secular state as wholly compatible with individuals' practice of Islam. He said that Egyptians were "mistaken" if they thought that secularism meant that religion would be removed from the state, or that the population would be atheist; rather, Mr Erdoðan said that secularism meant respect for all religions, and for atheists. His remarks were reportedly poorly received by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which did not furnish a large sending-off crowd for Mr Erdoðan like the one which had greeted him enthusiastically on his arrival in Cairo and in which Muslim Brotherhood members had featured prominently.[114]

56.  We were made aware that there was some unease among some of Turkey's secular population in case the AKP had more 'Islamist' ambitions which were yet to become evident; and/or in case informal and societal pressures and expectations came to disadvantage secular citizens, even without formal institutional or policy measures. Professor Dodd told us that "many Turks are deeply worried that society is becoming more Islamic and will not easily continue to accept it".[115]

57.  We have encountered little evidence that the AKP government is seeking to 'Islamicise' the Turkish state. We conclude that the AKP is best seen as akin to a socially conservative Christian Democrat party, continuing to govern within a secular state. However, some among Turkey's secular population are uneasy lest the effort to make Turkish public life more welcoming to openly devout Muslims comes to tip into disadvantage for secular citizens. We recommend that the FCO should remain vigilant on issues of religious freedom and discrimination and should ensure that its Turkish partners are clear about its stance in this respect.


58.  John Peet told us that "the real danger with the [AKP] in government was never Islamism [...] but rather the autocratic instincts of Prime Minister Erdoðan".[116] Mr Peet was sufficiently concerned about Turkey's direction of travel under Mr Erdoðan to advocate, in his editorial capacity at The Economist, a vote for the opposition CHP in the June 2011 election.[117] He told us that while he had been an admirer of the AKP government, he had "legitimate grounds for worry about the future direction of the country" under its rule, in particular owing to some of Mr Erdoðan's apparent personal traits.[118] Dr Bechev, Dr Robins, and Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffmann all expressed concern that there was a concentration of power in AKP hands.[119] Professor Dodd said that the government did "not take criticism easily",[120] and David Logan suggested that it was "impatient with restraints on its exercise of power".[121]

59.  International concern about the quality of democracy in Turkey rose through 2011 and into 2012 largely owing to developments associated with the justice system. Human Rights Watch told us that "the weakness in Turkey's criminal justice system coupled with vaguely drawn laws [...] lead to persistent human rights violations".[122] In January 2012, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published a report on the administration of justice in Turkey based on a visit there which he made shortly before our own.[123] Mr Hammarberg concluded that there were "some long-standing, systematic dysfunctions in the domestic justice system adversely affecting the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Turkey, as well as the public's perception of the system's effectiveness, independence, and impartiality".[124] In its commentary on Mr Hammarberg's report, as well as other developments, the Financial Times identified "disturbing signs of a growing authoritarianism" in Turkey.[125] The Turkish government rebutted many of the claims in Mr Hammarberg's report in the response which it annexed to it.

60.  Many of the most prominent controversial legal proceedings are being pursued as part of one of two overlapping groups of cases:

  • "Ergenekon". Proceedings began against those allegedly involved in the so-called "Ergenekon" conspiracy in 2007. The conspiracy was allegedly aimed at the violent overthrow of the AKP government, but the case has broadened into investigations of the so-called "deep state" extending back well before the AKP took office. The "deep state" allegedly united Turkish military and security personnel with terrorist and organised crime figures in defence of what was seen as the established Kemalist order. Numbers can be hard to pin down, but "Ergenekon" is reckoned to have caught up hundreds of military officers, civil servants and journalists; as of March 2012, two CHP MPs were among those imprisoned pending trial. In January 2012, the former chief of the general staff became one of the latest high-profile figures to be detained.
  • "Sledgehammer". The "Sledgehammer" proceedings are being brought against those allegedly involved in an alleged military coup plot dating to 2003. As of March 2012, an MP of the nationalist MHP opposition party was among those detained.[126]

As a consequence of the "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" cases, in early 2012 over 250 former and serving military officers were reported to be in detention, including around 10% of serving generals and admirals.[127] No convictions had been secured in either set of cases.

