The displaced were fortunate that the E.U. called for action on their behalf in the May 2003 Revised Accession Partnership. The partnership document requires that the return of internally displaced persons to their original settlements should be supported and speeded up. The Accession Partnership is prepared by the European Commission, and lays out the requirements that Turkey must fulfil in order to meet the Copenhagen Criteria. The first partnership document, published in 1999, did not specifically refer to the displaced. The Turkish governments progress in meeting the requirements of the partnership is recorded in the Regular Report, which is issued yearly by the European Commission. In its most recent Regular Report, published in October 2003, the Commission accurately described the misery of the current situation of the displaced, the difficulties of return, and the inadequate government response:
The situation of internally displaced persons is still critical. A large number of those displaced live in extremely poor conditions on the periphery of cities and larger villages. Social and economic problems remain acute and unemployment rates are very high. Other concerns include the improvement of housing conditions, greater access to educational and health facilities and psychosocial care for women and children. Children are particularly exposed to physical, sexual and drug abuse as well as to police brutality. It is estimated that there are 10,000 "street children" in the Diyarbakır area.
Implementation of the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project has continued, though at a very slow pace and inconsistently, some regions progressing quicker than others. According to official sources, 82,000 people were authorised to return to their villages in the period between January 2000 to January 2003. There is, however, concern regarding the lack of transparency and adequacy of consultation in the development of this project and disquiet about the absence of a clear strategy that explains the project aims, scope and budgetary implications. The number of areas where access is still prohibited has been reduced, but authorisation to return is still difficult to obtain. Although limited financial assistance has been provided to some returnees, there is a more general lack of financial resources to support return to villages, to compensate villagers for the destruction of houses or dwellings and to develop basic infrastructure in areas previously subject to armed clashes.
There are reportedly many landmines in the region, which have resulted in casualties.
The issue of village guards remains unresolved. Several incidents have resulted in casualties, including the deaths of some returnees who had been authorised to return to their villages. Judicial procedures have been opened against some village guards involved in murders.
The 2004 Regular Report is expected to be published on October 6, together with an opinion as to whether or not Turkey has met the political criteria and should therefore move to the next stage of its candidacy, which would result in the setting of a date for negotiations to begin. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any developments that would justify a more optimistic evaluation of the situation this year.
In view of the very poor performance of the governments earlier return schemes, observers were particularly interested in the report of the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons (SRSG), Dr. Francis Deng, who visited Turkey in 2002. The SRSG made a number of recommendations, including that the village guards should be disarmed and disbanded, which have been largely ignored by the Turkish government. The SRSG also made recommendation as to how the whole process could be galvanized by the active involvement of the international community. He stated that What is critically important is that an opportunity now exists for the international community to work with the Government in facilitating the voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration of the displaced. An open and constructive partnership involving the Government, civil society and international agencies would serve to facilitate the timely and effective implementation of the Governments return and resettlement policy. The SRSG went on to make recommendations for cooperation between the Turkish government and international governmental organizations with an interest in the return of the displaced.
Human Rights Watch believes that the best way to ensure a successful returns process would be for the Turkish government to commit to a plan of action that provides for the specific involvement of international organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which are already working in Turkey and have the expertise and means to facilitate returns. The involvement of such U.N. agencies, as well as other relevant bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the E.U., would ensure that any government return programs are in accordance with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and that the programs are actually implemented on the ground. This guarantee of quality and experience would also greatly facilitate attracting international funding.
Following the release of Dengs report, the Turkish government began a dialogue with the United Nations, World Bank, and the European Commission. In its 2003 Regular Report, the European Commission was upbeat, noting that the possibility of collaboration with the international community could be a significant step: the question of internally displaced persons remains to be addressed, albeit the Turkish side has recently started, together with international partners, some promising initiatives. Although Human Rights Watch had hoped that this dialogue would signal the beginning of a successful return program, the Turkish government has failed to turn its dialogue into action. No full public account of the dialogue has yet been given, but the Turkish government announced that a technical experts group had held meetings in the first half of 2004. This group apparently agreed that additional research should be carried out to determine the actual state of returns and the scale of the remaining problem. Although U.N. members of this group reportedly suggested that the research be conducted jointly between the U.N. and Turkish institutions, the Turkish government instead funded the Population Studies Institute of Ankaras Hacettepe University to conduct the study. Given the Turkish governments reluctance to deepen engagement with intergovernmental bodies, this step appears to be only the most recent effort by the Turkish government to avoid internationalizing its displacement problem.
The Council of Europe
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which had imposed human rights monitoring on Turkey in 1996 as a result of the patterns of gross human rights violations in the preceding years, lifted the mechanism in June this year in the light of progress since that date. However, as part of this decision, the assembly stressed that a number of issues required further vigilance. On the question of the internally displaced, it recommended that the government should move from a dialogue to a formal partnership with UN agencies to work for a return in safety and dignity of those internally displaced by the conflict in the 1990s.
The European Commission will, Human Rights Watch hopes, acknowledge this recommendation of the PACE in the 2004 Regular Report expected on October 6. PACE was right to draw a distinction between dialogue and collaboration. The Commission should take steps to address effectively the concerns it has already identified in the partnership document and successive regular reports, and use the accession process and the months before December to ensure that there has been concrete progress in this area. An effective partnership would require a formal agreement between stakeholders, a plan of action, a timetable, and a statement of the principles to be applied in the further development of the plan and its implementation.