Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
140. What I am trying to challenge you to do
is to move from the position of simply observing to a position
of analysis of where would the next step be to do something about
it, which we all want to do. What would be the most important
significant next step to change that situation, and in that context
you must have a sense of where the weight of gravity is within
(Dr Wedel) We have repeatedly submitted our recommendations.
What should be done? I think that actually without a change in
attitude there will be little progress.
141. What is the first thing you would do to
bring about a change in attitude? It is easy to say they need
a change in attitude but how can we help?
(Dr Wedel) That is not our role, to give such recommendations,
but our recommendations are really how a law should be changed
and how a practice should be changed. What could the UK do? I
think first of all it should be made very clear that there cannot
be any compromise to human rights and that this is one of the
key values of the European Union and that it is not something
that is due to a bargaining process more or less but that human
rights have to be respected in total. What you can also do is
give advice on how that should be implemented into law. I am aware
that you are funding training processes but since we do not know
the contents of these training seminars we cannot comment on them.
142. You are not involved in the training courses?
(Dr Wedel) No.
143. Dr Wedel, do I take it then that you think
that the way that the UK Government can constructively encourage
greater respect for human rights is through these training courses?
Is there anything else that the UK Government could do constructively
to encourage reform?
(Dr Wedel) The key point is really monitoring the
situation on the ground, being in contact with a wide range of
people within the country, including the civil society, and trying
to figure out what exactly the situation is, not only training
seminars. I think that the two of them have to go hand in hand.
144. I am looking for some guidance from you
on what the UK Government can do as a positive step rather than
just illustrating or highlighting the fact that the abuses take
place but what do you think the UK Government could do as a first
step to really encourage constructively greater respect for human
rights in Turkey?
(Mr Hancock) I think that the projects are useful.
A number of the ones that I have seen in recent years include
things such as forensic training, the idea being that if you create
better detective capabilities, better forensic capabilities, you
reduce the need to rely on confessions. Things which seek to address
torture are useful but they are going to be limited in their usefulness
unless the UK continues to stress the need for legal changes,
so, for example, it makes it easier to bring police and military
officials and other public servants to justice for crimes like
torture within Turkey. There has to be a constant linking between
some of the project work, which is useful, and some of these big
political issues. Some areas where project work can perhaps make
a particular difference is in the realms of civil society. The
UK has for example provided some funding to create a network of
criminal lawyers around Turkey who have human rights expertise
and human rights knowledge so that they can share that expertise.
That kind of activity is useful to broaden the breadth as well
as providing funding, providing technical assistance and expertise,
for human rights and other civil society actors. Again, though,
you have to dovetail that practical assistance with continuing
stress on the Turkish authorities that they need to make movements
on freedom of expression and freedom of association, so project
145. Can I just take it a bit further? How can
and should the UK Government support human rights NGOs within
(Mr Hancock) Political support is of immense importance.
I am thinking particularly about the time some years ago, in May
1998, when Robin Cook, when he was Foreign Secretary, went to
visit Akin Birdal in hospital just after he had been shot. He
was the head of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. That is
one very specific and extremely notable example where a Foreign
Secretary, just by that action, was obviously making a gesture
of humanitarian sympathy, but it was also saying that the British
Government views the Human Rights Association as being a credible
and legitimate organisation, which is not always a view that has
been held by the Turkish authorities. Investing that kind of political
support, political recognition, is useful, as is providing funding
for the Human Rights Foundation in south-eastern Turkey
as well, which deals with torture cases. That political and financial
support is important. Also, where possible, when we are able to
get Turkish human rights defenders over here, being open to meeting
them, to listening to their needs and providing the support that
they want, is very important. Hitherto our relationship with the
Foreign Office has been constructive enough so that human rights
defenders do get out to King Charles Street.
146. Are the UK and the EU doing enough to encourage
Turkey to make human rights reforms? Is it the case that Turkey
is getting mixed messages about human rights because of its strategic
(Mr Hancock) Looking at it from the UK angle for a
second, and perhaps Heidi can come in on the EU, I tend to look
at the analysis: what is it that the Government are saying? The
general formula on which the Government operates is to highlight
some good steps and then conclude with a paragraph highlighting
the concerns. The analysis is crucial to give us an idea about
whether mixed messages are going out. I have to say that, based
on the Foreign office's own annual human rights report, a lot
of the things that they signpost in Turkey in terms of concerns
are things that we are concerned about as well, so I am quite
pleased that that analysis parallels ours. I also pleased that
at the start of the Foreign Office human rights annual report
they drew attention to the legal changes that are taking place,
but they also said that there had been backward steps. On that
level I am pleased that the Foreign Office is continuing to maintain
a realistic analysis.
