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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I do not know what "barking up an empty tree" means. Perhaps the Minister meant "barking up the wrong tree". In the light of what he said about derogations of the six and 12-mile limits, is the noble Lord prepared to give an absolute assurance that they will always be maintained?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, that simply is not good enough. The Minister cannot get away with that. The Government have control over many things, but not over whether the sun rises or sets. However,
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I said clearly that the question of six and 12-mile limits is subject to qualified majority voting. That is what I said. I am clearly not in a position to give an assurance on that any more than I am about whether the sun will rise tomorrow.
When my colleagues in another place have had the opportunity to read Hansard, they will doubtless benefit from this afternoon's debate as much as I have. There is a need for changes within the common fisheries policy. The Government will continue to work for such changes and will give serious consideration to all constructive suggestions for improvements in the way in which the common fisheries policy operates.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench may have been depressed by my remarks and I do not know what the expression for mutual depression is, but I am sorry to say that I was not very satisfied with his remarks. I think that he fails--Her Majesty's Government seem to fail--to realise the extent of the really dangerous position in which the fisheries find themselves. Every noble Lord who has spoken pointed that out--it does not matter whether from this side of the House or from the other side of the House; it does not matter whether it was said by a Euro-phile or a Euro-sceptic; it does not matter whence the depression came. I think that all of us applied our minds with diligence and our hearts with sentiment to point out to Her Majesty's present advisers the seriousness of the situation. I am afraid that my noble friend gave me no comfort on that matter, with the possible exception of looking at the quota hoppers. However, having said that, I have immense pleasure in asking the House if I may have leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Turkey is important to us because it is a nation of over 60 million inhabitants, with a partially democratic system of government, facing Europe on one side and the unpredictable states of Iran, Iraq and Syria on the other. Turkey's armed forces number half a million men, a valuable element on the side of the West during the cold war, and now seen as a force for stability in the region. A member of NATO, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, Turkey has aspired under all recent governments to membership of European institutions and Europe has supported this policy.
The Government believe that we should take the opportunities provided by Turkey's membership of such bodies to encourage and support reform. They acknowledge some progress towards remedying the imperfections of Turkey's human rights record, and they believe that a co-operative rather than a confrontational approach is the best way of achieving further advances. The continuation of Turkey's favourable attitude towards Europe, including the assistance Ankara has given the allies in countering Iraqi aggression, are considered to be priority objectives, and we would not press too hard on human rights if by doing so it would endanger the friendly relations that exist between Turkey and Europe. As a corollary of that principle, we would avoid doing anything that might benefit the Islamists in Turkey, whose agenda includes the realignment of their country towards trade and political links with other Islamic states and the detachment of their country from its European orientation.
When the Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs. Tansu Ciller, visited Britain in December, she emphasised the need for a favourable decision by the European Parliament on Turkey's accession to the European customs union if the Islamist Refah Party were to be stopped from winning the general election. She also explained, I understand, that in making some minor amendments to the anti-terror law, which had been the main legal weapon against opponents of the state, and particularly against Kurdish activists, the government had gone as far as they could in the direction of freedom of expression. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will be discussing this matter in greater detail and I only want to say at this stage that approving the customs union did nothing to prevent Refah's success, as I predicted in correspondence with Ministers, and the changes in the anti-terror law have been much less significant than our Government perceived them to be.
With regard to the elections themselves, it was very surprising that no official observers attended from the European Union, the Council of Europe or the OSCE. We devote resources to elections in places such as Palestine and now in Sierra Leone, both of them no doubt very important but hardly comparable in scale with Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, did attend the parliamentary elections on behalf of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and has made some useful observations on the process which I understand that he will be discussing later on. I would just like to ask the Minister in general what principles govern the decisions to observe elections. Our embassy did not visit the Kurdish region between early November and polling day on December 24th, so it has to depend entirely on other people's evidence for its assessment of the result. The two researchers on Turkey at Amnesty International are banned from entering the country, as also am I, and foreign journalists are reluctant to venture into what they see as a danger zone. We had to rely on the Turkish media, which generally takes a pro-government line
If Turkey wants to convince the international community that she is serious about rectifying human rights abuses, the first essential must be greater transparency. The UN Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extrajudicial Executions and the Working Groups on Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detentions should be invited to visit Turkey; NGOs should be allowed unrestricted access to the country.
The second imperative is for a peace process to be initiated to bring an end to the 11-year conflict in the south east and to use the opportunity presented by the ceasefire called by the PKK to look for political and non-violent solutions to the problems which gave rise in the first instance to the armed struggle, as the European Parliament has suggested. The OSCE mechanisms for conflict resolution, which have been activated in 12 other troublespots throughout Europe, should be applied to this conflict as well.
In the US Congress, Representatives Christopher Smith and Steny Hoyer have asked the OSCE to send a mission to Turkey with a view to establishing a long-term presence in the south east. They are calling for a total ceasefire, the repeal of the state of emergency, the abolition of the paramilitary village guard system and the extension to the Kurdish people of the sociocultural rights they are supposed to enjoy already under the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration. Those were points which were conceded by Mrs. Ciller in her first speech after she took office but which have not yet been delivered.
In Germany, a call to initiate a peace dialogue has been initiated by thousands of distinguished writers, scholars, trade unionists and politicians. In Britain, too, a call for peace has been launched, with the support of a broad cross-section of people. In Turkey itself, several peace initiatives have been launched, including "Coming Together for Peace" and "Against the Criminalisation of Thought", which concentrates on the way the conflict has been kept going by silencing those who use the pen rather than the gun.
Since the Budapest Declaration of December 1994, the OSCE is supposed to have become responsive to the reasonable demands of peoples, as expressed through the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Here is a case where a strong demand is being articulated from many countries at the same time, yet nothing seems to happen. The processes are activated only when the demand comes from states and they are inert when governments have their own reasons for turning a blind eye to a conflict.
The reaction of the establishment in Turkey is exemplified by the broadcast of President Suleyman Demirel on 20th January. Discussing what he described as "the struggle against separatist terror", in which he said that 21,680 people had been killed, the President reiterated:
The problem is that so far it has been impossible to articulate a political solution without running foul of the anti-terror law, and other articles of the criminal code which not only criminalise pure separatism but any other constitutional changes which might threaten the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state, republic and people, to quote Article 125 of the criminal code under which people can be sentenced to death. Thus it is a criminal offence to speak about federalism, devolution or local autonomy. When Professor Dogu Ergil of Ankara University published a survey of opinion among 1,200 Kurds showing that 13 per cent. only wanted an independent state but 89 per cent. supported a federal system of government, the state security court launched an investigation to see whether the authors of the report should be prosecuted under the notorious Article 8 of the anti-terror law. Thus even the least confrontational and most academic discussion of reform risks serious penalties, and if the discussion is more politicised, then a jail sentence is likely, as several Kurdish MPs have discovered.