61.  Dr Robins explained that there were two opposed views of the cases:

One side says that this is payback time from the AKP for hostile actions in the past against it by former military figures, former journalists, former bureaucrats etc. Others say [...] there has been a history in Turkey of conspiracies of hidden activity aimed at subverting the government of the day [...] even at bringing the military back to power.[128]

In its latest annual 'progress report' on Turkey, in October 2011, the European Commission said that the cases "remain[ed] an opportunity for Turkey to shed light on alleged criminal activities against democracy and to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law".[129] Dr Robins told us that "it may have suited the [...] government to intimidate, a little bit, some of its opponents", but that the situation was now more likely to damage the government's reputation, as the protracted nature of the "Ergenekon" case "begins to infringe ideas of natural justice".[130]

62.  On 12 March 2012, as we finalised this Report, the two most prominent journalists imprisoned as part of the "Ergenekon" inquiry were released on bail, together with two others.[131] The releases were welcomed by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and by the international press freedom NGOs the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders.[132]

63.  A third set of controversial legal cases concerns the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK). The KCK is an umbrella Kurdish organisation with links to the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The UK lobby group Peace in Kurdistan told us that the Turkish state regards the KCK as a front for the PKK, which is proscribed in Turkey, the EU and the US as a terrorist organisation.[133] Most of those arrested in the KCK cases are suspected of terrorism-related offences. Over 150 people are on trial in the main KCK proceeding, with thousands reported to be on trial in total and hundreds in pre-trial detention.[134] As of March 2012, the detainees included six MPs of the main Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), including one who had been convicted. There was an intensified wave of arrests in late 2011 and early 2012 for alleged KCK connections (see paragraph 80).

64.  On our visit to Turkey, we were taken aback by much of what we heard about Turkish legal proceedings and practices, finding them inconsistent with our experience otherwise of an open and democratic country pursuing EU membership. We were struck by shortcomings we heard about in four inter-linked areas, in particular:

  • Legislative and other statutory provisions. Despite reforms introduced in recent years, Turkish law allows prosecutors a wide latitude to launch proceedings. This applies especially with regard to membership of, or propaganda in favour of, a criminal organisation (under Article 220 of the Criminal Code), and with regard to terrorism-related offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Turkish law also continues to set long maximum periods for detention on remand—up to 10 years in state security cases.[135]
  • Judicial capacity. The Turkish justice system appears to be suffering from a serious lack of capacity. This is helping to generate a major backlog of cases: 1.4 million pending criminal cases and 1.1 million civil cases at the end of 2010.[136] Lack of capacity is also a cause of excessively long proceedings, which are the grounds for many of the judgments made against Turkey by the European Court of Human Rights. It is not uncommon for cases to last for over a decade.[137] The length of judicial proceedings in turn contributes to the length of time for which many suspects are imprisoned on remand.[138]
  • Disclosure. Suspects are sometimes not able to access full information about the grounds for their detention or the evidence against them.[139] Clear public information about detainees and cases is also often hard to come by.
  • Judicial independence and professional structure and culture. We heard from interlocutors in Turkey that in some sense Turkish judges and prosecutors may almost be too independent—in the sense of comprising a unified, homogenous cadre with a set of long-established norms and sense of professional identity and purpose, based on common socialisation and career incentives. However, Dr Robins also set out the more commonly-heard concern about the Turkish judiciary, namely that it is insufficiently independent: he said that it was difficult for the judiciary to remain independent in the face of "a single, dominant party with a very clear leader whose modus operandi leans in the direction of populist politics".[140] Either way, in his report Mr Hammarberg characterised the attitudes exhibited by judges and prosecutors as "state-centred" rather than rights-centred.[141] Given these circumstances, he suggested that, even where legislation had been reformed, its intention could be subverted by the way in which it was interpreted and applied by courts and prosecutors.[142] Developments since the September 2010 constitutional referendum (which included reforms to the judiciary) and up to early 2012 surrounding a number of cases and legal amendments have tended to strengthen concerns about judicial independence in Turkey.[143] In this context, the proposed new constitution is likely to have particular significance for the independence of the judiciary.

