International panel of judges set to investigate war crimes against Kurds in southeast Turkey

by The Region    


On the 15th and 16th of March, The Permanent People's Tribunal will hold a hearing on violations made by the Turkish state against the Kurdish population in Paris. A panel of judges will hear investigations into alleged breaches of international humanitarian law by the Turkish Armed Forces within Turkey. The judges will also assess the legality of Turkish intelligence operations against dissidents in Europe.

The indictment, which has been brought forward by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Maf-Dad, and the Kurdish Institute Brussels seeks to investigate two key questions.

The first relates to alleged war crimes conducted by the Turkish state after the collapse of peace talks between the government of Turkey and the PKK in 2015. In 2015, the Turkish Armed Forces began an assault on Kurdish cities like Diyarbakir, Cizre and Sirnak. The four aforementioned organizations seek to investigate whether or not these actions amounted to war crimes.

"Several sources have reported the use of aircraft, tanks, and artillery by the Turkish army in civilian neighbourhoods of these cities causing massive destruction and loss of lives," reads a statement produced by the organizing committee of the Tribunal. 

"These crimes allegedly deliberately targeted civilians with the purpose of terrorising the civilian population" the statement received by The Region continues to state. 

The indictment will also, secondly, focus on targetted assassination's believed to have been conducted by Turkish intelligence. In particular, one high profile case involves the murder of Sara Sakine-Cansiz, Fidan Dogan, and Leyla Soylemez -- three Kurdish women activists that were murdered in the Kurdistan Information Centre of Paris. Omer Guney, the man accused of assassinating the three women, died of an illness in his Paris prison cell, to the suspicion of many activists outraged by to the assassinations. The French interior minister called the assassinations "without doubt an execution", and the prime suspect was reported by media in Turkey to have been raised in a Turkish nationalist family.

Established in Bologna in 1979 upon the request of Senator Lelio Basso, the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal seeks to be an instrument and platform for human rights violations committed against groups, and peoples' seen to be marginalized by international law mechanisms. It is made up of experts, scholars and judges from Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. Thus far, since its inception in 1979, it has had less than 50 sessions.

It is expected that the Tribunal will also investigate reports released by international human rights organizations. In May 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein produced a public statement in May calling for transparency by the Turkish government regarding actions conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces in southeast Turkey.

"Most disturbing of all," the High Commissioner said, "are the reports quoting witnesses and relatives in Cizre which suggest that more than 100 people were burned to death as they sheltered in three different basements that had been surrounded by security forces."

The government of Turkey did not respond to the statement. 

In July 2016, Human Rights Watch produced a statement of condemnation against the Turkish government's decision to block access to independent investigation teams in southeast Turkey and even alleged that "some civilians were killed in neighbourhoods where there were no clashes or barricades," between the Turkish Armed Forces and PKK affiliated militants. Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, described an environment of impunity for the Turkish Special Forces.

"Credible accounts of Turkish security forces deliberately killing civilians, including children, when they were carrying white flags or trapped in basements should be ringing loud alarm bells," she said.

In February 2017, after finally being allowed to conduct its investigation, a report conducted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights listed allegations of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, and widespread destruction of property in its findings on a study conducted on the period between July 2015 to the end of 2016. The investigation used witness testimony, interviews with victims and satellite imagery to confirm its findings.

In a summary by the New York Times, a strategy by the Turkish government was highlighted from among the many alleged human rights abuses documented in the report. UN investigators reported that criminal investigations were levelled against civilians who criticized or demanded further investigation into alleged crimes committed by the Turkish armed forces.

In one case, The sister of one woman, whose only remains were three small pieces of flesh and who was identified through DNA testing, was charged with terrorism offences after investigating the death of her sister.     

Turkey has also been accused of developing a sophisticated and expansive intelligence apparatus in Europe. In Austria, Peter Pilz of the Green party claimed that under the guise of the "Austria Turkey Islamic Foundation", Turkey was using agents to target dissidents residing in Austria. Switzerland has also levelled criminal cases against individuals believed to be working for Turkish intelligence agency (MIT). According to the Turkish ultra-right wing daily, Yeni Safak, Turkey has developed a defence doctrine that equates criticism of the government's policies abroad as a threat to national security.

These allegations and much more will be investigated by the Permanent People's Tribunal on Turkey and the Kurds. The proposal for the Permanent People's Tribunal was accepted on the 14th of December 2017.

The Tribunal will be held on the 15th and 16th of March in Paris, at the Bourse du Travail, Salle Eugene Henaff, 29 Boulevard du Temple.