The case of the MPs has attracted a great deal of comment from human rights NGOs and the IPU. Those MPs were in some cases found guilty of membership of an armed organisation and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. One other was found guilty of supporting an armed organisation. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. Two other MPs were found guilty of making "separatist propaganda" under Article 8, for which they were sentenced to a mere three-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of 70 million Turkish pounds.
Those sentences had to be confirmed by the high court, and in three cases retrials started last week. Meanwhile, yet another former MP, Abdulmelik Firat, the 63 year-old grandson of the famous Sheikh Said who led the rebellion of 1925, has been arrested on charges of harbouring members of the PKK and is detained in Bayrampasa Prison in Istanbul. Three other former MPs are being threatened now with prosecution.
Those judicial actions against MPs must be seen in the context of widespread acts of violence against anybody who asks for the Kurdish people to be given the rights set out in the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration. One MP, Mehmet Sincar, was assassinated in Batman on September 4 1993, together with the chairman of the local executive of the Democracy Party. After a very large number of those extrajudicial executions, together with disappearances and hundreds of arrests and torture of party members, the Democracy Party was finally closed down altogether by the Government, thus making it infinitely more difficult to solve the Kurdish problem by means of peaceful dialogue.
In the general election of December 1995, the new pro-Kurdish party (HADEP), in spite of tremendous intimidation and obstruction, polled ahead of others in many parts of Kurdistan. But it has no seats in the new parliament because it did not reach the national threshold of 10 per cent.--a barrier designed specifically to exclude them. The government have succeeded in extinguishing the parliamentary representation of what might be called loosely the home rule movement, leaving the people a choice between assimilation on the one hand and armed opposition on the other. If it had been true, as Mr. Demirel claimed, that the Democracy Party was the parliamentary arm of the "terrorists", its voting strength was a striking testimony to the PKK's support among the people as a whole. In fact, the links were simply inferred because the armed and constitutional movements have the same policy objectives. The PKK and the DEP were both seeking control of their own affairs by the Kurdish people but without going as far as an independent Kurdish state.
Ankara tries to convince the outside world that what it is dealing with in the Kurdish region is a handful of terrorists, unsupported by the general population. That is manifestly false, and the scale of the armed struggle, the votes cast for Kurdish parties and the extent of human rights violations all demonstrate the reality. Representative Christopher Smith repeated widely accepted figures when he said in his motion before Congress that 3 million civilians have been displaced from their homes and 2,650 villages destroyed.
Many of the atrocities against civilians are reported by the Turkish authorities to be the work of the PKK. As a recent example, on 16th January the Turkish embassy sent out a press release saying that the PKK had stopped a minibus on the way to Guclukonak in the province of Sirnak the previous day and had murdered all 11 passengers. The official version was questioned in the Turkish Daily News of 20th January, which said that six of the victims had been in custody and that eyewitnesses in another van had seen the passengers blindfolded and accompanied by security forces. That is one of a great many cases where the truth may never be fully uncovered, but one can say that in a heavily militarised area like Sirnak it would be impossible for the PKK to attack a bus in broad daylight and then disappear without trace. No motive for the alleged PKK attack has been suggested, nor has any explanation been given as to how it would have known the bus was going to be on that stretch of road at that particular time.
The findings of the UN human rights experts, which will be discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, are abundantly confirmed by the work of many NGOs. Amnesty International has highlighted the growth of disappearances, extrajudicial killings (in which they see "the fingerprint of the state") and torture and has documented literally hundreds of individual cases. It has also drawn attention to the Government's systematic attempts to conceal the scale of human rights violations. That has taken the form of prosecuting human rights
The scale of those violations, the extent of the human suffering and material damage in the region and the flagrant disregard by Turkey of her obligations under the Copenhagen Declaration and other OSCE instruments make it difficult to understand why the international community has not formally noticed those phenomena and taken steps to address the underlying causes. Of course one is aware of Ankara's sensitivity, but that cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing at all or for confining ourselves to polite and discreet remonstrations. If Turkey wants to belong to regional organisations, she must conform to the standards agreed by the states concerned and allow the mechanisms of those international organisations to be activated when manifestly there have serious breaches of the standards. I hope that Europe will decide that when a new government come into office in Ankara we will look for co-operation from that end, as well as offering it from here, and, in particular, that there will be a new drive to bring about a permanent ceasefire and constructive negotiations on the Kurdish agenda. I beg to move.
Lord Bethell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is to be congratulated on having introduced a debate on this most important topic. He is foremost among Members of your Lordships' House in having put forward ideas on human rights. Anything that he says on the sensitive subject of Turkey is very much to be taken into account.
I agree with his suggestion that Turkey has one of the worst human rights records in the world. That is a deeply tragic fact, bearing in mind the close links that we in Britain have with Turkey through the NATO alliance; through the struggle against Soviet imperialism when Turkey was a stalwart and noble ally; through growing links with the European Union, in particular the recent accession of Turkey to the common customs union; and within the Council of Europe to which we both belong.
I believe that we all admire Turkey for having since the 1920s built up the gentle and forgiving side of the Islamic faith. We contrast Turkey's approach to Islam with the extremism that is so often to be detected in countries such as Iran, the Sudan and even in Pakistan. Many thousands of British people visit Turkey each year and they speak of the warmth of the Turkish welcome that they receive.
The Turkish-speaking region stretches across central Asia. As regards its future, I hope that as a first step countries such as Uzbekistan, Kirghizia and Azerbaijan will look to Turkey as an area to emulate as they begin to build their fledgling democracies in the post-Soviet era. I hope that anything we can do to strengthen respect for human rights and parliamentary democracy in Turkey will be moved eastwards and northwards; that is, north of the Caspian Sea and of Afghanistan in areas where Turkish and similar languages are spoken.
