Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 48)



  40. Dr Robins and Mr Park, would you like to respond to the original question?
  (Dr Robins) I think there are human rights infringements which are politically related and there are human rights infringements that are related very much, as Bill Hale says, to the treatment of prisoners in police stations where torture is used still very much as an everyday tool to extract confessions as part of police investigations, which are the two really big areas and the areas that are likely to be the most problematic in terms of bringing about reform, in the first case because of political opposition to concessions in the direction of minority rights or in the direction of a more inclusive political system. In the latter case, because of those inbuilt ideas that individuals are there to serve the state rather than the state being there to serve the individuals, this is ingrained, going back to Ottoman times. It does not mean it cannot change but it is likely to take longer to change rather than change more quickly. I suppose I would tend to say that there could be the beginnings of some of these changes; indeed there have already been changes over the last two or three years, but it could take up to five years to get real movement on some of these political areas and I think it will take a generation for people to really assimilate new habits based on best practice. A generation is 20 years but that does not necessarily mean that one has to wait for everybody to assimilate those before we think about closer relations. Closer relations in part would be about accelerating and incentivising people inside Turkey to scrutinise their practices to make sure that these good practices are speeded up.
  (Dr Hale) Can I just add something on the torture question? I suspect that one of the reasons why this is such a routine practice in Turkish police stations is that the Turkish police are not very good at gathering the normal forensic evidence, witness evidence, etc, which one would need in order to convict somebody of a crime. In these circumstances they tend to resort to brutal methods in order to get confessions. For instance, one area which perhaps effort could be directed towards on our part or on the part of other European countries would simply be to improve the efficiency of the police at doing normal police detective work when investigating crimes.
  (Mr Park) I agree with everything that has been said, not least about the culture in Turkey. The one thing that I would want to emphasise is that the human rights abuses that we have seen are not exclusively but are, if you like, disproportionately associated with the situation in the south east of the country. There have been major transgressions, some of them at the formal level, in the sense of laws and formal procedures, and some of them at the informal level as we have heard. This might not be a satisfactory answer but for every European Union country that faces this problem the rules do tend to shift a bit, for example, in the British case the H-block system, the silencing of Sinn Fein broadcasting, the hints of dirty war in the Basque situation.

  41. What is your timescale?
  (Mr Park) Because the human rights abuses are disproportionately associated with the situation in the south east of Turkey I think a lot depends on the situation in south east Turkey and that a lot of the transgressions that take place in Turkey are to do with these extraordinary circumstances which tend to prompt transgressions in mainstream European societies as well.

  42. To really make the sort of progress on what is going to be a formidable degree of change, from what you have all three said in different ways, you have to have very determined political leadership and political drive at the top. Do you judge that at the top of the Turkish political system the will is really there to drive through what in many quarters domestically be unpalatable reforms on the grounds that Turkey's EU accession is of such a degree of importance that change must be made and must be made relatively quickly? Is that political will there or not?
  (Mr Park) The will is there to change the rules and the constitution, at least in large part in the political system. There is a problem with the action part of it. If you look at Ecevit's party or Motherland Party, I think the will is there. The issue is how the state sets about implementing those changes. Bill alluded to the way the police operate and the reasons why they operate that way and the lack of agencies that monitor the way the police operate. You could also look at the lawyers trained under a certain sort of system, who are inclined to interpret the law in a hard rather than a soft way. The will to change the rules and regulations is in evidence by the current reform programme but the capacity of the system to follow that is much more problematic and is to do with the practices and resourcing of state institutions.

  43. Could we have a comment on the political will?
  (Dr Hale) I think the will is there on the large part of the political leadership. The problem is that Turkey has, and is likely to have for a long time, coalition governments. The party system is highly fragmented. In addition to that at present the currently ruling parties are riding extremely low in the public opinion polls. In fact, according to most public opinion polls in Turkey the three ruling parties would not even overcome the ten per cent threshold which is necessary under the present electoral law to win any seats in the National Assembly if there was an election immediately. There are possibly new political leaders waiting in the wings. Again, according to the public opinion polls, Mr Erdogan's party, the Justice and Development Party, is the most popular of the existing parties. This would represent a new leadership. There is also speculation about the emergence of a new and more effective alignment on the centre left. There is speculation about the likelihood that Mr Ecevit would have to retire at around the time or shortly before the time of the next general election which would be due in 2004 at the latest (this is purely speculation) so there is a good deal of possibility of change and new political figures emerging. Turkish voters are extremely volatile. In fact, around 20 per cent of the voters vote for a different party from the one they voted for in the previous general election. This excludes of course changes brought about by older people dying and younger people coming on to the electoral roll for the first time, which is another important factor. I think it is quite likely that Turkey will have new political leaders by about 2004 when the next elections are due and I think that most of those political leaders will be more strongly committed to the kinds of changes that we have been discussing than some of the present ones are, but I would not like to be certain about that, and, of course, given a system of proportional representation, bargains and compromises always have to be made in order to stitch a government together.

