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Perhaps I may turn to the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in relation to the Suriyani community, which were so apposite. We share his concerns about the fate of that community in Turkey. Theirs is one of the most tragic stories of the region. Our Ambassador and members of his staff in Ankara have drawn that concern to the attention of the Turkish Government and will continue to do so. They also visit the area where the Suriyani live and there will be another such visit early next month.
Earlier I mentioned the PKK and I must say one thing about the ceasefire. I have some sympathy with the extreme scepticism with which the Turkish Government view the PKK ceasefire. Their doubts about the credibility and genuineness of that ceasefire are based on bitter experience. But, as I said earlier, it is not
Anxiety was expressed in this House, in the press and in letters, about the killing of 11 people in a bus in Shirnak. There was much speculation on who was responsible for that act. It appeared at first that the PKK claimed responsibility and now that organisation seems to deny it. All such incidents underline the need for openness and transparency in establishing where the true responsibility lies. Turkey owes it to its friends and critics, and above all to itself, not to let doubts persist and to resolve the matter openly and fairly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me about our work in making representations to the Turkish authorities in regard to individual cases, including that of Mehde Zana. The Government make continual representations, and I shall be seeing our Ambassador from Ankara in a few days' time. I shall not only give him a copy of the Hansard containing your Lordships' debate but shall also brief him on the other information we have. Those exchanges are valuable in our efforts to try to help the Turkish Government come to terms with a problem it cannot ignore.
Let me come back to the customs union, which cropped up on a number of occasions this evening. I understand why a number of noble Lords have been anxious about the growing contact between Turkey and the European Union and now the customs union, which came into force at the beginning of this year. Britain welcomed that development. We believe that Turkey's relationship with the rest of Europe can best be improved by that closer contact. Members of the European Parliament who voted for it last December made a wise decision. Some, I know, voted in favour but with little enthusiasm, and others voted against.
I know the strength and sincerity of the reservations about that step; but I want to respond to those who say that it was a wrong step. A rebuff on the customs union would have been a dismal message to send to those in Turkey who are working hard to promote change. Far from stimulating greater efforts to reform, it would have stopped those efforts in their tracks. I well understand those who seem to argue that the price of the customs union was sold too cheaply; that somehow a greater price in terms of legal and human rights reform should have been extracted. But that argument distorts the relationship between the customs union and a changing Turkey. The customs union is not just some "giveaway".
I make one further point in that context. Last year, when the customs union came into fruition, saw real progress in some reforms, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said; not enough, but some real progress. I share the view that those reforms must go much further than they did. But amendments to the Turkish constitution and changes in the anti-terrorism law resulted in the release of a good many people from prison and the prospect set out in the five-year plan adopted by the Turkish Parliament in July of greater decision-making power devolved to local government.
On Article 8, let me say to the noble Baroness that there is need for more change. The changes were more than cosmetic. Many people would not have been released had there not been a substantial change. But we are pressing for more action to enable full freedom of expression to be upheld. That is a view which we shall continue to make clear to the Turkish Government and shall continue to pursue actively.
Other questions were raised in the debate, particularly in relation to what more we can do. One suggestion is that the International Committee of the Red Cross might operate in the region. While that is a matter for the Turkish authorities, we are fully prepared to discuss that possibility with the ICRC. We believe that it has a unique role to play and fully support its activities as the guardian of international humanitarian law. That would be an apt move forward.
I was asked one or two specific questions to which I shall reply in writing. In closing, let me say this. We cannot force the involvement of any group, such as Amnesty, however good it is, or UN rapporteurs, down Turkish throats. But we welcome and encourage Turkish co-operation with any organisation which will help to improve human rights. We must see action and there is no question in the case of Turkey that there is a great deal more to be done to bring its performance on human rights into line with the commitment that it has already given. We have a basis for promoting progress and improvement--not through isolation; not through shouting; but working with them to bring about that improvement--and that is exactly what we intend to see done.
Lord Rea: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may take her back to a point on which she touched. I refer to the possibility of tentatively opening up a dialogue between the PKK and the Turkish Government. Surely every long-standing civil conflict over the past 50 years has eventually been ended by talks with the leader of the armed opposition, even though he was reviled as the devil incarnate while the actual conflict was going on. Is there any way that the noble Baroness feels Her Majesty's Government could encourage talks about talks taking place? That is surely the way to an eventual political solution.