65.  We encountered a widespread view that torture had largely been eliminated from the Turkish criminal justice system, following significant efforts by the authorities. In 2011, Turkey ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which obliges States Party to maintain an independent national preventative mechanism for monitoring places of detention.[144] However, Human Rights Watch highlighted continuing concerns about ill-treatment in custody, police violence against demonstrators, and impunity for police abuses. It advocated the creation of an independent police complaints authority, a step also urged by Mr Hammarberg in his report.[145]

66.  David Lidington told us bluntly that "Turkey is, regrettably, not yet in a place where one would have the same confidence in the judicial system as one would in the judicial systems of the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Norway and so on".[146]

67.  We found Turkish officials aware of the shortcomings in the Turkish justice system. In Turkey, we heard about plans to recruit more judges and prosecutors (although Mr Hammarberg said in his report that this process has been underway for some years, even as case backlogs had continued to grow). In January 2012, the Justice Minister announced a major package of reforms to streamline procedures, eliminate some offences, reduce some sentences and narrow grounds for pre-trial detention.[147] In a commentary, Mr Hammarberg of the Council of Europe said that the proposals were "positive overall, [but did] not go far enough to resolve the issues they seek to address [and were] unlikely to represent a substantial improvement regarding the human rights situation in Turkey".[148] While welcoming some elements of the package, Human Rights Watch was similarly critical overall.[149] The FCO Minister Lord Howell told the House of Lords on 12 March that the Government welcomed the package, and that he understood further reforms to be planned. He also noted that the UK Embassy in Ankara was involved with a number of projects with the Turkish Ministry of Justice, including the training of judges and judicial reform. The legal reform package may be passed into law during March 2012, as this Report was being approved and published.[150]

68.  Some of the measures that appear to be required in the Turkish justice system, such as judicial and prosecutorial recruitment and training, and deep-seated attitudinal change, will necessarily take time. Others, such as reform of some judicial institutions, or statutory change to tighten definitions of offences and reduce maximum pre-trial detention periods, could be undertaken more quickly. We recommend that the FCO should ensure that its Turkish partners are in no doubt that the shortcomings in the Turkish justice system are damaging Turkey's international reputation and leading to human rights abuses, in ways that make it harder to advocate, or imagine the realisation of, close UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's EU membership. We further recommend that the FCO should offer support to the package of reforms announced by the Turkish Justice Minister in January 2012 and should let its Turkish partners know that it would welcome the opportunity to assist in its further development and in further reforms in the justice system as they may request, involving also the Home Office and Ministry of Justice as appropriate.


69.  Among human rights, freedom of expression and the media appear to be significant casualties of the shortcomings in the justice system. The FCO told us bluntly that "Turkish law does not currently guarantee freedom of expression in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and case law from the European Court of Human Rights".[151] Large numbers of journalists have been caught up in the "Ergenekon" and KCK cases: following the wave of KCK arrests at the end of 2011, the number of journalists in detention may reportedly have reached around 100. This would put the number of journalists in jail in Turkey above that in China or Iran.[152] In this environment, the FCO said that its media contacts reported a climate of self-censorship, something echoed by Professor Dodd and Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman, and which we also heard during our visit.[153] Turkey has dropped from 102 (of 173) in Reporters without Borders' press freedom index in 2008 to 122 (of 175) in 2009, 138 (of 178) in 2010 and 148 (of 179) in 2011-12.[154] Turkish government figures and officials told us consistently that journalists were not being detained for their journalistic activities; in late January 2012, the number being reported by independent organisations for those definitely detained only for their journalistic activities seemed to range between five and eight.[155]

70.  Human Rights Watch also drew our attention to Turkish government plans for an internet filtering system. Since the June 2011 election, the AKP government has softened its earlier proposals, but Human Rights Watch still saw cause for concern in the fact that the Turkish executive and courts were blocking an estimated 15,000 websites, sometimes owing to their political content.[156]

71.  David Lidington told us that the Turkish Ministry of Justice had initiated a visit to London for its officials to discuss freedom of expression, following criticisms made by the European Commission in its October 2011 'progress report'. He described this as an "encouraging sign".[157] Changes aimed at enhancing freedom of expression are among the legal reforms announced by the Turkish government in January 2012.