The noble Lord referred to the tremendous support that we received from Turkey during the Gulf War. That support continues in "Operation Provide Comfort", which helps to provide relief for the pressure of Kurdish movements into other countries from Northern Iraq. I do not like to suggest what we would do without the presence in Turkey and the activity that we have in Turkish support in Northern Iraq.
I slightly differ from the noble Lord in his approach to the PKK. I believe that it is a mistake to offer any kind of comfort to the PKK. I believe that there is PKK activity in this country. I believe that there is too much PKK activity in this country and that it should be suppressed where possible. Like the IRA, it is an armed terrorist organisation with many brutal crimes to its credit. The noble Lord mentioned a crime which may have been a travesty of justice and of which the organisation may not have been guilty. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the most recent document on Turkey which was issued in September 1995. It states:
The Turkish progress towards democracy is partial, as the noble Lord pointed out. We have seen the Turkish Parliament grow during the past 75 years. We see a vigorous press in that country, a substantial economy and even the appointment of a Minister for Human Rights. That is no sham. The Minister for human rights in 1995, Mr. Azimet Koyluoglu has looked forward to the idea of a golden age for human rights in Turkey. I believe that he hopes for that most profoundly. Of course, he has not received it but it is his aspiration and he is a member of the Turkish Government.
It is sad that so many Turkish Ministers, who so genuinely espouse the cause of human rights and want to see progress made, are unable to get their views turned from hope into fact because of the schizophrenic nature of authority in that country. I feel sure that Mrs. Ciller, were she here, would share many of the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. However, for all her hopes and beliefs in strict adherence to human rights, she has been unable during her premiership to translate hope into deed. We have seen Turkey operating outside its own law regarding human rights, just as it has operated outside international law as regards its continuing occupation of Cyprus.
Sadly, we must conclude that Turkey is a country in which the use of torture in police stations and prisons is extensive and extremely prevalent. We must accept that political killings by members of the Turkish security forces are frequent, as are disappearances of political prisoners no doubt for political reasons. We must accept
It is not easy to have total confidence in our Turkish ally, in our Turkish partner, so long as those abuses continue and so long as that schizophrenic attitude to cruelty and abuse of the law is allowed to continue, perhaps not by the Turkish Government, many of whose members wish to see it stamped out, but by other organs of the Turkish state.
In that context, I should mention the pivotal role that could be played by President Demirel in that matter. I have yet to see President Demirel take action over the many accusations that have been levelled against the Turkish police and military. He seems to concentrate more firmly on the achievements and aspirations of the Turkish army rather than on the accusations levelled against it.
That is depressing because the Turkish police and the security police are out of control and when prisoners--not only political prisoners but ordinary criminals--are obliged to spend nearly a month in prison or in a police station being softened up before they are brought before a judge, it is no wonder that the allegation is made--and I believe established--that torture is widespread and institutionalised within the Turkish system. Attempts to redress those outrages carried out by various political victims of torture have been made with great bravery and often with the support of members of parliament and the press. It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that tortures have been taking place, only for the matter to be carefully shelved before any result could be achieved or the prosecution of any police officer could be put into effect.
The army and the air force of Turkey have been totally ruthless in their bombing of Kurdish villages and I should not like to think how many Kurds have died in the recent winter as a result of the dehousing that has been inflicted upon them. We have very little control over that and there is little monitoring. A recent spokesman representative of Amnesty International was arrested in Turkey and deported. I very much hope that when the Minister replies, she will give us some idea of what can be done to encourage the Turkish Government to accept co-operation with Amnesty International and also to accept a special rapporteur from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Another suggestion that I make is for a human rights officer to be appointed to our embassy in Ankara; and that it should be well-known that there is a member of that embassy with the special task of monitoring human rights in Turkey and with the duty of reporting to the Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about such violations.
I suggest that it would be no bad thing if such a human rights officer at our embassy in Ankara were to be a British army or service officer because links between the armed services on human rights issues are particularly important as regards Turkey. Very often, contacts between our Foreign Office and the Turkish Foreign Office are not good enough simply because the Turkish Foreign Office will very often agree with our criticisms but they are unable to put that criticism to any political or practical use.
If we can achieve some steps with our allies--in particular, with our American allies--I believe that we should be able to establish a more sensible, viable and decent relationship with Turkey that is appropriate to the close links that we have with Turkey through our alliances and through our European links.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has won the ballot for this debate. As the noble Baroness knows, I am concerned with human rights issues in any country where human rights are being abused. As a member of the parliamentary human rights committee chaired so energetically and ably by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I have now visited three countries in or on the borders of Europe where serious human rights abuses are taking place--Kosovo, Chechnya and Turkey, the subject of this evening's debate.
I visited Diyarbakir last April and my main remit was to look at the effect of the emergency situation in south-east Turkey on the health of the population and its health services. I saw and heard in and around Diyarbakir, with the aid of an interpreter of course, enough to convince me that the civil war situation is having a very serious impact on public health. Of course, I was concerned also about individual cases of human rights abuses when they came my way.
The effect of the emergency situation on public health can be seen to be largely due to the destruction and total or partial evacuation of, it is thought, 1,800 villages in south-east Turkey which has resulted in a huge increase in the flow of rural people to the cities, both in the west of Turkey and to Diyarbakir and other large centres in south-east Turkey. It is estimated that 2 million people have lost their homes. Dispossessed people from the villages are largely dependent on their relatives for food and shelter since employment opportunities are few.
Statistics in relation to the infant mortality rate are 55 for Turkey as a whole but 87 for the Diyarbakir region. For comparison purposes, I should say that the rate in the UK is six. Doctors of the Turkish Medical Association to whom I spoke said that the actual rate was more likely to be 120 or so. That is a figure more typical of poor countries in Africa or Asia.
Of course, I am aware that the economic development of south-east Turkey has always lagged behind that of the West, but it seems clear that instead of catching up, as it was doing before the emergency, it is now slipping back.
I visited two small health clinics in the shanty town areas outside Diyarbakir. Government doctors there could only guess at the mortality rate in their districts as many births and deaths were not registered and the size of the population which they served was not known with any accuracy because of the rapid immigration. The immunisation rate of children against common infectious diseases was well below the 90 per cent. rate which had been achieved before the emergency. It is probably less than 50 per cent., and in rural areas it maybe completely non-existent. Diseases which had become uncommon are now reappearing; for example, diphtheria, polio, TB, salmonella and so on.
