March 7, 2005

Introduction

Security forces in Turkey forcibly displaced Kurdish rural communities during the 1980s and 1990s in order to combat the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) insurgency, which drew its membership and logistical support from the local peasant population. Turkish security forces did not distinguish the armed militants they were pursuing from the civilian population they were supposed to be protecting. That failure can in part be explained by the fact that Turkish security forces knew that the civilian population included people who were supplying and hiding the militants, willingly or unwillingly. The local gendarmerie (soldiers who police rural areas) required villages to show their loyalty by forming platoons of "provisional village guards," armed, paid, and supervised by the local gendarmerie post. Villagers were faced with a frightening dilemma. They could become village guards and risk being attacked by the PKK or refuse and be forcibly evacuated from their communities.

Evacuations were unlawful and violent. Security forces would surround a village using helicopters, armored vehicles, troops, and village guards, and burn stored produce, agricultural equipment, crops, orchards, forests, and livestock. They set fire to houses, often giving the inhabitants no opportunity to retrieve their possessions. During the course of such operations, security forces frequently abused and humiliated villagers, stole their property and cash, and ill-treated or tortured them before herding them onto the roads and away from their former homes. The operations were marked by scores of "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions. By the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been virtually wiped from the map, and, according to official figures, 378,335 Kurdish villagers had been displaced and left homeless.

In the intervening decade, Turkey has embarked on a convincing program of human rights reform which has been internationally recognized and welcomed. However, that reform has not yet significantly benefited IDPs in Turkey. Most are in much the same situation as they were a decade ago: still displaced and living in harsh conditions in cities throughout the country. Declining political violence has improved security in the region, but in many areas the countryside is still not safe, and certainly not welcoming. Government assistance for return continues to be arbitrary, lacking in transparency, inconsistent, and insufficient.

In 2004, the Turkish government announced three initiatives to assist the displaced: the creation of a government agency with special responsibility for IDPs; a project for IDPs to be jointly undertaken by UNDP and the Turkish government; and the Law on Compensation for Damage Arising from Terror and Combatting Terror (Law 5233 – " Compensation Law"). While the measures look like positive steps, past experience suggests caution. Earlier return schemes, introduced over the last decade, have fallen short of the claims the government made for them.[2]

As of February 2005, the government had not established the proposed IDP agency, had not approved the UNDP project, and had made no rulings under the Compensation Law. After a decade of disappointments, IDPs and the nongovernmental organizations concerned with their plight, are keen that these initiatives are implemented promptly and fairly, and that they are accorded sufficient political support and funding to make a serious impact on the problem.

Turkish government efforts to resolve the situation of IDPs are coming under increasing international scrutiny. The SRSG visited Turkey in May 2002, and submitted a series of recommendations to the Turkish government in November of that year.[3] In May 2003, the E.U. revised its Accession Partnership with Turkey to include a requirement that "the return of internally displaced persons to their original settlements should be supported and speeded up."[4] In June 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended that the government should "move from a dialogue to a formal partnership with U.N. agencies to work for a return in safety and dignity of those internally displaced by the conflict in the 1990s."[5]

International attention to Turkey's IDP problem has worked to the extent that it has persuaded the Turkish state to share its plans with the United Nations, European Union and other intergovernmental organizations, and to acknowledge the standards embodied in the U.N. Guiding Principles in developing those plans. But the pressure also seems to have led the government to present an over-optimistic picture of the progress on return. It has taken ten years to focus international attention on internal displacement in Turkey, and it would be disappointing if that attention were to waver because of official statistics suggesting that the problem is well on the way to a resolution. It is not.

[2] For a survey of such initiatives up to 1996, see: Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, "Turkey's failed policy to aid the forcibly displaced in the southeast," A Human Rights Watch report, vol. 8, no. 9 (D),June 1996. For an evaluation of the 1999 Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project, see Human Rights Watch, "Displaced and Disregarded:Turkey's Failing Village Return Program," A Human Rights Watch report, vol. 14, no. 7 (D), October 2002.

[3] United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR), 27 November 2002, Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Mr. Francis Deng, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/56, Profiles in displacement: Turkey, E/CN.4/2003/86/Add.2.

[4] European Commission, Turkey: 2003 Accession Partnership, May 19, 2003, Priorities (2003/2004).

[5] Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1380 (2004), adopted June 22, 2004, 23.viii.