72.  Human Rights Watch also drew our attention to women's rights in Turkey. It welcomed the fact that in 2011 Turkey became the first signatory of the Council of Europe's new Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey also became the first state to ratify, on 14 March 2012. (As of mid-March 2012, the UK had not signed the Convention.) However, Human Rights Watch said that overall "women's rights in Turkey [were] still given insufficient protection and priority". It urged the UK Government to press its Turkish counterpart to amend the Law on the Protection of the Family, to widen the law's applicability, as a first further step against violence against women.[158] The FCO said that there had been improvements in women's rights, but that honour killings, domestic violence, sexual assault and forced marriage still gave cause for concern.[159]

73.  The FCO told us that Turkey had committed to an extensive reform programme on religious freedoms.[160] We were pleased to hear about the return of many expropriated properties to religious foundations, under amendments to the law on foundations adopted in 2011, but we remain disappointed that there appears to have been little movement towards the reopening of the Orthodox seminary at Halki, which is crucial for the long-term health of the Orthodox Church in Turkey.

74.  Overall, the FCO said that there had been "significant and positive changes in recent years" as regards human rights in Turkey. Our witnesses agreed.[161] When they gave evidence in autumn 2011, John Peet and Sir David Logan also felt that Turkey's human rights situation was continuing to improve.[162] However, David Lidington acknowledged that Turkey still had "further to travel".[163]

75.  Human Rights Watch said that the Government should attach higher priority to human rights issues in its relations with Turkey.[164] Professor Dodd advised the Government to channel its efforts on democracy and human rights in Turkey through the EU, rather than appear to advance the UK as a model—although he recognised that having reforms advanced by the EU brought its own risks, given resentment in Turkey about the current blocking of its EU accession process (see paragraphs 186 and 191).[165] Several other witnesses felt that the UK was especially well-placed to promote democratic and human rights improvements in Turkey, because of the goodwill accumulated there as a result of successive UK Governments' support for the country and its EU accession ambitions; witnesses felt that Turkish partners would not suspect the UK of raising human rights concerns in order to derail Turkey's EU membership prospects.[166] We wondered whether the Government might be cautious about raising such concerns, at least in public, in case Turkey's EU ambitions were damaged as a result; but Dr Bechev said that UK Government pressure on democracy and human rights was in any case best exerted in a "friendly, behind the scenes" way.[167] Sir David Logan said similarly that it was most important to try to find practical ways to assist Turkey on democracy and human rights issues, rather than simply state concerns.[168]

76.  Turkey has made welcome improvements in human rights standards in many areas over the last decade, but there is the appearance of a reversal in some respects. Many of the most potentially worrying developments concern legal proceedings, so it is often hard to form an assessment in the absence of firm public information about the relevant evidence, but we are clear that the current climate in Turkey is limiting freedom of expression and the media. This is despite the release on bail of four prominent journalists in March 2012, which we welcome. We conclude that Turkey's human rights record remains a problem for the "strategic partnership" with the UK which we support, and for Turkey's EU accession prospects. We recommend that the FCO should suggest that the Turkish government encourage prosecutors and judges to exercise restraint in the use of arrest and pre-trial detention, pending more thorough-going reform of the justice system. We further recommend that the FCO should seek every opportunity to help Turkey in practical ways to achieve further improvements in its human rights practices, including as regards freedom of expression and the media.

Kurdish situation

77.  Two of our academic witnesses separately described the Kurdish issue as the "litmus test" for Turkish democracy.[169] In 2009, the AKP government initiated a 'Democratic Opening' towards the Kurds which Human Rights Watch said represented "a ground-breaking shift of language".[170] Most notably, a 24-hour Kurdish-language state television channel was launched; some greater use of the Kurdish language was allowed; and channels of communication were opened with Abdullah ½calan, the jailed leader of the armed Kurdish nationalist organisation, the PKK. The FCO told us that the democratic and cultural rights of Kurds had improved in recent years,[171] and Sir David Logan said that the AKP government had done more than any predecessor in terms of talking to the PKK and challenging anti-Kurdishness in the nationalist press.[172]

78.  The 'Democratic Opening' ran into the ground relatively quickly.[173] In 2011, and especially since the June parliamentary election, the security situation and relations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish community in the south-east have deteriorated significantly. A renewed cycle of PKK attacks and counter-terrorist operations by the authorities began in May. Turkey re-started cross-border aerial and artillery attacks on PKK targets in northern Iraq in July, and made a brief land incursion in October. By January 2012, "hundreds of rebels, including senior commanders" were reported to have been killed in the Turkish operations, while dozens had died in PKK attacks.[174] On 28 December, a Turkish air raid just inside the Turkish-Iraqi border killed 34 Kurds who proved to be cross-border smugglers, not PKK fighters.