My impressions were confirmed by the doctors of the local Turkish Medical Association as well as by a full report published by the Turkish Medical Association after I left. A doctor, quoted in that report, said that statistics in the region are not reliable any more. In some of the cities there are more than two or three times the number of people than the believed capacity of the city. People are living on top of each other. If five brothers were living together, this number has now risen to 15. People are living in places without any sewerage services and without water. There is a serious typhoid fever outbreak where the health centre is centred.
Apart from the effect on public health, the health services themselves were badly affected by the conflict. Doctors and other health workers said that the security forces interfered with their treatment of patients, sometimes delaying or preventing patients from being seen. At least three surgeons, who had carried out routine operations for conditions such as piles or gallstones on patients who were later suspected of PKK sympathies, had been detained as much as six months after the operation and were then put in prison for up to 45 months.
As a doctor, I was particularly interested in the possible involvement of doctors in torture or other human rights abuses. It was difficult on a flying visit to obtain details of the possible involvement of doctors, but the secretary of the local Turkish Medical Association said that the names of four government doctors in the prison service who had assisted prison officers by monitoring torture were known to them. Of course I am concerned about the continued practice of
As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, pointed out, the Turkish Government connive in what is probably the most persistent and ingrained use of torture today, with the possible exception of China, now that most Latin American countries have adopted multi-party electoral systems. Certainly more tortured people from Turkey come to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in London than from any other country. So far, despite the statements of Mrs. Ciller that human rights are improving, there seems to be no diminution in their number.
It may be said, perhaps, that in a civil conflict with an armed opposition such as the PKK (which itself has carried out acts of violence) the rules may be waived and that international conventions entered into by states should be temporarily put aside. However, the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment affirms in Article 2, paragraph 2 that,
Ostensibly, countries sign international conventions and agreements in order to demonstrate their belief in the principles concerned. It is quite likely that, in many cases, the actual statesmen who sign the documents really do believe in them. But signatories also gain economic, cultural and sometimes military recognition and advantages by so doing. However, if their security services persistently break the rules of a convention, surely governments should prosecute the personnel concerned through their systems of justice. If such prosecutions were followed up thoroughly, that would end or at least greatly reduce the practice until it dies out.
The report of the special rapporteur on torture in January 1995 contained 80 paragraphs on torture in Turkey, which is far more than any other country in the world. If it is of any interest to your Lordships, the runners-up in the report were Egypt with 56, Serbia (mainly in Kosovo) with 46 and China with 39.
Many of the victims of torture in Turkey are Kurdish or Kurdish sympathisers detained in connection with that government's attempt to achieve a military solution of the Kurdish problem. But many are not involved in the conflict. Indeed, some are trade unionists or demonstrators protesting about a variety of perceived injustices. Some are journalists, politicians or academics putting forward views which are at variance with the military group which is the real ruler of Turkey, sheltering behind the elected government. This is the kind of schizophrenic situation to which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred.
As both previous speakers said--and especially the noble Lord, Lord Avebury--there is an increasing movement within Turkey at present which wants to seek a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. It is surely our role in this country, and that of our European partners, to encourage that strand of opinion within Turkey. I suggest that that will not be achieved by supplying Turkey with weapons on easy terms or welcoming Turkey, as we have done, into the European Customs Union.
If nations fail to honour conventions which they have signed, some kind of sanction should be imposed if only to exclude them from international bodies which welcome them as equals. Sadly, as in the case of Indonesia and China, flagrant violations of human rights conventions and agreements have been ignored, while we have pressed ahead with trade, aid and military agreements because it keeps our order books full and the profits flowing.
Turkey was admitted into NATO during the Cold War to buttress the southern flank against the USSR. Human rights abuses--and the invasion of Cyprus--were largely glossed over because of the need to keep on good terms with Turkey. I suggest that the situation has now changed. While I do not like the regime of Boris Yeltsin in Russia at all, it is very unlikely indeed to threaten us militarily. For one thing, Russia today seems to be extraordinarily incompetent militarily, as shown by its inability to win the war in Chechnya.
The economic development of Turkey now is seriously held back by the expense of the conflict in the south-east. A peaceful solution is possible; that would be short of granting outright independence for the Kurdish people, especially now that Abdullah Ocalan (who is the leader of the PKK) has offered a ceasefire and talks with a completely open agenda. But, even without that, western Europe could do more to promote human rights in Turkey along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell--indeed, I was most interested in the noble Lord's remarks--but also by withholding military assistance and by a much more critical diplomatic stance.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, those of us who love Turkey and the Turkish people, as I do, find it distressing to have to call attention to the question of human rights there. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the opportunity to have this debate.
I wish to speak on this matter from a particular angle which is indicative of the wider problems of human rights in Turkey. Other noble Lords have spoken eloquently of the wider problem. My concern is for one particular community--the Syrian Orthodox of the Tur Abdin area of south east Turkey. These people represent the last vestiges of Syriac speaking Christians living in what was once the heartland of the Syriac world. Once Antioch was one of the great cities of the world; the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. For many centuries it was the hub of an important Syrian Christian culture. Now it is simply a village in Turkey. However, the Syriani, as they are called, still live in that area. Barely 25 years ago the Syrian Christians there formed a community of many thousands, but now they are simply "people in between" caught between the Turkish Army on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. They have dwindled to barely a few hundred families. This is a community which needs protection. Well informed observers who have visited them have voiced doubts as to whether this ancient community will survive long into the new millennium, if at all.
One of the reports which has reached the Church of England documents the burning by the Turkish Army of the village of Hassana, the burning of vegetation and crops on surrounding hillsides and the intimidation of the Syrian Orthodox community in mid-1994. We have heard of a priest who has been arrested and badly beaten up and of other difficulties this community has to experience day-by-day. At Lambeth Palace, translated from the Aramaic, there is an account by a student from that community entitled A Story of the Grief of the Tur'Abdin. He describes the military presence in the region and the overall visual impression in the following words:
That is an eloquent testimony to a community which has suffered much. I cannot say what the situation in this town is at the present time, but the strong overall impression is of a beleaguered community. Many of the people have fled to Lebanon and Syria and those who remain face great difficulty and danger. We must not forget the sufferings and fears of this tiny, minority community whose experience is indicative of what is happening to so many other people in Turkey. This innocent community is caught between the Turkish Army on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. It is important that this small, ancient community should be remembered and its right to exist preserved. I very much hope that the Minister in her representations
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, upon initiating this debate and for his characteristically comprehensive introduction. We owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing before your Lordships' House a subject which raises so many important issues of principle and of policy.
