Peoples’ Tribunal finds Turkey violated international laws

Turkish State is held responsible for denying the right to self-international determination of the Kurdish People.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has delivered its verdict on Turkey on Thursday at the European parliament in Brussels.

The conference today on the presentation of the verdict was organized by the four initiating organisations of the Tribunal in cooperation with the political groups in the European Parliament, The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) and The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA).

The panel, composed by 7 judges, held the “Turkish State responsible for denying the right to self-international determination of the Kurdish People, the negation of the Kurdish people’s identity and presence, and the repression of its participation in the political, economic and cultural life of the country, which is interpreted as a threat to the Turkish State’s authority. The PPT identified the denial of the right to self-determination as the root cause of the armed conflict between the Kurds and Turkey”.

Likewise, the PPT found that “the armed confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds amounted to a non-international armed conflict ruled by international humanitarian law. The PPT criticised as inadequate the Turkish State’s characterisation of the conflict as a matter of terrorism to be regulated by anti-terrorist legislation”.

The PPT also found “the Turkish State, the Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan and the commander of the military operations against the Kurdish cities between 1 January 2015 and 1 January 2017, General Adem Huduti, guilty of committing war crimes during that period. 

The PTT found that President Erdoğan was responsible for inciting and legitimizing the disproportionate and indiscriminate violence of the operations against both the armed Kurdish fighters and the civilian population through his repeated and indiscriminate qualifications of the Kurds living in the conflict areas, as well as of their chosen representatives, as “terrorists””.

Finally “the PTT also found the Turkish State guilty of State crimes, including targeted assassinations, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, committed by different branches of the State’s security forces and secret services, in Turkey and abroad, particularly in France”.

The judges asked all relevant international institutions to give due consideration to the verdict and reaffirmed that the decision of the PPT contains “important findings and recommendations that should serve as guidelines for all relevant international bodies and institutions”.

The judges also recommended the “immediate resumption of peace talks in good faith and a general amnesty to be issued at the time of the conclusion of a peace agreement”.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal met in Paris on 15 and 16 March to hear the case on “Alleged violations of international law and international humanitarian law by the Turkish Republic and its officials in their relations with the Kurdish people and their organisations”.

During two days, the judges listened to dozens of witnesses on the Turkish State’s denial of political, cultural, social, economic rights to the Kurds living in Turkey.

While the hearings were taking place in Paris, the Turkish state increased its military attacks on Afrin. The Tribunal could not deal with events following the period of its evaluation (between June 1, 2015 and January 31, 2017) and in particular the offensive launched in January 2018 by the Turkish armed forces against the Afrin enclave in Syria and the Kurdish region of Rojava.

Given the seriousness of the aggression, though, the People’s Tribunal felt obliged to issue some recommendations. In particular it asked “Turkey to immediately end all military operations carried out by its army in Syria and to withdraw its troops to within its national borders”.

"The Turkish offensive, launched against the Afrin enclave and the other areas of Syria where there is a majority Kurdish population, is a clear violation of international law, contradicting the principle of the non-use of force as embodied in Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations and it constitutes a crime of aggression, pursuant to Article 5 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The facts show that military operations against heavily populated cities or regions amount to war crimes, pursuant to art. 8, paragraph 2, of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, such as murders, torture, massive destruction of property not justified by military operations, deportation or forced transfer of populations. Therefore, these facts constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, especially of art. 147 of the IV Convention, to which Turkey is bound."

The PPT recalled that “Turkey is obliged to investigate and punish the responsible persons for war crimes, ascertained by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, committed in southeastern Anatolia during the period from 1 June 2015 to 31 January 2017”.

This on the basis of the conventional obligation referred to the rule in common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Article 49 of the I, Article 50 of the II, Article 129 of the III and Article 144 of the IV), which provides that: “Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts”.

This obligation was reiterated by art 85 of the First Additional Protocol adopted in Geneva on 8 January 1977 and it extends also to the case of non-international armed conflicts, as foreseen by the II Additional Protocol.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is aware that the determining of the crimes and the punishment of their perpetrators will never be possible unless the mechanisms and guarantees of the rule of law are restored, first of all the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of information. In Turkey, after the failed coup of July 2016, 4,279 magistrates (judges and prosecutors) were dismissed, 3,000 of them are in pre-trial detention, hundreds of media have been closed down (radio, newspapers, websites) and currently 150 journalists are detained, while thousands of teachers have been removed from their posts at universities and all levels in schools.

These events prevent the exercise of legal control against abuses committed by government agents, which can be implemented only if the independence of the judiciary is ensured and if a free and independent mass media that exercises influence on public opinion is guaranteed.

The third recommendation issued states that “Turkey must restore the rule of law, release still-detained magistrates and journalists, restore the rights of teachers and magistrates (judges and prosecutors) who have resigned from July 2016, restore freedom of press and information, end the state of emergency and fully implement the European Convention on Human Rights”.

"The war crimes and the crimes against humanity determined by the Court derive from the Turkey state's refusal to recognize the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination, which led Turkey to ban the use of the Kurdish language in public life for years, to persecute Kurdish political parties and their leaders, to curb the Kurdish media, to imprison Kurdish politicians and journalists. This scale of discriminatory measures led to the emergence of various forms of resistance, including guerrilla actions conducted by the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK.

The military offensives launched in the south east of Anatolia and extended to the Kurdish regions across the border, are justified by the Turkish government with the claim that it is suppressing terrorism and protecting the national territorial and political integrity. However, the security of the State cannot be assured by denying the identity of a people, destined to live with Turkish people within the given borders. On the contrary, it is only by recognizing the identity of the Kurdish people that it is possible to end the conflict and a long period of conflict and suffering for both parties.

Ending the conflict is the only way to guarantee security. It should be noted that the recognition of the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people does not involve any form of secession because the principles of the border’s inviolability and respect for the territorial integrity of each State cannot be questioned, as affirmed by the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. Therefore, the recognition of the Kurdish people’s identity and dignity and their right to live peacefully with the other people living in the territory of the Turkish state is the key to ensure security, freedom, peace and justice for all the citizens of Turkey."

The fourth recommendation states that “prior immediate proclamation of all military activity truce, Turkey must resume negotiations in good faith for a peaceful solution to the conflict - interrupted on October 30, 2014 - and complete them within a reasonable time frame”.

"During the negotiations, measures must be taken to ease the climate of hostility between the parties, in particular the release of prisoners, the re-opening of newspapers and other media, the restoration of local representatives removed from their positions. It is not for the PPT to indicate specific solutions that allow the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination to be accorded to the needs of cohabitation and good administration within the Turkish state."

The last recommendation states that “At the conclusion of the peace agreement an amnesty must be issued for the crimes committed by all parties during the conflict and all still-detained political prisoners must be released”.

"In conclusion, the tragedy that disrupts the South East of Anatolia and is causing incalculable suffering to the Kurdish people is not the result of a destiny that cannot be avoided. It is the product of the errors, burdened by time, of an unthinking dogma of nationalism, which, in the past, provoked the Armenian genocide.

The Turkish and Kurdish people can avoid this fate, transforming this policy totally and eliminating its origins. Where today the fatal rituals of hostility and denial are carried out, tomorrow could see a restoration and flourishing of justice, friendship and peace."