79.  The UK Representation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, told us that Turkish and Iranian attacks on Kurdish targets in northern Iraq were in breach of international law and threatening the security and stability of the country. It condemned what it said was the UK Government's silence over the issue.[175] The UK lobby group Peace in Kurdistan urged the Government to try to persuade its Turkish counterpart to halt the strikes.[176] David Lidington told us that the Government was "not comfortable" with Turkey's cross-border operations, but that the Turkish deaths being caused by PKK attacks were putting the government in Ankara under domestic political pressure, and that the UK Government felt it was "important to show solidarity".[177]

80.  In Turkey there has also been an intensified and sweeping wave of arrests of activists, journalists and lawyers, and officials and elected politicians of the main Kurdish political party, the BDP, for terrorism-related offences, on the basis of alleged links to the KCK. By early 2012, thousands of people were reckoned to be on trial for such offences, with hundreds subject to pre-trial detention; the BDP's functioning had been severely disrupted.[178] Peace in Kurdistan said that Kurds "widely regard [the KCK proceedings] as a mass show trial designed to criminalise all Kurdish civil society organisations".[179] Meanwhile, official communication with Mr ½calan appeared to have ceased, and he was being denied access to his lawyers.[180]

81.  Human Rights Watch told us that the Turkish government tended to "view [the Kurdish] issue through the prism of counter-terrorism".[181] Peace in Kurdistan made the same contention. It said that "Turkey's apparent current preference for a combined military and legalistic strategy to eliminate Kurdish resistance is very much a step backwards from the hopes of a 'democratic opening' announced only a couple of years ago".[182] In the parliament elected in June 2011, the BDP has 29 MPs, a rise from the previous legislature; but Peace in Kurdistan argued that the subsequent launching of legal proceedings against non-violent, legal, political and civil society organisations was likely only to dissuade dissatisfied Kurds from pursuing peaceful and constitutional politics.[183]

82.  The BDP struck us as advancing a moderate programme which represented a potentially fruitful basis for engagement with the Turkish government—comprising enhanced Kurdish cultural rights (such as Kurdish-language education), and the decentralisation of power from Ankara to a system of sub-national government covering all of Turkey, not only the Kurdish-populated areas. The BDP seemed to us to be in a less close relationship to the PKK than, for example, Sinn Féin was to the IRA in Northern Ireland. However, this might carry disadvantages as well as advantages in terms of the BDP's ability to 'deliver' in support of any settlement process the disaffected Kurds in the south-east, among whom support for Mr ½calan remains considerable.

83.  As regards the most advisable way forward, there was some difference in approach among our witnesses. Human Rights Watch and Peace in Kurdistan prioritised Kurdish cultural rights, especially the right to mother-tongue education. Professor Dodd cautioned that Turkish nationalists tend to see requests for enhanced minority rights as leading to a 'slippery slope' that ends in independence, so he suggested that "British policy may need to be somewhat muted in this area".[184] Rather than Kurdish collective rights, he preferred the further integration into Turkish political structures of Kurds with some standing in Kurdish society (rather than 'Turkicised Kurds'), floating the notion of a "Kurdish Lloyd-George" as a future leader of Turkey.[185] All our witnesses agreed that there could be no military solution to the Kurdish situation in the long term.[186]

84.  David Lidington implied that the Government had a two-track policy: encouraging reconciliation between the Kurdish population and the rest of Turkey, on the basis of improved rights to freedom of expression and Kurdish language use; but also supporting and co-operating with Turkey against PKK terrorism.[187] The FCO told us that recent police operations against the PKK in the UK had led to several arrests, asset seizures and a significant reduction in funding revenue.[188] Peace in Kurdistan charged the UK and EU with encouraging the Turkish government to see the Kurdish issue primarily as one of terrorism. However, the FCO said that PKK attacks "damage[d] the political will to make difficult compromises towards solving the Kurdish problem".[189]

85.  Prospects for peaceful steps towards reconciliation between Kurds in the south-east and the Turkish state appear to be receding and in the process of being replaced by a return to confrontation and armed conflict. We are concerned about the civilian casualties—both inside and outside Turkey—which are being caused by the upsurge in the use of violence by both the PKK and the Turkish state. We recommend that the FCO should urge the Turkish government to make clear that the peaceful participation of representatives of the Kurdish community in Turkish public life remains welcome. We further recommend that the FCO should urge representatives of the Kurdish minority to condemn PKK violence and clearly spell out their wishes for enhanced cultural rights and sub-national government within Turkey. We further recommend that the FCO should offer the parties assistance, on the basis of the UK experience with Northern Irish terrorism and UK devolution, in exploring practical steps that could be taken now towards ending violence and achieving an accommodation between the Turkish state and Turkey's Kurdish minority.