  44. Dr Robins, do you think the political will is there?
  (Dr Robins) I agree with pretty much everything that has been said before. I think the window of opportunity for change usually comes in the first couple of years after a general election when a ruling party or coalition will have a popular mandate with obviously some time before the next election comes in and the usual run of election economics and so on which one tends to see in the Turkish case. I think for any reform of a really substantive and imaginative nature I would be looking at something like 2003 to 2005, assuming that the current parliament does not quite go to its full term. That would be the time that I would be looking to for some hope for some real change.

  Mr Pope: I find this really depressing. All the evidence that we have heard from you today and the other evidence that we have heard and in the witness submissions is really depressing. If this was solely the political repression of the PKK you could condemn that, but you could also comprehend why that was taking place. What seems to be the case, what we have heard, is that this is almost a cultural problem across the whole of Turkey. I was looking at something that Amnesty International said. They said that torture was systematic and almost anybody could be tortured. Human Rights Watch said that despite constitutional changes which have yet to be put in legislation on the ground nothing has improved. I read in one of the papers that Mr Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party, was banned from standing for parliament. This is a guy who had the potential to be a future prime minister. Apart from saying, "Oh, gosh, it looks really hopeless", what would be the most useful thing that we in the West can do? I must say, if I were the Turkish Government I would not fancy being lectured by some lefty like me. That would not make me think, "Oh, gosh". A round robin to The Times would not pull me up short. What can we do to effect some material change, to effect that kind of cultural change in Turkey? My other question is this. All these other issues are about the political will. In truth can the political will make a difference? If what is happening in a police station in a village in Turkey is routine torture, what difference can the political class make to stop that happening, if any?

Ms Stuart

  45. Following almost exactly on a point that Greg made, to what extent is our ambiguity and our attitude towards Turkey—that we like them as soldiers, that we are happy to have them in NATO, that we were happy for them to send the largest contingency to North Korea 50 years ago and therefore our messages are quite ambiguous—mean that we are playing a role in that because we are not clear where we really want Turkey to go?
  (Mr Park) Philip made an observation before, which I certainly agree with and most people who look at Turkey would agree with, and this is that the relationship between state and individual is pretty much the other way round in Turkey from what we would expect in Europe. That is a very broad statement. You can then have a discussion about timescales and this sort of thing, which is speculative, but one senses this in almost every area of Turkish life that one looks at. This is an expectation not only on the part of the state but also on the part of the people, so it does colour public attitudes to things like human rights or treatment of the Kurds or whatever. I have no very easy answer to your pessimism except that I think there are reasons other than that we like them as soldiers to engage with Turkey. It is a country that aspires in a quite profound way (and whether it knows how to do it is another matter) to be different, and its thrust is to be European. I think that patient engagement that seeks to encourage the positive and does not make too much of the negative to turn them off, that is, a constructive engagement, an encouraging engagement, is I suppose the best that I can offer. In a sense, putting Turkey in the EU waiting room and saying it can happen one day might be all we can achieve right now, and in doing that that gives us the scope, the mechanisms, the resources, to construct and re-engage. What do we do about it? Maybe that is what we do about it. Where might all this lead? It is at least as possible to be pessimistic as optimistic, I have to say.