Baroness Chalker: My Lords, it is easy to say that one should encourage the government of another country to find a way to talk to those who fundamentally disagree with it and are prepared to use arms against it. I do not believe, unless there is a ceasefire which actually works, and is seen to work over a period of time, that those talks would have any validity. Therefore, whatever we in the British Government may think, the ceasefire must be real and continuing before the talks can have any chance of success.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may pick up where the noble Baroness left off. There is a ceasefire operating at the moment whether or not the incident near Sirnak was the responsibility of the PKK or of the state. An official ceasefire has been called by the PKK and that continues. This is perhaps a unique opportunity for entering into the kind of negotiations which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has outlined. If the negotiations are not to be with the PKK, then who else is there on the horizon? As we have heard, the conventional opposition in Parliament has been wiped off the map, first by the destruction of the DEM; and, secondly, by the 10 per cent. threshold that prevented HADEP from gaining any representation in the new Parliament.
If, as the noble Baroness said, a purely military response can never solve the problem, the Turkish authorities must either negotiate with the PKK or identify some other body representative of Kurdish opinion with whom the negotiations can start. That does not have to wait for a total ceasefire any more than it did in El Salvador, for example, where, as the noble Baroness will remember, accords were reached while the armed conflict with the FMLN was still in progress.
I say in conclusion how very grateful I am to all noble Lords who have taken part and particularly for the many constructive suggestions that they made. I thought the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, were particularly useful. Even if we cannot have a human rights officer in the British Embassy in Ankara, we can pursue the idea which the noble Baroness mentioned and which we have been discussing in correspondence; namely, that the European Union as a whole might find some way of sharing the burden of looking at the question of human rights so that each of the embassies does not have the enormous amount of work to do, which at present is falling on us and us alone, in terms of attending trials, going down to the south east, and so on. This is something that we can discuss and share with our European partners.
I was very encouraged by what the noble Baroness said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and his remarks about the state of public health in the shanty towns of the Diyarbakir and elsewhere and that there might be some way in which we can offer some constructive help in looking after the displaced people of whom there are between 2 million and 3 million. If that can be done then we have a carrot to offer the Turkish authorities as well as the stick of always beating them around the head with human rights violations. It could be a quid pro quo.
If we go there with aid to help the innocent victims of the conflict it could persuade them to pay more attention to what we say about human rights violations, not only as regards the Kurds, who have been uppermost in our thoughts in this debate, but also the other minorities such as those mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I particularly sympathise with what he said. I believe it was my honourable friend David Alton who visited that community and recently made a very moving report on it for the Jubilee Trust.
I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, did not get a complete answer to her question on the misuse of arms because it is not a matter solely for the British Government, but for the OSCE. It is all very well to say that there are agreements with other OSCE states on not using arms for internal repression or for the exacerbation of an existing armed conflict, as was the case in Nagorno Karabakh. The question is what mechanism is available apart from raising the matter across the Floor of the House where we have a nice debate and then go home and nothing further happens? The fact that the international community and the NGOs in particular, do not have a means of raising this with the alleged offenders who are supplying the weapons means that the governments are judge and jury in their own case.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was right when he put his finger on the straitjacket of unitary centralised government. Unless we can get the Turks to move on that, they are not going to move on the question of freedom of expression. The central point in their constitution is not being able to do anything that undermines the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state, public and people. That means if one says or does anything which is in contravention of that principle, one is ipso facto committing a criminal offence. That means that freedom of expression entails some further amendments of the Turkish constitution in a way which may be very difficult for them because it departs from something which dates back to the time of Ataturk.
The noble Lord raised the question of MED-TV. I know that the noble Baroness did not have time to deal with that. It is extremely important that if we uphold the principle of freedom of expression, it extends to people operating on our own soil. We are not to give way to blackmail by states which do not like what broadcasting authorities or even individuals, who are exiles from their own country, have to say about human rights violations back at home.
I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for raising another point that was not dealt with--that is to say, the financial agreement with Turkey, which I know caused consternation among many of our colleagues in the European Parliament. It was not just regarding this particular instance. I thought that there were general clauses inserted in the agreement which had been agreed by the European Parliament, yet we find suddenly in this instance that the wording was changed between the first draft and the final document presented for the European Parliament to agree. No one knew what went on behind the scenes or why the Council of Ministers suddenly decided to make any violation of human rights that the Turkish Government committed under this agreement the subject of unanimity instead of majority voting. It seems to me that if one does that one might as well throw away all the human rights clauses in agreements that we have with third countries.
It only remains for me to say how extraordinarily grateful I am to everybody who has spoken in this debate, which I found not only useful but constructive. I hope that it will enable us to bring additional pressure to bear on the Turks within the parameters that the noble Baroness has outlined. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.