New constitution

86.  Several of our witnesses made clear that many of the shortcomings which they identified in the quality of Turkey's democracy and human rights practices derived from deep-rooted ideas about the nature of Turkish identity and the Turkish state that were encapsulated in the current constitution, which reflected Ataturk's founding secular settlement. The constitution was put in place in 1982, under military rule, and several witnesses saw its defensive, state-centred spirit as underlying key negative features of Turkish public life.[190]

87.  The AKP promised a new constitution as a major plank of its 2011 election campaign. The AKP's idea of the new constitution would appear to form part of its project to achieve significant change in the fundamental principles of the Turkish state, almost amounting to the foundation of a Second Republic. Witnesses, including the FCO, saw the prospective new constitution as a unique opportunity to signal decisively Turkey's move away from its more authoritarian and military-dominated past, and to entrench and develop the democratising and liberalising reforms introduced in recent years.[191] Witnesses stated that the Kurdish question, in particular, could only be addressed through fundamental constitutional reform.[192] Human Rights Watch said that the new constitution should:

remove existing restrictions on freedom of expression and association, uphold the rights of all groups in Turkey and end discrimination against Turkey's various ethnic and religious minorities [...] guarantee the separation of powers, strengthen the role of parliament and limit the powers of the president, ensure the independence of the judiciary, and secure full civilian oversight of the military.[193]

Witness including the FCO welcomed the wide consensus that appeared to exist in Turkey about the idea of a new constitution.[194]

88.  In the 2011 elections, the AKP failed to win the parliamentary super-majority that would have enabled it, if not to pass, then certainly to put to a referendum a new constitution without involving other political parties. Professor Dodd called this "good news for democracy".[195] The FCO also welcomed what it called Prime Minister Erdoðan's "focus on compromise, dialogue and broad consultation across Turkish society" in his initial remarks about his plans for the constitutional process following the 2011 election.[196] In October, a parliamentary commission was established—comprising three MPs from each of the four parliamentary parties—to receive submissions and develop a proposed text. The parliamentary Speaker has said that he hopes to see a new constitution in place by the end of 2012.[197] However, Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman drew on the way in which the AKP government handled Turkey's previous referendum, in September 2010, to suggest that the constitutional process might not prove to be as inclusive and consensual as was promised.[198]

89.  Dr Robins told us that the renewed upsurge in conflict between the Turkish authorities and the PKK had "completely changed the national agenda as far as the direction of political reform [was] concerned". He said that the new constitution held out the promise of being "a new document for a new partnership between Turks and Kurds living together within the overall community of Turkey as citizens with equal rights", but that that prospect had been derailed.[199]

90.  We conclude that a new constitution could be a unique opportunity to advance democratic, liberalising and pluralistic reform in Turkey and signal both at home and abroad a decisive break with the country's more authoritarian past. We welcome the Turkish government's ambitions in this respect, but we are concerned lest the constitutional momentum is lost amid renewed confrontation between government and opposition and Kurds and the Turkish state. We are further concerned in case the new constitution raises fresh risks to the independence of the judiciary. We recommend that the FCO should continue to remind its Turkish partners of the international importance that would attach to a successful constitutional reform effort.

