United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017


Turkey Drafts Human Rights Bill for Kurds

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey– The Turkish government in Ankara is considering a human rights bill aimed at finding a political solution to remedy longstanding issues with Kurdish minorities in the country.

Besir Atalay, the Turkish Interior Minister, said the government was preparing a human rights bill complete with anti-discriminatory measures to send to lawmakers for their approval.   Atalay added that the government reforms which, in addition to easing restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, will establish independent commissions to investigate human rights violations.

Atalay also noted that there were plans for a trilateral committee of U.S., Iraqi and Turkish officials to discuss the resettlement of members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from camps in northern Iraq to compounds inside his country.

The reform is meant to boost Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union and encourage the PKK guerrilla group to disband. The PKK is seeking self-rule for the Kurds in southeastern Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by the government in Ankara, as well as by the EU and the United States. It has been engaged in a conflict with the Turkish government since 1984 that has left more than forty thousand people dead.

The bill, in its current form, will allow Kurdish-majority towns to again use their Kurdish names.  It will also allow politicians to campaign in the Kurdish language, which is a concession that builds upon earlier efforts by the ruling AK Party (AKP) to expand Kurdish cultural rights.

However, the proposed bill is not being well received by all in the Turkish government.  The main opposition party leader, Deniz Baykal, said that the government’s reforms were a “plan to destroy and split Turkey.”  In response, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan responded that “there are some people who want martyrs (dead Turkish soldiers) so they can exploit it better.” This comment prompted Baykal and other members of his party to walk out of the talks mid- session.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle- Turkey Outlines Plan to Expand Kurdish Rights– 20 November 2009

Kurdish Human Rights Project- KHRP Urges Turkey to Protect Kurdish Children from Discrimination– 20 November 2009

BBC News- Hopes of Peace in Turkey’s 25 Year Conflict– 19 November 2009

Syria Continues to Repress Ethnic Minorities

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Amnesty International recently released its annual report on Syria, reporting that the Middle Eastern nation continues to stifle freedom of expression and free association, particularly among its ethnic minorities.

As recently as April, the Syrian Supreme State Security Court reaffirmed its nation-wide ban on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a  Kurdish separatist group, and sentenced five members to seven to eight years of imprisonment for plotting to “detach part of Syrian territory,” according to the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria (NOHRS).  The Supreme State Security Court is a special court that operates outside of the criminal justice system, with the purpose of prosecuting those challenging the government.  Syria has been under an official state of emergency since 1963, which has given government security forces broad powers to arrest, detain, and imprison those it views as dangerous dissidents.

Ethnic Kurds make up approximately ten percent of the Syrian population, and suffer restrictions on use of the Kurdish language and culture.  In September 2008, the Syrian government placed restrictions on Kurdish property and housing rights in sensitive border areas.   While confrontations between Arabs and Kurds receive the most media attention, Syria is home to many other ethnic minority groups, including Kurmandji and Aramaeans, all of whom are subject to the same restrictions on their cultural heritage.

The persecution of ethnic minorities may be part of a larger dialogue that has resumed between Syria and the United States, signaled by the meeting on June 12 between President Bashar al-Assad and U.S. envoy, former-Senator George Mitchell.  Relations between the two nations had chilled in 2004, when the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Syria for accusations that Syria sponsored terrorism.  The sanctions had been extended several times.  Mitchell said he hopes Middle East peace talks will resume shortly.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Syria welcomes US envoy Mitchell – 13 June 2009

American Chronicle – Amnesty International Report 2009 on Syria – 31 May 2009

Amnesty International – Report 2009—Syria – May 2009

Syria Today – Syrian state security court jails banned PKK members – May 2009

Human Rights Watch – Syria:  Dissolve the State Security Court – 24 February 2009

Tension Mounts between Turkey and Iran against Kurdish militia in Iraq

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey- Turkey’s likelihood of invading Iraq in order to eliminate the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels has increased.  The PKK desires an independent Kurdistan for the Kurds living in Turkey.  The Turkish military reported that it has eliminated 30 terrorists that were preparing to ambush the Turkish military.  Since Sunday, 64 insurgents have been killed by the Turkish military.  (Fox News- AP)