147. Again that is comment on the situation
rather than specific actions that we and the EU should be taking
to encourage Turkey to greater reform is the clue I am looking
(Mr Hancock) The encouragement comes from the terms
of the accession partnership where a number of priorities have
been set. The encouragement from this point on, now that the accession
partnership is in place, is that we will not be fudging on these
priorities, that we will not start to say, "You have made
the legal changes and we will not worry too much about the situation
on the ground", because ultimately it is for Turkey to make
the changes and to signpost any assistance that it needs from
us. I think the clearest signal is if we maintain the integrity
of analysis of the situation.
148. Dr Wedel was going to comment on the EU
(Dr Wedel) I agree with the analysis and I think also
the EU progress reports are a very good analysis of the situation.
In Turkey one point where we think the focus should be stronger
is on torture. This was also quite obvious in the presentation
which Mr Leigh gave before, that torture was not mentioned among
the priorities. Here there should be a stronger focus. I also
would like to remind you that when it came to the discussion about
the Customs Union human rights were an argument but then when
the decision was taken actually the EU decided to enter into a
Customs Union with Turkey without any substantive progress in
the area of human rights. I think that this should be a lesson
that we have learned from the past, that if we want to use such
accession processes in order to improve the human rights situation
we have to be transparent and consequent and to stick to the criteria
that have been set. This does not only mean to look at the legislation
but also to look at the situation on the ground. That is a key
149. You have mentioned a number of times, both
of you, the analysis that has been done in Turkey on the ground.
You mentioned also the references made in the Foreign Office report.
Do you believe that there is sufficient monitoring of human rights
being carried out of Turkey by the UK and the EU? Do you think
there should be more intensive efforts by the UK and the EU on
(Mr Hancock) I would always say lots more monitoring
of the human rights situation. I would love to see more resources
invested in Turkey and elsewhere.
150. Can you explain for the Committee what
the monitoring tasks are so that we are better informed on that,
as far as Amnesty International is aware of them?
(Mr Hancock) In terms of the Foreign Office?
151. Yes, the UK and the EU.
(Dr Wedel) Maybe I could add an example from our work
and co-operation in a way with the German Foreign Office. We have
always encouraged them to observe trials on the ground and they
indeed started to go to important trial sessions, for example,
when human rights defenders were put on trial. This has first
of all a symbolic effect, showing some concern about such trials,
but also it is part of the monitoring process and we would also
encourage the UK to start to observe such trials. I think that
would be an additional step to be taken.
(Mr Hancock) I know that in the past they have observed
152. Would it perhaps be more effective, do
you believe, if it was done by representatives of the EU rather
than individual states within the EU, this monitoring?
(Mr Hancock) I think there is already a great deal
of co-operation within EU missions within Turkey in terms of liaising
about human rights assessments and about things like trial monitoring.
153. I absolutely agree with you about increased
monitoring. Is it better to reach an agreement with a country
in economic terms in a Customs Union than the way we are dealing
with it in trying to change attitudes which are deeply entrenched?
Turkey is already, in terms of its accession to the EU, saying,
"We are being kept at arm's length because we are an Islamic
and not a Christian country". There are some sensitivities
which we have to simply accept and acknowledge, and by comparison
I would like to know what British reaction would have been if
we had had a Turkish monitoring unit to observe some of the trials
in Northern Ireland as to whether we were complying with human
rights, and whether that would be conducive to making us change
our minds. Do you not think we should put far more emphasis on,
rather than outside NGOs and outside bodies doing the monitoring,
working far more with people within Turkey to strengthen them,
and just take a step back on what is perceived as a kind of cultural
imperialism; otherwise it is very satisfying for us to say, "This
is what we have done", but rather to work far more to strengthen
what happens on the ground in Turkey? Would you like to comment
(Mr Hancock) It is absolutely crucial to be talking
to those organisations within Turkey. They are the ones that are
closest to it. The Human Rights Foundation in south-east Turkey,
for example, is the one that is doing the work on torture cases,
so they know about that, so I hope that the Foreign Office is
already talking to those organisations.
154. I would like to ask how you as another
NGO see that role, that you actually devolve your role and say
it is those people on the ground themselves. Dr Wedel herself
said earlier on that the changes have to be brought about by Turkey
(Dr Wedel) But that needs symbolic acts of showing
how legitimate the role of the local human rights defenders is.
