Theresa May has recently been cosying up to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And during his three-day state visit to the UK, the two leaders spoke of increasing trade and strengthening the ‘defence partnership’ between their two countries.
Little more than a week later, on 24 May, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) found Erdoğan and the Turkish state guilty of war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity, against the Kurdish people.
The verdict follows a two-day hearing in Paris, in March this year, attended by The Canary. The session included graphic accounts from eye-witnesses of the Turkish state’s treatment of Kurdish communities in southeastern Turkey between 1 June 2015 and 31 December 2017. We heard accounts of the burning of civilians alive and the destruction of whole cities.
The PPT announced the final verdict in the European Parliament in Brussels, which The Canary also attended.
The Canary has taken the following summary from the judgment text handed out at the European Parliament.
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The tribunal held that:
The Turkish state is responsible for denying the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people… the war crimes and crimes against humanity determined by the court derive from the Turkish state’s refusal to recognise the Kurdish people’s right to self determination;
The armed confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds amounted to a non-international armed conflict… [and the tribunal] rejected the Turkish state’s characterisation of the conflict as a matter of terrorism;
The Turkish state, … Erdoğan and the commander of the military operations against the Kurdish cities between 1 January 2015 and 1 January 2017, General Adem Huduti, are guilty of committing war crimes during that period;
The Turkish state [is] 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 tribunal then made a number of recommendations to the Turkish state, calling on it to:
End all military operations carried out by its army in Syria and… withdraw its troops to within its national borders;
Investigate and punish the responsible persons for war crimes;
Restore the rule of law, release still-detained magistrates and journalists… [and] end the state of emergency;
Resume negotiations [with the Kurdish people] in good faith for a peaceful solution to the conflict;
Issue an amnesty for the crimes committed by all parties during the conflict and all still-detained political prisoners must be released.
Politicians and lawyers react
After the announcement of the judgment, a number of politicians, lawyers and activists spoke about its implications.
Julie Ward, a UK Labour Party MEP, underlined the “extraordinary” importance of the PPT’s ruling. She also noted that the tribunal had combined individual human stories with a “rigorous process”, the findings of which the judges could then present to institutions such as the European Parliament. And she went on to describe Erdoğan’s state visit to the UK, saying:
Theresa May holding hands with Erdoğan and speaking about ‘Kurdish terrorists’ was an appalling thing to witness. Especially for those of us who stand for justice and peace.
Next to speak was Barbara Spinelli, an Italian lawyer. She had personally witnessed the atrocities in the Kurdish town of Cizre:
I witnessed the banality of evil. It was humanity that was burned in Cizre. This judgment is important because it fills a vacuum; it puts these issues in front of the world.
A catalyst for peace?
But there was also a note of warning at the conference; that the international community must actually act upon the PPT’s findings.
With this in mind, Kariane Westrheim from the University of Bergen in Norway reminded the conference of the testimony of Mehmet Tunç – a Kurdish opposition politician who made a call directly to a European Union conference room from a basement during the bombardment of Cizre. Tunç begged the EU officials to prevent the Turkish state from murdering him and those hiding with him.
As Kurdish human rights lawyer Mahmut Sakar told the conference:
They did nothing, and then he was burned alive. His screams echo in these very walls.
Ian Lawrence, the general secretary of trade union Napo, underlined his disgust at seeing Theresa May embracing Erdoğan, especially after also welcoming Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman. And he emphasised the need for action, saying:
They are calling this is a landmark. That is fine, but a landmark is just a moment in time. This must be catalyst to bring an end to this carnage; to see in its place peace and justice.
The UK has already sold a staggering $1bn worth of arms to Turkey since the failed July 2016 coup. And this partnership has continued despite widespread and consistent reports that Turkey has become an anti-democratic regime, ruthless in stamping out its opposition. The country has also been accused of unlawfully invading northern Syria and committing human rights abuses in Afrin.
During his state visit to the UK, Erdoğan boasted that he and his hosts were:
fighting shoulder to shoulder as responsible nations to defeat terrorism.
But Theresa May’s government should think very carefully about whose shoulders it rubs against and whose hands it holds. Because dirty hands have a habit of spreading their filth.
– Write to Theresa May and your MP. Ask them to urge Turkey to resume peace talks with its internal opponents, and to release all political prisoners. Until that happens, ask them to cancel and stop approving arms sales to Turkey, and support Campaign Against Arms Trade to help make that happen.
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