99   Ev 54 [FCO] Back

100   See Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2010-12, The FCO's Human Rights Work 2010-11, HC 964, paras 7-12. Back

101   Ev 113 [Fadi Hakura] Back

102   Conclusions of the European Council, Copenhagen, 21-22 June 1993 Back

103   "Foreign Secretary announces UK priorities for UK Chairmanship of Council of Europe", FCO press release, 7 November 2011; Prime Minister David Cameron, Speech on the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, 25 January 2012 , via Number 10 website ( Back

104   European Court of Human Rights, Analysis of Statistics 2011, January 2012, Chart 3, via Back

105   Ev 85 Back

106   Ev 115; see also Ev 85 [Dr Bechev], Q 60 [Sir David Logan]. Back

107   Q 138 [Dr Robins] Back

108   Ev 87 [Dr Bechev], 100 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman], 119 [Turkish Area Study Group] Back

109   Q 138 Back

110   Q 140 Back

111   Qq 84 [Sir David Logan], 164 [Dr Toksoz, on the position of women]; Ev 116 [Professor Dodd] Back

112   For example, Q 84, Ev 58 [Sir David Logan] Back

113   Q 32. The AKP is a member of the European People's Party, the largest grouping of European Christian Democrat, conservative and centre-right parties.  Back

114   "Seeking Mideast influence, PM presents Turkey as model for Arabs and for challenging Israel", Associated Press, 13 September 2011; "In Cairo, Brotherhood irked at Erdogan's call for secular constitution. Islamists tell Turkish leader region's future will be decided by Arabs alone", Jerusalem Post, 15 September 2011; "Moderate Egyptians said to welcome Turkish premier's remarks on secularism", BBC Monitoring report of article on Hurriyet website, 16 September 2011; Khaled Diab, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Arab hero?", Guardian Unlimited, 22 September 2011 Back

115   Ev 116-117; see also Q 164 [Dr Toksoz, on the position of women]. Back

116   Q 32 Back

117   "One for the opposition", The Economist, 4 June 2011; see also John Peet, "Turkey after the 2011 Election: Challenges for the AK Government", Chatham House transcript, 5 July 2011. Back

118   Qq 32, 41 Back

119   Ev 86-87 [Dr Bechev], 99-10 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman], Q 141 [Dr Robins] Back

120   Ev 116 Back

121   Ev 59 Back

122   Ev 89 Back

123   "Administration of justice and protection of human rights in Turkey", Report by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, 10 January 2012, CommDH(2012)2; hereafter, Hammarberg Back

124   Hammarberg, para 125 Back

125   "Erdogan, justice and the rule of law", Financial Times, 11 January 2012 Back

126   Ev 99 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman] Back

127   "Turkey clips military's wings while top brass leave the field", Financial Times, 2 August 2011; Gareth H. Jenkins, "The changing objects of fear: The arrest of Ilker Basbug", Turkey Analyst, Vol. 5 No. 1, 9 January 2012; "'Treason' in Turkey; Prosecutors wage war on suspected coup conspirators-but at what cost to the country?", Newsweek, 5 March 2012 Back

128   Q 139 Back

129   European Commission, Turkey 2011 Progress Report, SEC(2011) 1201 final, 12 October 2011, p 7 Back

130   Q 139 Back

131   "Turkey: Court Frees 4 Journalists Accused in Plot", New York Times, 13 March 2013 Back

132   "OSCE media freedom representative welcomes release of Turkish journalists", press release, Vienna, 12 March 2012; "Turkey releases journalists, grave concerns remain", Committee to Protect Journalists, 12 March 2012; "Four journalists released but fight goes on for dozens still held", Reporters without Borders, 13 March 2013 Back

133   Ev 107 Back

134   Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012, p 504 Back

135   Ev 89 [Human Rights Watch]; Hammarberg, para 38 Back

136   European Commission, Turkey 2011 Progress Report, SEC(2011) 1201 final, 12 October 2011, p 17 Back

137   Of cases in 2009, 2010 and 2011 in which the Court found at least one violation by Turkey, 28%, 36% and 33%, respectively, were for excessive length of proceedings; "Table of violations" for the relevant year, on the Statistics page of the Court's website ( Back

138   Ev 89 [Human Rights Watch]; Hammarberg, p 2 and Section I. Mr Hammarberg reported that, as of April 2011, 43% of Turkey's prison population had not been finally sentenced. In its response, the Turkish government said that it was incorrect to include in the tally those appealing their sentences, and that their exclusion brought the figure down to 28%. Back

139   Ev 89 [Human Rights Watch] Back

140   Q 142 Back

141   Hammarberg, p 4 and para 113 Back

142   Hammarberg, pp 4-6 Back

143   Gareth H. Jenkins, "From politicization to monopolization? The AKP's new judicial reforms", Turkey Analyst, Vol. 4, No. 3, 7 February 2011; "Turkey must do more to ensure independent, impartial judiciary-UN rights expert", press release, Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, 14 October 2011; "Erdogan, justice and the rule of law", Financial Times, 11 January 2012; "Erdogan moves to block inquiries", Financial Times, 16 February 2012 Back