Turkey's record in the field of violations of human rights is abysmal. Yet, despite this, many Western countries, including Britain, seem to be turning a blind eye to the suffering it is inflicting on many of its own people and on those of other nations such as Armenians and Greeks. Instead, we seem to be favouring Turkey with magnanimous concessions. Of course I am aware of the importance of strategic and commercial interests but I do not believe it is in the long-term interests of any country to allow these to obliterate its concern for human rights.
I am also aware of the argument that encouraging regimes which manifestly violate the basic canons of human rights to promote economic liberalisation may in turn promote political liberalisation. This argument is premised on the theory that market economies generate democracy. But this theory does not always work in practice. It may have done so in Chile but it has yet to prove itself in China and is certainly failing badly in Burma. This is because there are many other factors at work in the development of a democracy, including a nation's political culture. Turkey does not score high on this measure with regard to its respect for human rights as a fundamental foundation of a democratic society. Moreover, there is a real danger that, while the Turkish Government continue to violate human rights, economic and political support from the international community may encourage them to continue to perpetrate atrocities in the knowledge that they can do so with impunity.
I must preface my catalogue of anxieties by expressing a caveat. Some years ago I had the great privilege of visiting Turkey with the British Council to help to develop healthcare and nursing research. I made many personal friends and I know that there are many kind, generous, hospitable Turkish people. However, it is the government and their record on human rights which concerns us this evening. I shall limit myself to mentioning three areas of concern: the repression of freedom of expression; the misuse of weapons by Turkish authorities, both against its own people and in warfare outside Turkey; and the continuing blockade of Armenia.
First, I shall mention violations of the principle of freedom of expression. The accumulated evidence of disappearances, arrests, torture and murder of politicians and journalists is spine-chilling. I shall give only a few recent examples. Inevitably most cases are related to the problem of Turkey's relationships with its Kurdish population. However, that problem is no justification for the systematic and brutal violations of human rights
Since that report was published, two of the DEP parliamentarians have been released as part of Turkey's efforts to enhance its image in order to obtain customs concessions from the European Union. However, although the European Parliament had demanded the release of all six parliamentarians, four are still in detention with serious prison sentences. The Democracy Party remains banned. One of the most significant issues in this area concerns Article 8 of the anti-terrorism law, to which reference has already been made. This relates to disseminating separatist propaganda. This, however, has been interpreted as a catch-all phrase covering anything relating to the PKK, and has been used to justify the arrest of many people, including writers, journalists, publishers and politicians.
In its additional efforts to gain credibility with the European Union, the Turkish Government have promised to amend Article 8, and did so last December. Those amendments resulted in some reduction of penalties--for example, reducing the length of prison sentences and replacing some custodial sentences with fines. However, even if that infamous Article 8 were to be struck out of the penal code altogether, there are still many--some say almost 400--other articles in the penal code which could have a similar inhibiting effect on freedom of expression in Turkey. Although some people who had been charged under the previous Article 8 have now been freed, it is feared that a number of them are liable to retrial.
Particularly disturbing is the death of a journalist in January this year, so soon after Turkey's success in gaining customs concessions from the European Union. When he was arrested, Metin Goktpe was reporting on the deaths of three prisoners who had died in an Istanbul prison. He was detained overnight in a sports centre. He was allegedly badly beaten, and on release the following morning he staggered to a tea garden, where he died. Autopsy showed death by head injuries inflicted by blunt instruments. The then Prime Minister ordered an inquiry, and it is reported that 45 police officers will stand trial. The event itself is obviously cause for deep concern. The outcome of the official investigations will be a litmus test of Turkey's sincerity of purpose with
I now turn to the allegations of the misuse by Turkey of weapons from OSCE states. The evidence available strongly supports the contention that, in continuing to supply lethal weaponry to the Turkish armed forces, OSCE states are violating the principles governing conventional arms transfers agreed by participating states in November 1993. The Human Rights Watch Arms Project report on Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey, published last November, documents the Turkish security forces' violations of the laws of war and of human rights and their reliance on US and NATO-supplied weapons in doing so. It concludes that such weapons are regularly used by Turkey to commit severe human rights abuses and violations of the law in the south east. The document states:
By contrast, the report gives examples of the critical responses of some other NATO nations and notes that, because of its abuse of weapons, at least five nations have at some point suspended military sales to Turkey.
Here I must raise a related concern, based on my own experience, corroborated by two American Congressmen. In the besieged enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenians who have inhabited that land for centuries have been defending their right to continue to live there against Azerbaijan's former explicit policy of attempted ethnic cleansing, I and my colleagues have repeatedly seen Turkish and NATO weapons used by Azerbaijan against civilians--weapons which were presumably supplied by Turkey. The evidence has been checked by ex-British Army personnel and raises clear questions of end-user accountability for military weapons which Turkey should be required to answer. I ask my noble friend, what is the British response to those serious allegations of misuse of US and NATO weapons by Turkey?
Finally, mention of Armenians brings me to the continuing violation of human rights by Turkey in maintaining its blockade of Armenia. Western governments have turned a blind eye to a policy which has caused untold suffering to the Armenian people. The combined blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan has meant that the Armenians have been almost cut off from the rest of the world and have had to suffer not only restrictions of essential goods but also severe shortages of electricity. In the literally darkest hours of the winters of 1992 to 1994, the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, was
In conclusion, I return to where I began by expressing my grave reservations over the argument that Turkey should receive economic and political support as a means of encouraging political liberalisation and progress towards democracy. The evidence suggests that that is a doubtful correlation. Before any more concessions are made or support given, may we be assured that Turkey has given substantial evidence of good faith in improving its policies with regard to human rights in ways which go beyond the cosmetic adjustments we have seen so far and which are not immediately reversible?
Unless stringent conditions are applied and evidence is obtained that Turkey is accepting its obligations with regard to respecting international conventions on human rights, there is a real danger that it will see economic and political support as a tacit condoning of its brutal policies and that countless people will continue to suffer, including those Turkish citizens who have the courage to speak and write the truth, the Kurdish and Christian minorities within Turkey, and even those beyond the borders of Turkey, including Armenians in their own country and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The catalogue of human suffering inflicted by the Turkish Government on innocent people must continue to be a cause for deep concern. In this century alone, it ranges from the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 (which is still not acknowledged by Turkey) to the current cruelties documented in this debate.
