The capture of the PKK's leader Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK's announcement that it was to abandon armed activities in Turkey have much reduced the armed turbulence in the southeastern provinces. Some units of the PKK have continued sporadic attacks and there have been clashes between security forces and PKK groups withdrawing to Northern Iraq. The illegal armed organization TIKKO (Workers and Peasants' Army of Turkey) is also continuing its activities. Nevertheless, the number of clashes has diminished considerably. The Anatolia News Agency reported on May 25, 2000 that armed incidents had decreased from 3,300 in 1994, 1,436 in 1995, 488 in 1999 and 18 in the first five months of 2000.
But normality has not returned to the region. A state of emergency continues in six provinces-Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Sirnak, Siirt, Tunceli, and Van. More than 60,000 villagers are still armed and paid by the state as village guards. Over 300,000 people remain internally displaced.
As the violence that provoked the emergency subsides, cross-party pressure for ending the emergency has increased. Under the State of Emergency Law of 1983 and supplementary decrees, the Emergency Region Governor has sweeping powers to move populations, confiscate publications and limit the right of assembly. Maximum police detention periods can be extended from seven to ten days within the emergency region. The Governor's extraordinary powers are still regularly exercised. For example, in May this year, the Emergency Region Governor banned the distribution of twelve journals. Rights to compensation for acts carried out by the Emergency Region Governor are limited, and there is no judicial review of actions carried out under the Governor's authority.
The government's village guard system has been a human rights disaster. The system was established in the mid-1980s, ostensibly so that village guards could defend their own villages. In fact they have been used in a wide range of security operations, including incursions into Northern Iraq. In theory membership in the village guard corps was voluntary, but in practice, it was a test of loyalty that made villagers choose to serve and risk being killed by the PKK, or refuse and put themselves under suspicion of supporting the PKK. The village guard corps was never given a proper chain of command and responsibility, and most village guards on duty have no insignia by which they can be identified. In some districts of the southeast, local tribal loyalties have combined with the village guard system to produce a series of private and heavily armed fiefdoms. Human Rights Watch has received many reports of village guards being involved in "disappearances," extrajudicial executions and torture. The April 1995 report of the Turkish Parliament's Commission on Unsolved Political Killings confirmed that village guards were involved in a wide range of lawless activities, including killing and extortion, and called for their abolition.
Accession Partnership Recommendation:
* The Turkish government should proceed as soon as possible, without any further delay, to disarm and dissolve the village guard system. This measure is not specified in the Report or the Calendar.
According to the Turkish Parliament's Commission on Migration, 401,328 villagers have been displaced since 1984.48 Many other observers claim a much higher figure. The population of Diyarbakir, the regional capital, increased by 600,000 during the 1990s. In most cases, these villagers were not evacuated in an orderly fashion, resettled, or compensated. Rather, they were driven from their homes by security forces who left burned houses and destroyed crops and livestock in their wake. A large number of petitions have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights in respect of village destruction, and three important judgments have already been reached against Turkey.49
The findings of the European Commission on Human Rights in the Mentes case eloquently describe the officially sanctioned lawlessness that broke out all over southeast Turkey in the 1990s: "The Commission considered that the burning of the first three applicants' homes constituted an act of violence and deliberate destruction in utter disregard of the safety and welfare of the applicants and their children who were left without shelter and assistance and in circumstances which caused them anguish and suffering. It noted in particular the traumatic circumstances in which the applicants were prevented from saving their personal belongings and the dire personal situation in which they subsequently found themselves, being deprived of their own homes in their village and the livelihood which they had been able to derive from their gardens and fields."50
All displaced villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch have spoken of their wish to return to their homes. The Turkish government has taken at least two initiatives for return, both of which were extremely problematic, as described in Human Rights Watch's 1996 report Turkey's Failed Policy to Aid the Forcibly Displaced in the Southeast.51
There remain two principle obstacles to return. First, it is not clear that villagers can safely go home. Quite apart from the risk of activities by remnant PKK elements, the security forces do not seem fully to have abandoned their former abuses. The most recent case of village destruction known to Human Rights Watch was in 1998; but as recently as February 17, 2000 the newspaper Ozgur Bakis (Free View) reported that Savet village, near Beytussebab in Sirnak province, had been raided by security forces who threatened the community with forcible evacuation. On February 26 the same newspaper reported that Kenik village, near Kozluk in Batman province, had been subjected to similar threats.