Also, the possibility of a peaceful remedy through diplomacy between Turkey and Iraq is quickly diminishing.  Turkish Defense Minister Jassim stated that Turkey had proposed “concrete steps” to rectify the problems with Iraq.  (AFP)  According to Turkish Foreign Minister Babacan Iraq has not responded accordingly and has only said “just words” and not “concrete proposals”, which is increasing Turkish frustration. (AFP)

The increased tension has been encouraged by the PKK and possibly militant factions within the Turkish military.  The PKK waged a constant war with Turkey from 1984-1999.  At the end of the war the PKK lost support as its supporters got tired of the warfare.  The PKK could benefit from a Turkish invasion of Iraq, because it would probably create animosity toward the Turkish government by the 15 million Turkish Kurds, which the PKK hopes it can translate into its supporters.  This prolonged warfare was very difficult on the nation of Turkey.  Generally, the people of Turkey have appreciated the relative peacefulness they have experienced since the end of the war.  However, since the war has ended the Turkish military has not occupied the limelight.  This has led some analysts believe that some militant factions in Turkey are inciting violence in order to restore prominence back to the Turkish military, which would come through another war with the PKK.  (Independent Online)

The situation has gotten worse as the Iranians have simultaneously expressed their anger towards the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). The PJAK is a militia seeking to create an independent Kurdistan and is affiliated with the PKK and has recently increased its attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran.  The Iranians also have expressed their belief that the situation can be resolved peacefully.

Although the direct diplomacy between Turkey and Iraq has been faltering, Turkey has stated that it will not invade Iraq until after the Prime Minister Erodgan’s diplomatic visit with President Bush on November 5.  Also, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning to visit Ankara on November 1.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera- Turkey Delays PKK attack decision- 27 October 2007

Al-Jazeera- Turkey-Iraq talks on PKK ‘fail’- 27 October 2007

Al-Jazeera- Turkey troops kill Kurdish fighters- 28 October 2007

AFP- Turkish leaders increase pressure on US, Iraq- 24 October 2007

Fox News (AP)- Turkey: U.S. Will Not Stop Iraq Incursion; 64 Suspected Rebels Killed- 25 October 2007

Guardian Unlimited- Turkish Forces Clash With Rebel Kurds- 28 October 2007

Independent Online-   Turkey reluctantly prepares for attack on Kurds- 28 October 2007

Iraqi Kurds Protest Regarding Possible Turkish Invasion

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

IRBIL, Iraq- The Turkish parliament has approved a resolution to allow its military to attack Northern Iraq. Turkey is seeking to retaliate against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Over 30,000 people have died in the warfare between the PKK and the Turkish military. The PKK is a rebel militia based on fighting for liberty and independent statehood for the Kurds. In response to the Parliamentary vote, over 5,000 Kurds filled the streets in Irbil to protest the the possible invasion.

The Kurds are one of largest people groups without its own independent nation. Around 20 million Kurds live in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds are a largely Sunni Muslim people. Previous to World War I, the Kurds were a nomadic people. After World War I their lifestyle drastically changed forcing them to partially integrate their culture, which has caused them to fight for independent statehood.

This has caused tension between the Kurds and their host nations. Turkey has been reluctant to designate the Kurds as a minority people group and the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey until 1991. Also in Iraq during the Anfal war, over 100,000 Kurds were killed forcing many Kurds to flee to Iran for safety.

Currently, Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein’s cousin, widely known as ‘Chemical Ali’ for his usage of chemical agents to kill Kurds, is being held by the Iraqi government and will be executed in “the coming days.” (Al- Jazeera)

In response to the Turkish Parliament’s vote, the Kurds protested in the streets of Erbil, which is located in Northern Iraq. The Kurds have promised to support the PKK if the Turks attack Iraq. The Kurds believe that an attack against the PKK would be degrading the new found independence that the Iraqi Kurds have obtained since Saddam Hussein’s removal from office.