144   Ev 90 Back

145   Ev 90; Hammarberg, para 58 Back

146   Q 212 Back

147   "Turkey reform package seeks to streamline legal process", Financial Times, 19 January 2012 Back

148   Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, "Comments on the Turkish Bill on judicial reform of January 2012", Strasbourg, 20 February 2012, at Back

149   "Turkey: Draft Reform Law Falls Short", Human Rights Watch, 13 February 2012 Back

150   HL Deb, 12 March 2012, col 34WA Back

151   Ev 54 Back

152   Committee to Protect Journalists, 2011 Prison Census (as of 1 December 2011); "Turkish journalists arrested in sweep", Wall Street Journal Europe, 21 December 2011; "Charges against journalists dim the democratic glow in Turkey", New York Times, 5 January 2012; "Erdogan, justice and the rule of law", Financial Times, 11 January 2012; "104 Journalists and 30 Distributors in Prison", report by the Turkish human rights news website, 31 January 2012; "Turkey leaves China standing when it comes to jailing journalists", The Guardian, 14 March 2012 Back

153   Ev 54 [FCO], 100 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman], 116 [Professor Dodd] Back

154   Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index 2011-12, via In 2011-12, the next lowest-ranked EU candidate country was at 94 (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and the lowest-ranked EU member was Bulgaria at 80. Back

155   "CPJ condemns journalist arrests in Turkey", Committee to Protect Journalists, Open Letter to Prime Minister Erdogan, 22 December 2011, via; Committee to Protect Journalists, 2011 Prison Census (as of 1 December 2011); Roy Greenslade, "Trying to get at the truth of Turkey's jailed journalists", Guardian Unlimited, 9 January 2012 Back

156   Ev 90; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012, p 505 Back

157   Q 193 Back

158   Ev 89 Back

159   Ev 54 Back

160   Ev 54 Back

161   For example, Professor Dodd at Ev 116 Back

162   Qq 43 [Mr Peet], 60 [Sir David Logan] Back

163   Q 193 Back

164   Ev 88 Back

165   Ev 116 Back

166   Q 45 [Mr Peet], Ev 87 [Dr Bechev] Back

167   Ev 87 Back

168   Q 79 Back

169   Ev 87 [Dr Bechev], 112 [Mr Hakura] Back

170   Ev 89 Back

171   Ev 54 Back

172   Q 80 Back

173   International Crisis Group, "Turkey: Ending the PKK Insurgency", Europe Report No. 213, 20 September 2011 Back

174   "Death upon death", The Economist, 7 January 2012 Back

175   Ev 122 Back

176   Ev 108 Back

177   Q 215 Back

178   Human Rights Watch, "Turkey: Arrests expose flawed justice system", 1 November 2011; "Turkey's human rights challenges", 19 December 2011; World Report 2012, p 504 Back

179   Qq 183-184 Back

180   International Crisis Group, "Turkey: Ending the PKK Insurgency", Europe Report No. 213, 20 September 2011 Back

181   Ev 88 Back

182   Ev 105 Back

183   Ev 107-108. The BDP's 29 MPs do not include a further five who were elected but have been prevented from taking their seats because they are under arrest; and a further one who was elected but stripped of his seat following conviction. Back

184   Ev 117 Back

185   Ev 117 Back

186   For example, Peace in Kurdistan at Ev 108 Back

187   Qq 183, 216-217 Back

188   Ev 72 Back

189   Ev 54 Back

190   For example, Sir David Logan at Ev 59, Q 77; Human Rights Watch at Ev 88 Back

191   Q 147 [Dr Robins]; Ev 53 [FCO] Back

192   Q 80 [Sir David Logan], Ev 88 [Human Rights Watch] Back

193   Ev 88  Back

194   Ev 54 [FCO] Back

195   Ev 114 Back

196   Ev 54 Back

197   "End of 2012 deadline for new constitution", Hurriyet Daily News, 31 October 2011 Back

198   Ev 99-100 Back

199   Q 147 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 4 April 2012