We have to consider that they are doing their work at a very high
risk. Some of them have received death threats. There was an armed
attack which was in the last minute prevented, so they need protection.
Obviously it is very important for them to be there, but not only
are they at risk but it is often very difficult for them to make
their voices heard and for that they sometimes need foreign support.
You can, for example, follow the Turkish media. You will see that
sometimes no space is given to the local human rights defenders
but as soon as a foreigner says the same thing they are quoted
in the media. It needs both: strengthen them within the country
but also have obvious contacts with them.
155. Would you say a little bit more about what
you are doing on the ground to strengthen that within Turkey which
is the vital thing we need to go forward? What are you doing to
strengthen that within Turkey?
(Mr Hancock) To an extent we provide a degree of the
protection function. Certainly we seek to articulate what their
concerns are to the Foreign Office ourselves and to other governments
around the world so that we talk to them, they tell us what is
happening, and then we come to an assessment and publish reports
and try to make sure that other governments around the world are
aware. One very practical way in which we try to help is in terms
of protection where we seek to monitor what is happening to human
rights defenders and where we become aware that they may be under
threat we move very quickly to try and alert the Turkish authorities
that we know about it, and other governments around the world.
156. What is your assessment about how effective
the Foreign Office report on human rights is, and you mentioned
the translation into Turkish? How effective are they in your view?
(Dr Wedel) Translations are extremely important because
unfortunately the level of foreign language knowledge in Turkey
is not very high.
157. A bit like Britain?
(Dr Wedel) That is true. Translation of important
handbooks, international standards, in so far as they do not exist
already in Turkish is a helpful thing. Also language classes for
human rights defenders would be helpful. We have ourselves been
involved in that. That could be extended although I assume that
the local human rights defenders would not take government support
directly but other ways can be found to support language courses
for human rights defenders, for example, through British NGOs.
158. I apologise for not being here at the opening
of your evidence. It seemed to me that when we are doing an audit
of democracy as it were one of the tests, because we have got
many deficiencies in the United Kingdom, the United States of
America and so on, is whether or not you can appeal arbitrary
government, whether or not there is judicial review, where, if
you are put into prison, you have got the equivalent of habeus
corpus or you can go to court to get restitution of your printing
machine. In institutional terms, because most despotic regimes
around the world somewhere in their constitution have freedoms
(even the old Soviet Union did), quite apart from what might be
written in the constitution under statute law in reality to what
extent are decisions by government appealable, judiciable?
(Dr Wedel) There are procedures for that in the law
but the implementation is quite problematic. For example, attempts
to bring suspected torturers to justice are impeded by a number
of factors. Some of them are based in law. For example, there
is a law for the prosecution of civil servants which requires
that the senior of the suspect has to give permission for an investigation
to be opened, so that is a legal impediment, but once that step
has been taken then a number of factors contribute, for example,
problems in getting medical evidence. There is a lack of training
in forensic medicine outside Istanbul or in the more provincial
areas or other provincial capitals. There is the intimidation
of both doctors and patients by the police and the gendarmerie
who accompany them. Then once medical evidence has been obtained
courts often do not accept independent medical evidence. They
refer all medical questions to a non-independent forensic institute
which is then on the other side overburdened with work. They do
not often accept psychiatric reports although we have stressed
that, especially when it comes to rape allegations, psychiatric
reports are very important. There is a reluctance by the prosecutors
and sometimes the court to deal with these cases so there are
a number of factors which make it very difficult.
159. Something you said occurred to me. We are
very much used to a unitary system of government and, for that
matter, justice but we tend to forget in the United Kingdom that
many places, even if they do not have devolved parliaments, might
have devolved government, and presumablyand this is a question,
not a statementthe administration of justice, prosecutions
as well and investigations, would vary from governor to governor,
would it, or prefect to prefect?
(Dr Wedel) Yes. For example, under this law for the
prosecution of civil servants it is for the governor to give permission
for one of the police officers in his area to be prosecuted so
there they play an active role. Some local human rights defenders
have done, for example, a study in Diyarbakir, in no case has
such permission been given by the local governor.
11 Note by witness: The Human Rights Foundation
of Turkey has its headquarters in Ankara and also offices in Istanbul,
Izmir, Adana and Diyarbakir. The office in Diyarbakir in the southeast
has recently come under increased pressure. Back
Note by witness: Having studied the files of some 30 formal
complaints of torture a local human rights defender found out
that between the beginning of 1999 and the middle of 2000 the
governor of Diyarbakir did not give permission for a prosecution
for torture in any of the cases submitted to him. Back