  46. Gentlemen, we have kept you in the field for a long time. We cannot end without touching on the Cyprus problem and its relationship to the prospects for European Union entry. The Turks argue that with the accession of Cyprus there would be a double Greek veto, possibly even preventing them from arriving at the starting line of being acceptable under the Copenhagen criteria. Can you say a little about your judgement on the linkage between the problem of Cyprus and the EU entry?
  (Dr Hale) Maybe the Turks are right about suspecting that this will lead to a double veto. The Turkish Government has threatened, for example, at various times that it could take various actions if Cyprus were admitted to the European Union in advance of an internal settlement, including, for instance, annexing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I do not think this would be likely if the Turkish Government was also getting a fairly strong signal from the European Union that it would (all other things being equal) have a good chance of starting accession negotiations. I believe that that is a primary reason why the Turkish Government has been strongly supporting the recent re-starting of inter-comminal negotiations between Mr Denktash and President Clerides. So far very little has been said about how these talks have been proceeding and they are still obviously at an early stage, but there is, I think, generally a fairly optimistic atmosphere in that regard which I am glad to see. There is also the beginnings of a more effective dialogue between Turkey and Greece over bilateral issues regarding the Aegean. If these are successful then hopefully we will have a situation in which it is possible to admit the Republic of Cyprus into the European Union with the agreement of the Turkish Cypriots as well as the Greek Cypriots. That would be an enormous advantage, a tremendously important step forward. One might get a situation where accession negotiations with the Republic of Cyprus are completed before an internal settlement has been completed. In that circumstance it would I think be important to be patient and to perhaps try to tie the actual accession process to the achievement of an internal settlement rather than jump ahead and complete the accession of Cyprus in advance of an internal settlement. I think myself that the admission of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union in advance of an internal settlement would be an extremely serious mistake, not just because of the Turkish reactions but also because it is very hard to see how the Government of Cyprus could fulfil its obligations under the acquis communitaire if it did not incorporate the north. It has been suggested to me on various occasions that formulas could be worked out for avoiding that but I have never seen any detailed or effective assessment of that. It is something that I suggest you might like to ask representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if they are giving evidence.
  (Mr Park) I agree with a great deal of what Bill has said. My one remark, to put it in context, is that my sympathies have been much more with the Turkish side of the argument on Cyprus. What I want to say, however, slightly contradicts that, it might appear, because I am interested in the terms of any agreement on Cyprus and how this might play with the European Union. Essentially what the Turkish side wants is fairly high degrees of limitation or restriction on interaction between the two parts of Cyprus—movement of people, movement of capital. For reasons I understand—there are a lot more Greeks in Cyprus.

  47. And they are a lot richer.
  (Mr Park) And they are a lot richer than the Turks. The problem in that is that the European Union does not permit that between sovereign states in any case, so I am not sure how the European Union could incorporate the whole of Cyprus without it being something like a normally integrated sovereign state without barriers, because precisely the point of the European Union is to remove those barriers even between the fully fledged sovereign entities. I think therefore that the Turkish negotiating position has its problems.
  (Dr Robins) I think the really big mistake has been the inability of some senior Turkish diplomats to realise that the European Union was serious about admitting Cyprus and not to address the issue earlier. For a variety of different reasons—denial, particular interests in Cyprus, Denktash's ability to appeal over the heads of Turkish politicians direct to public opinion—the Turks did allow Denktash to get away for a long time with not having any serious negotiations. What has happened over the last few weeks is that the Turkish side has woken up to the fact that if they do not do something about it there is going to be the accession of Cyprus short of a political solution and that is going to call their bluff on what they are going to do, whether it is incorporating the north of Cyprus or whatever, and a realisation that that will have a massively negative impact on their relationship with the European Union and as a result they have told Denktash that he has to get back to talks and to start taking seriously a negotiating process which would very much take into account the real and valid security interests that Turkish Cypriots have on the island of Cyprus. The one good thing that one takes from this is that the Turks, whatever they might say, no matter how much they complain and so on, do value the relationship that they have with the European Union and do not want to be in a situation where they are into a dynamic that they cannot affect and they end up taking steps which damage that relationship. The other thing which is an issue for some cautious optimism apropos of the last question is the relationship with Greece which has really improved dramatically over the last two and a half years. It is still a concern of mine that the good atmospherics have not been turned into real and substantive progress on some of these difficult issues related to the Aegean. After all, if the two foreign ministers hug one another that is only news for so long. They have to move on, they have to bank the political gains of those good atmospherics; otherwise something will happen—it could be Cyprus, it could be something else—that will lead to a bilateral deterioration and that will be bad for all of us because one of the serious pressure points of deteriorating or poor relations between Turkey and the European Union is obviously the eastern Mediterranean and Greece and the Aegean.

Ms Stuart

  48. What is your view of how powerful a force the Turkish diaspora is that lives in mainland Europe and their opinion back home in the political opinion-forming process? Is that a way to bring about change, that their opinion changes?
  (Dr Hale) It is very difficult because under the present arrangements Turkish citizens resident abroad do not have votes in Turkish elections unless they happen to visit the country at the time of the elections, in which case they vote at the border crossing point or the airport. Without that it is hard to see how what you are suggesting could be brought about. One other point worth mentioning is that there are also organisations among Turkish citizens living abroad which are highly hostile to the Turkish Government. Some of them may be supporters of the PKK but also supporters of extremist militant Islamist organisations, which in some cases the German Government has recently started taking steps against, but this is another problem.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, you have been extremely helpful in what someone called earlier opinion shaping. Many thanks.

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