Background Briefing

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The public of Turkey, which applied for E.U. membership in 1987, was shocked when Croatia was given a date for membership negotiations in June 2004 after having only applied in 2003. However, the Turkish government’s policies stand in contrast to those of Croatia on the crucial question of displacement. It is significant that, despite shortcomings in the process, UNHCR and the OSCE were integrated in the development, implementation, monitoring, and funding of initiatives to address problems related to the return of Croatian Serbs who had been displaced to neighboring countries. It is inconceivable that Croatia would have made such progress if it had resisted partnership with the international community on this issue.

In the course of the fifteen-year armed conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK, Turkish security forces committed grave human rights and humanitarian law violations against the residents of the region, forcing many hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. For over a decade now, the Turkish government has consistently failed to acknowledge the widespread and severe human rights abuses committed by its security forces, much less to provide restitution to its victims or facilitate their return to their homes. Today over 380,000 persons remain internally displaced throughout Turkey, most living in poverty and despair. The displaced cannot afford to rely on government promises of good faith; they need to see concrete action. The international community, if truly committed to resolving the plight of the IDPs of Turkey, can also ill afford to rely on verbal promises from the Turkish government. It must also insist on concrete action.

The role of international agencies has been repeatedly identified as a key element in an effective return process by all intergovernmental bodies that have looked at the situation in Turkey. It has also been given lip-service by the Turkish government which has declared that it is “determined to deal with [the return of the displaced] … in cooperation with international bodies, especially the U.N. and the EU.” In practice, however, the government continues to hold the international community at arm’s length.

The Turkish government’s failure to move from dialogue to action raises serious doubts about its good faith commitment to a successful returns process for those displaced by the armed conflict in the southeast. Without a formal partnership with international organizations, it is probable that the government will continue its ten year strategy of delay and ultimately never provide for the return of its internally displaced.

Nothing in the accession process to date has resulted in a fundamental change in the Turkish government’s policies on the internally displaced. Its response has been wholly inadequate. The government can point to just three steps it has taken for the displaced. Firstly, it claims to have procured the return of a quarter of the displaced, but has never given any information about which villages have been repopulated, or what it has done to support their return. Secondly, it is working with UNHCR in arranging the return of a group of about 10,000 Kurdish villagers who fled from Şırnak province across the border to Iraq in 1994 when Turkish air force jets and helicopters bombed villages killing 36 villagers, including 17 children. Thirdly, it has passed a compensation law which cannot be assessed for effectiveness until well into 2005. The government cannot pass these measures off as effective action for the displaced while it continues to ignore the recommendations of the SRSG and the PACE for introducing an intergovernmental element into its return program.

To date, the E.U. accession process has managed to place the concerns of IDPs onto the Turkish government’s agenda, but it has done little to resolve their plight or ensure that they are provide with financial compensation and reconstruction aid. The period from October – December 2004 – the time before the European Commission determines whether Turkey will get a firm date to begin membership negotiations – may provide a last opportunity for the displaced to obtain substantial assistance from the international community, which did absolutely nothing to prevent their original displacement.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>October 2004