Turkey has stated that it would prefer the US and the Iraqi government to respond to the PKK’s attacks firmly and that invasion is not the first option. However, if the Turks do attack Iraq, then it is likely that the Kurds will stick together and fight back.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera- ‘Chemical Ali’ execution ‘in days’- 18 October 2007

BBC News- Kurds ‘will fight Turkish raids’ – 19 October 2007

Bloomberg News- Turkey Urges U.S. to Seize PKK Rebels to Prevent Raid (Update2)- 18 October 2007

Encyclopedia Brittanica- The Kurds: People without a country- Accessed 20 October 2007

Reuters- Turkey expects US actions against Kurd rebels-PM- 20 October 2007

WashingtonPost.com- Who Are The Kurds?– Accessed 20 October 2007

USA Today- Iraqi Kurds protest Turkish incursion vote- 18 October 2007

BRIEF: Iraqi Invasion Approved by Turkish Parliament

The Turkish parliament has overwhelmingly passed a resolution that will allow Turkey to invade Iraq to pursue the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).  The PKK’s purpose is to obtain more freedom for the Kurds in Turkey.  The vote was approved 507-19.  The decisiveness of the vote showed Turkey’s unwillingness to solely depend on Iraqi forces to deal with the PKK, despite Bush’s promise that a Turkish invasion is unnecessary.  The Iraqi Kurds fear that an attack by the Turkish military will destabilize the region.  However, Turkey has amassed 60,000 troops near the Iraqi border.  The Turkish military has not immediately attacked Iraq because the military is still hoping that a diplomatic solution can be reached.  The likelihood of a diplomatic resolution is shrinking, especially with the strained relations between the US and Turkey regarding Congress’s passage of the Armenian “genocide” bill.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press- Turkish Parliament Approves Iraq Mission- 17 October 2007

BBC News- Turkish MPs back attacks in Iraq- 17 October 2007

Turkey: Military may pursue PKK into Iraq

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey- Turkish Prime Minister Tayipp Erdogan asked the parliament to authorize a military invasion into northern Iraq.  The purpose of the offensive is to attack a base of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

On October 7, the PKK claimed the deaths of 13 Turkish soldiers in the southeast province of Sirnak bordering Iraq.  A possible motive of the PKK attack was retaliation, because the Turkish military killed a high ranking PKK officer earlier that day. The Turkish authorities believe that the PKK members responsible for these attacks fled to their base northern Iraq, which is why the Turkish government believes that it must enter Iraq to stop the Iraq.

However, a Turkish invasion of Iraq would be a direct violation of the agreement that it signed with Iraq in September.  The agreement stated that both countries would pursue the PKK independently, but the agreement expressly prohibited the Turkish government from invading Iraq for the purpose of pursuing the PKK.

The PKK’s stated aim is to give the Kurdish people more political and cultural rights. The Kurdish people have a large population of people in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.  Most of the Kurds live in a region called Kurdistan, and the PKK is a major proponent of making Kurdistan into an independent state.  The PKK is generally supported by the Kurds.

Irregardless of the PKK’s purpose, the Turkish government views the PKK as an illegal terrorist organization.  The constant fighting between Turkey and the PKK has claimed the lives of over 30,000 people, since the PKK’s founding in the late 1970’s.

The possible intrusion of northern Iraq by Turkey could destabilize the Middle East.  However, the rising tension in Turkey due to the recent attacks by the PKK has forced the Turkish government to take immediate action to appease the sentiment felt by Turkish people.  Thus, the Turkish government is weighing the option of taking immediate military action and unilaterally attacking the PKK in northern Iraq to protect its interests, even though this action would be a direct violation of its September agreement.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera- Turkey Weighs Options against PKK- 8 October 2007

Al-Jazeera- Turkey and Iraq sign security deal- 28 September 2007

Associated Press- Kurdish Rebels Kill 12 in Turkey- 29 September 2007

Associated Press- Turkey Shells Rebels in Northern Iraq- 10 October 2007

International Herald Tribune (AP)- Turks weighing risk of cross-border incursion into Iraq to U.S.-Turkey relations- 10 October 2007

New York Times (Reuters)- Kurdish Rebels Kill 13 Soldiers on Turkish Border With Iraq- 8 October 2007