I hope very much that my noble friend will assure your Lordships' House, and through this House the wider international community, that Britain will not be counted as a nation which allows national interests to hold sway to the extent of appearing to condone violations of human rights, and thereby directly or indirectly to encourage Turkey to continue to perpetrate the kinds of atrocities which have been recounted here tonight.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I join in this timely debate as one who observed both the Turkish municipal elections of 1994 and the general election held on 24th December 1995. Neither election could, I regret, be described as totally free and fair. In 1994 foreign observers were denied access to nearly all villages in the Lake Van region and elsewhere in the south east, where martial law applies. Six weeks before polling day the
The 1995 general election was called at very short notice. There had been no national census since the previous general election. That meant that the 100 extra parliamentary seats were allocated in a somewhat arbitrary way. Only 9 days were allowed for registering new young voters and voters displaced from their homes by the armed conflict in south-east Turkey. The result was that only a low proportion of such voters were recorded on the register. Out of 29 million votes cast nearly 1 million were spoiled or invalid. A 10 per cent. national threshold was applied, as has already been mentioned, so that seven parties failed to elect any deputies, despite receiving over 4 million votes between them. The best thing that can be said about the election is that it probably reflected fairly accurately the balance of opinion between the three largest parties, with Refah receiving 21 per cent. and the two main centre-right parties 19 per cent. each.
HADEP, the People's Democratic Party, is the left-wing successor to HEP and DEP, both of which had previously been accused of separatism and dissolved by state action. HADEP complained that four deputies, previously elected, were still in prison for political offences while others were in exile. It told me that it had been very seriously affected by registration problems, that it suffered media discrimination as well as intimidation and obstruction by the security forces in the south east, not to speak of physical attacks by right-wing extremists in western Turkey. The deputy general secretary of the party told me, and I quote his exact words:
The party's complaints made to me personally occupy three typed pages of A4 in my report. Detailed information received since polling day, including the experiences of German observers, confirms massive electoral irregularities including assaults and torture throughout the south-east provinces. This filled another four pages of A4.
The view of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, which is shared by many others, is that the constitutional changes made last year by Turkey in order to satisfy the European Union and its Parliament, are purely cosmetic. For example, the amendment to Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law does not assert freedom of expression. In fact it widened the scope of the law by including new forms of media. Thirteen laws apparently also remain in force banning the use of the Kurdish language in education and publications. That is why the television programmes of MED-TV, broadcast in the Kurdish language from London via a French satellite, are of such
Questions have to be asked. Why does Turkey have such a horrifying human rights record? Why is it still occupying Northern Cyprus after 21 years? Why is it blockading Armenia, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned?
I suggest that answers to such queries are to be found in the predominant influence of the armed forces. Turkey has over half a million men under arms without counting 70,000 gendarmes and 60,000 armed village guards. It has a longer conscription period and a far larger army than either France or Germany. The military consume a huge share of the national budget.
The result of that continued overspending in a post-cold war setting has been inflation, currency depreciation, sky high interest rates, budget deficits and large foreign debts. Since 1993 inflation has never been less than 50 per cent. per year. In 1994 it rose to 125 per cent. and is still forecast at 50 per cent. or more for the current year. Since last March, the lira (the Turkish currency) fell from 42,000 to 98,000 to the pound.
Turkey is indeed the sick man of NATO. The sooner its allies and Customs Union partners wake up to this serious and potentially destabilising situation, the better. One can only hope that a government will emerge either from the recent general election or a new one capable of asserting full civilian control over the military establishment. Sooner or later, a major reduction in military budgets will become necessary. That will make it possible to deal constructively with Turkey's finances, to improve human rights and to embark on political solutions to the 11 year-old Kurdish insurgency.
These three matters are intimately linked and a heavy dead weight of military tradition will need to be overcome. Already, however, it is quite clear that the deployment of a quarter of a million armed men in the south-east will not root out the PKK guerillas, despite the wholesale clearance of thousands of villages and hamlets. In Kurdistan virtually every clan and extended family has a member who was or is involved in the PKK. Torture, imprisonment and death are not going to break the connections. Shifting the population will only shift the problems and the conflict.
Some future Turkish government, supported by Turkish business interests, will have to accept the PKK ceasefire offers, of which the most recent was made on 15th December last. A future government will have to open dialogue with the Kurdish Parliament in exile. It will have to negotiate freedom of cultural and political expression for the Kurds and all other minorities. Adequate regional autonomy within the existing frontiers of Turkey will also be necessary. The straitjacket of a unitary centralised state in the Ataturk mould will have to go. Only by such means can I foresee substantial improvements in Turkey's abysmal record of human rights.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing this debate. I should also like to say how much we on these Benches admire him for his selfless pursuit of the cause of human rights both in this House and elsewhere.
This is not the first time that we have debated human rights in Turkey recently. We did so, I think, in 1994. I only wish that it were not necessary to return to the subject. Regrettably, it is necessary, as other speakers have clearly demonstrated.
The agreement to allow Turkey into a customs union with the European Union just before Christmas of last year makes it all the more apposite to consider the situation again today. The latest report from Amnesty International on Turkey--it was produced in December--certainly gives us no grounds whatsoever for complacency. Indeed, it paints a pretty depressing picture of continuing violations there. The report states:
However, as many noble Lords have said, regrettably nothing has been done to protect the Turkish people against yet more of them vanishing unaccountably. It is vital that proper legislative safeguards are provided against detention by the state, in which people are held incommunicado. It is equally important to provide a legal framework that outlaws torture and prevents disappearances.
During last year, Amnesty International repeatedly called for three obviously needed reforms: first, a proper reform of Article 8 of the anti-terrorist law rather than just tinkering with it, as happened last year; secondly, a reduction in the maximum terms of police detention; and thirdly, access to legal counsel for all detainees. Until that kind of protection is in place, anyone criticising the authorities in Turkey is vulnerable to unlawful detention, and prison sentences will continue to be handed out to those who testify against the government on human rights matters, as in the recent case of Mehdi Zana. His four-year sentence for speaking out to the European Parliament
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, which reported that the year before last over 100 writers and publishers were arrested for their reports on the war which presumably displeased the government and that dozens of newspapers were closed or fined so heavily that they could not continue publication. Others, as the right reverend Prelate described, have suffered serious religious persecution. That, too, will continue. But worst of all, people will go on being tortured by the Turkish security services. Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government have taken since the beginning of this year to put pressure on Turkey with respect to each of the three reforms to which I referred earlier?