Second, the government lacks a clear will to return all displaced villagers to their original homes and is still pressing forward with its projects for "central villages" (köykent) into which some villagers would be permanently resettled on government land in communities under the eye of the security forces.52
In any event, returns to villages have been slow. The US State Department's annual human rights report for 1999 quotes a government figure for total number of returnees of 26,481. Even calculated on the basis of the Parliamentary Commission's conservative estimate for the number of displaced this represents an achievement of only 6.59%.
Principle 28 of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement53 speaks of governments' duty "to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country." The principles also emphasize that the displaced persons should participate in the planning and management of their return, that they should not be discriminated against as a result of hiving been displaced. The principles also require that governments should facilitate the assistance of " international humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors" in the return or resettlement process.
Accession Partnership Recommendation:
* The Turkish government should commence a program that will create the necessary security conditions to allow villagers to return to their original homes and property, or place of former habitual residence, throughout the southeast, in safety and security and with full human rights guarantees. The program of return should be fully resourced and access to those resources should not be conditional on service in the village guard corps. Villagers should be fully compensated for their displacement and the destruction of their houses, goods and livestock. In preparing the return program, the Turkish government should consult bodies and persons with experience in this field, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Internally Displaced Persons, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Bank, and make public the recommendations of such bodies. These measures are not specified in the Report or the Calendar.
Failure to investigate "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions committed during the 1990s
The program of village destruction was carried out in a context of widespread security force abuses that have not yet been acknowledged by the government. During operations in the rural southeast, torture was the standard tool of intelligence gathering, and anyone who came under suspicion of illegal activities was at risk of extrajudicial execution or "disappearance".
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the Turkish government to institute investigatory commissions into these violations, in accordance with the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal Arbitrary and Summary Executions and the U.N. Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Human Rights Watch shares the general optimism that the nightmare in the southeast is drawing to an end, but it is a chapter that cannot be closed until there has been a comprehensive and public examination of the violations committed by the security forces and illegal armed organizations, punishment of those responsible, and compensation of the victims. At one remove, a form of truth commission is already in session in Strasbourg as a succession of complaints for torture, extrajudicial execution, "disappearance" and house destruction-currently more than 2,500-are heard at the European Court of Human Rights. This coming to terms with the past should be taking place in the full view of Turkish public opinion and with the active involvement of Turkish institutions.
Accession Partnership Recommendation:
* The Turkish government should institute a full commission of inquiry into the human rights violations committed during the course of the fifteen year conflict with the PKK. The members of the commission should be expert and independent persons, known for their commitment to human rights. The commission should provide protection for witnesses, and should be empowered, without prejudice to the rights of the accused, to require members of the security forces to give evidence and reveal documentary and other evidence. Where violations are established to have taken place, those responsible should be brought to justice, and the victims compensated. These measures are not specified in the Report or the Calendar.
48 Turkish Daily News, June 7, 1998.
49 European Court of Human Rights, Mentes and others, November 28, 1996; Akdivar and others, December 18, 1996; Selçuk and Asker, April 24, 1998.
50 European Court of Human Rights, Mentes and others, November 28, 1996, paragraph 76.
51 June 1996,Vol. 8, No. 9 (D).
52 It appears that resettlement into central villages may be conditional on security checks. In May 1999 Human Rights Watch was informed that villagers had been told that they would not be admitted to the "central village" of Konalga village, near Van, unless they agreed to join the village guard corps.
53 E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2, 11 February 1998.