The European Parliament approved the customs union with Turkey only after a great deal of heart-searching and on the strict understanding that clear conditions on human rights would be set with Turkey before the customs union agreement was signed. Both the Socialists and the centre-Right Christian Democrats--the two largest groups in the European Parliament--insisted on those strings being attached. Some distinguished Members of the European Parliament still felt unable to support the customs union. For example, Jack Lang, a former French Minister, is reported to have said, "My conscience would not allow me to support an economic accord with a regime of regression and repression". The leader of the Socialist Group, Pauline Green, took what might be described as a more pragmatic position in supporting Turkey's participation in the customs union, though doing so without enthusiasm--I believe she used the expression, "with a heavy heart"--but in the hope that it would help those in Turkey who are fighting for democracy.
Surely we owe it to those parliamentarians in Strasbourg who swallowed their scruples and approved the customs union to insist that pressure is kept up to make sure that minority rights are respected and that a standard of human rights consistent with membership of European Union institutions is adhered to. It is therefore extremely disquieting to learn that the provisions on human rights and democracy in Turkey which formed an intrinsic part of the £300 million aid package for Turkey have been watered down by member states in Brussels. Can the Minister enlighten the House on why the Council of Ministers in Brussels took that action? Why has the language been changed? Is it the case that retaliatory measures against Turkey, if it fails to fulfil the conditions, will now be subject to a unanimous vote in the Council rather than a qualified majority vote? Can she also say anything about the timescale over which any retaliatory measures would operate? Is she satisfied that the timescale is adequate in terms of having sufficient force? As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, surely this is a case where the most stringent conditions need to be applied.
Before the Turkish elections a good deal was made of the need to support the government of Mrs. Ciller against the threat of fundamentalism. Of course we understand the argument that it may sometimes be better to provide lifelines for governments, even if they have serious flaws, because the alternative may be so much worse. But it is a slippery slope, and great care must be taken to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of supporting, or even propping up, regimes that do not merit this kind of support.
The Islamic fundamentalists remain a powerful force in Turkey. They received around one-fifth of the popular vote in the election, and 29 per cent. of the seats. However, they are far outnumbered by the two pro-Western conservative parties, which almost have an overall majority and, in coalition with the secular Left-wing parties, will certainly have an overall majority. There is now no excuse for not taking a tough line with the new Turkish Government in insisting that they put their house in order with respect to human rights.
The position of the Kurds remains dire, as a number of speakers indicated. My noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, gave an account of their appalling living conditions, the lack of public health facilities and the lack of basic energy in Turkish Kurdistan. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also mentioned their oppression with respect to fundamental rights such as the use of their own language. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the fact that because of the elimination of parties obtaining less than 10 per cent. of the vote, HADEP, which won the largest proportion of votes in the four south-east provinces on a platform of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish national uprising, gets no seats in the Turkish parliament. That surely plays into the hands of those who advocate armed struggle and encourages the terrorists in the PKK. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in regard to the PKK. I will not repeat his remarks.
The disgraceful line taken by some members of the government parties--they have said they will be bound neither by any EU resolutions on human rights nor by the International Court of Justice--also plays straight into the hands of the PKK. If basic rights to free speech and the right to political campaigning in pursuit of justice for minority groups are frequently and flagrantly disregarded, again terrorism will be a direct consequence. I simply cannot understand why the Turkish authorities fail to realise that.
Turkey's membership of NATO is important to the West. I do not want to dispute that. However, its importance may be a little less great than it was before 1989, as my noble friend Lord Rea suggested. Nevertheless, its membership of NATO and the access to sophisticated arms of all kinds that that membership entails, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred, does not give it carte blanche to use those very arms to raze Turkish villages to the ground and, as a result, to displace many thousands of innocent civilian victims.
I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to set out a convincing programme of action to get the Turkish Government to deliver on their side of the deal that was agreed on the customs union. If what the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said about the Turkish Prime Minister's own views and those of many members of her government is true, we might offer advice and help on how to clean up the Turkish police and security services and how to train them properly.
If the Turkish Government genuinely accept our criticisms, perhaps they would welcome some advice and help along those lines. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, they must also reduce military spending and the size of their army. Since, apparently, there is also a growing body of opinion in Turkey that wants a fair and peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem, perhaps the Minister could say whether any offers have been made by the European Union to help mediate to achieve that.
Without a programme of action to deal with the violations about which we have heard this evening, we and our partners in the European Union will look much diminished in moral terms and give the impression of weakness. Indeed, we shall look like a push-over to all those other countries which are queuing up for the benefits that the European Union can offer and whose record on democracy and human rights is also dubious.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for tabling this debate. It is a crucially important issue and a very sad one. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.
Human rights in Turkey is an issue on which no true friend of Turkey can remain indifferent. We know that Turkey overall is a country seeking to grow and change. But Turkey cannot achieve that growth successfully and will not be accepted as a member of European bodies unless it pays attention to its human rights and to the rule of law, which should be one not of persecution but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, one which upholds the need for proper investigation. Where people are accused, they should have a defence. There is absolutely no question of that.
There have been a number of specific issues raised. But above all, we see your Lordships' House united tonight in its revulsion towards torture and abuse of human rights, whoever carries out those abuses. I may say that my noble friend Lord Bethell was absolutely right to point out that human rights-type abuses are carried out by other than government forces. That also has to be tackled. I shall try to address as many of the points that I can. But I should like to start first with the wider perspective.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke of Turkey's membership of the North Atlantic Alliance. That is still very important to us. That importance has not diminished because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Month by month we see that Turkey has aspirations to participate increasingly fully in European counsels and in the European Union itself. Those are very welcome aspirations. But we also know that those opportunities will be extended only if Turkey pays attention to all that has been said in this debate, and many others, about its current approach to human rights and, indeed, to dealing with the very serious terrorist threat in the south east. I shall return to that issue in a moment.
The comments in this debate are all the more important because Turkey wishes to have a close relationship with other countries in Europe to which it feels close. Therefore, we must find a productive approach to deal with the human rights problems in Turkey. I do not for one moment pretend to have all the answers to that very complicated situation. But it is one to which the European Union and other bodies with a concern for Turkey and the Turkish people must turn their minds more actively than they have done in the past.
We need to work for co-operation and not confrontation. We have to be constructive. In that way we shall bring Britain's influence to bear most effectively on the human rights situation, which is not tolerable.
I know that there are some critics--not perhaps in this House--of Turkey's human rights record. They paint a co-operative approach as an emollient or appeasing one and one which will not bring results. I do not believe that to be so. I am a long-standing critic of Turkey's human rights record. I have no brief to defend human rights abuses. I have no interest in excusing or ignoring the torture, the disappearances, the arbitrary killings and arrests, and the harassment of journalists, defence lawyers and relatives of people in detention which come to our notice far too often. Our interest in Britain and in the Government is the same as that of the noble Baroness opposite. It lies in taking advantage of the openings to make more progress on the objective that we all share: to eliminate the abuses of which we have heard tonight and the many others that were not detailed in the debate.
Let me make two points in that regard. First, our objective of eliminating human rights abuses will not be achieved purely through threats. Our approach has to go beyond protestation and condemnation. It is all too easy to protest and condemn. But we do need--the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is right in this matter--a programme of effective action which can help Turkey turn the page and put this period of human rights abuses
We have to look beyond the symptoms of the awful situation. Tonight, many noble Lords referred to the conflict in south-east Turkey. I assure my noble friend Lord Bethell, that we shall, and already do, act firmly and decisively against the activities of any terrorist organisation--that includes the PKK--whether they be activists or sympathisers in Britain. If they carry out illegal or criminal acts, we shall act firmly and decisively against them.
That is one of the problems that Turkey has at home in the south east: how it deals with the terrorism that is undoubtedly there. I know that for Turkey one crucial issue raised by the conflict is that of territorial integrity. We have no intention of questioning Turkey's territorial integrity. No one should be in any doubt about that. But I should also make equally clear our concern to see Turkey taking the proper action which goes to the heart of the needs of the region. A purely military response, which is what we have been seeing, can never do that.
I was much moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said in respect of the health and the opportunities for people who have been displaced from their homes. They are very limited indeed. That is another matter which it may be possible to address in the kind of measures at which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was hinting.
To put it in a few words, our advice to Turkey is given as a friend and an ally. We know only too well the difficulties Turkey has in tackling a terrorist threat. But to tackle a terrorist threat and extend the action way beyond the terrorist activity will never resolve the problem in south-east Turkey. One of the things the Turkish Government must do is involve the people in south-east Turkey in education, in health care, in development and in the growth of small industries--some of the things we have regularly done in other parts of the world.
How do we tackle this very difficult problem? A number of suggestions have been made in the debate. My noble friend Lord Bethell asked whether we should have a human rights officer in the British Embassy. A large part of the time of one of our officials in Ankara is taken up in looking at what is happening, drawing our concern about human rights to the attention of the Turkish authorities and raising specific cases. Our embassy officials regularly attend court hearings and in so doing ensure that our concern on human rights is not only demonstrated but is publicly visible. It is quite clear that the British Embassy in Ankara is doing more than many other European posts in this respect. We should co-operate with other missions--as my honourable friend in another place David Davis replied to the noble
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, hinted--I am not sure that he meant to say this--that we do not visit south-east Turkey very often. I can assure him that, while it is not possible to be everywhere all the time, our visits to south-east Turkey are regular and frequent. We had representatives in a number of towns in south-east Turkey in November and in Adana in mid-December. They have been attending political rallies. They have had contact with HADEP, Refah, CHP and MHP. There have been more contacts than would be publicly known. I accept that we cannot know everything that is going on but I can assure your Lordships that my postbag, and that of others, is very full of information not only from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who writes prolifically, but from many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who has given us some valuable advice and information as a result of his visits.
The whole question of elections in Turkey is very vexed indeed. I was extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for sharing with me his observations of the scene in the run-up to the elections held on 24th December. We are all aware that those elections were prepared in some haste, to the extent that Turkey's independent High Election Council was asked to judge whether the preparations were sufficient to allow an effective election to proceed. The council concluded that it was satisfied, but there was a short preparation and registration time. Of that there is no doubt.
There were also reports, all too plausible, that supporters of the HADEP party in the south east were subject to harassment, a matter mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. But it should be observed that the party performed strongly where it was expected to. As we know, in the event, the HADEP party fell well short of the 10 per cent. national hurdle. A percentage hurdle is not unusual in electoral systems in various countries but I well understand the sentiment, which has come to us in a number of letters and in a number of comments--indeed in this debate too--that the hurdle in the Turkish elections was high and may have prevented a party which clearly has strong support in the south-east region of Turkey from being represented in the national parliament.
I cannot conclude other than that the results of the Turkish elections were, on the basis that those elections could be carried out, a fair reflection of voters' preferences, but it is quite clear that the hurdle was a very difficult matter for the HADEP party particularly. Although it represents quite a large number of the Kurds in the south east, Kurds in other parts of Turkey vote otherwise. So there is representation of Kurdish views, but perhaps not so much as your Lordships would like.
In the debate today we have heard a number of comments about the problems of displaced persons. They were particularly affected by the short registration time. In the main I hope that the whole problem of displaced people can be tackled in the way I mentioned
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about election observers. To have successful election observation it is necessary that the government of the country holding the election should invite such participation. As the noble Lord knows, observers were not invited by the Turkish Government. We hope that at all future Turkish elections observers will be invited. We hope that they will move towards a situation where there is no reason why those observers should not be present. That is what we have to aim for.
In a very moving speech, my noble friend Lady Cox particularly drew attention to Turkish links with Armenia. This is an urgent matter because there is certainly room for more and faster progress in developing a more open relationship between Turkey and Armenia. I should be pleased to look at any suggestions that my noble friend has towards that end. It is a matter on which we may be able to exert some real influence.
My noble friend also asked about weaponry. While I do not want to get into a long debate on this issue, perhaps I may assure her and your Lordships that we shall not and do not approve the export of defence equipment to Turkey if we consider there is a likelihood that it could be used for internal repression. The proposals to export defence equipment to Turkey are always given very careful examination both here in London and in our embassy in Ankara. I can assure your Lordships that, in any case of doubt, the answer is no. I cannot speak for all other nations. I hope that they would take exactly the same attitude. But the way in which we are seeking to go about this, with a NATO partner on whose navy NATO depends, is the practical way to proceed in this matter.
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