Principle 25, paragraphs 2 and 3, of the U.N. Guiding Principles state: "International humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced. Such an offer shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act or an interference in a State's internal affairs and shall be considered in good faith. Consent thereto shall not be arbitrarily withheld, particularly when authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance. All authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced."
International nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are able to visit the southeast, though under close surveillance. Human Rights Watch was initially denied access to one returned village in July 2001, but permitted to travel two days later. Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations are more or less absent from the southeast. Attempts by Médecins Sans Frontières to provide medical aid to vulnerable groups in Diyarbakır were blocked by the Turkish government.204
But the picture with regard to access by intergovernmental humanitarian organizations is not much better than for nongovernmental organizations. Human Rights Watch addressed the Turkish government in October 2001 to urge that international expert bodies such as UNHCR, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the World Bank be invited to contribute to the planning and implementation of any projects for the return of displaced people. The Turkish government did not reply.
Turkey, a state party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, continues to refuse the ICRC access to places of detention or to the displaced populations of the southeast.205
The OSCE has gained considerable experience on forced migration from its work in several Balkan and Caucasus states, but to Human Rights Watch's knowledge, no OSCE body has been asked for advice on the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project, much less become actively involved in the design and implementation of the project.
The overall human rights situation in Turkey is still under a monitoring procedure opened by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 1996, and the Monitoring Committee has been asked to keep a watch on the status of the Kurdish minority. In 1998, the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography produced a report that accurately outlined the scale of the displacement in southeast Turkey and made many valuable recommendations including explicit respect for the cultural rights of minorities, lifting the state of emergency, and abolition of the village guard system.206 With respect to the internally displaced, it urged the government of Turkey, "in cooperation with international humanitarian organizations," to develop, "a major programme with a view to encouraging the return of the Kurdish population to their homes; to present reconstruction projects to be financed by the Council of Europe's Social Development Fund, in the framework of return programmes; to adopt measures to integrate those displaced persons of Kurdish origin who wish to settle in other parts of Turkey, and provide them, as well as returnees, with compensation for property damaged by the Turkish armed forces where the case arises."
PACE has maintained its interest in the plight of Turkey's internally displaced. In October 2001, John Connor, the rapporteur of the Committee of Migration, Refugees and Demography, visited Turkey. In the report on his visit, the rapporteur called for the pace of returns to be increased and recommended that the Turkish authorities refrain from further evacuations, abolish the village guard system, and lift the state of emergency. He also urged that the government involve the displaced, as well as international humanitarian organizations and local municipalities in preparing and implementing return projects. He further noted that international finance could help the Turkish government in what promises to be a costly matter, suggesting that the Council of Europe's Development Bank should consider positively projects to finance the return of Turkey's displaced.207
Connor's recommendations are sound, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that they will be implemented. They broadly reflect the Committee's 1998 recommendations, which were largely ignored. But Turkey may respond to demands made by the Committee of Ministers, and the Parliamentary Assembly is in a position to keep the issue of village return on the Committee of Ministers' agenda. Human Rights Watch hopes that John Connor's visit will mark the beginning of a closer engagement by the whole Council of Europe in the fate of internally displaced people in Turkey.
Turkey became a candidate for E.U. membership at the Helsinki summit in 1999. In theory, the demand that Turkey fulfill strict political conditions concerning human rights and democracy (the Copenhagen Criteria) should have provided excellent leverage on a wide range of human rights problems, including the treatment of the internally displaced. Progress has been much slower than hoped. At first, the European Union was too easily convinced by rhetoric from the Turkish government. With experience, the Commission has become more shrewd in its evaluations, and the 2001 Regular Report On Turkey's Progress Towards Accession gave a more realistic assessment of progress.208 But its treatment of the return question (under the heading "Minority rights and the protection of minorities")209 was disappointing. The report merely reproduced government statistics on the rate of return, apparently without checking them against the facts on the ground. The 2002 Regular Report gave a sharper picture, contrasting an estimated figure of 378,000 to one million for the number of displaced, with an official figure of 37,000 for the number of villagers that have returned. The E.U. representation has an unequalled level of access to Turkish government information and also to the region where the displacements occurred. It should use its unique position to uncover the true picture of what is happening in the countryside and also to influence the Turkish government to adopt and implement a more acceptable policy.
In recent years UNHCR has assumed increasing responsibilities with respect to internally displaced persons worldwide and has acted as a lead agency on behalf of internally displaced persons and refugees for the U.N. in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.210 UNHCR has representation in Turkey with several field offices, and it carries out status determination and resettlement of refugees from non-European countries whom Turkey does not recognize as refugees as a consequence of its geographic limitation to its ratification of the 1951 Convention.211 UNHCR has not carried out any work with respect to the internally displaced in Turkey. As the U.N. Resident Coordinator with responsibility for coordinating humanitarian assistance in Turkey, UNDP is mandated with the task of "coordinating assistance to the internally displaced, in close cooperation with Governments, local representatives of donor countries, and the United Nations agencies in the field,"212 Yet it appears the Turkish government has not involved the UNDP in its plans for the displaced villagers. A UNDP official told Human Rights Watch that it had "no input into the Village Return and Rehabilitation Project."213
At least one U.N. mechanism has finally been invited to make a contribution. Several years after his first request for a visit, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Francis Deng, finally received an invitation from the Turkish Government in 2001.214 Dr. Deng visited Turkey from May 26 to June 2, 2002, and his report is currently in preparation. In a public statement on June 5, 2002, Dr. Deng noted the widely shared perception that the Turkish government is refusing to seek international assistance in securing returns because this would necessitate acknowledging its own role in creating the problem, but contrasted this with "surprising openness and transparency" on the part of the government officials and ministers whom he met during his visit to the country. His official contacts were apparently prepared to concede that government forces were implicated in forcible evacuation, to accept a positive responsibility to assist in return, and to welcome input from the international community.
Such openness is certainly unprecedented. It contrasts rather sharply with the official responses that villagers report, and it is to be hoped that the new openness was not merely a display for the U.N. Special Representative's benefit. At any rate, Dr. Deng gave some clues as to how the government can demonstrate its new attitude. He called on the government to formulate a clear policy on return and to ensure that the policies are fully transparent, and he concluded with a firm expectation that intergovernmental organizations and civil society will now be brought into the process: "What is critically important in the view of the Representative is that an opportunity now exists for the international community to assist the Government of Turkey in the challenging task of facilitating the voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration of the displaced population."215
206 Humanitarian situation of the Kurdish refugees and displaced persons in South-East Turkey and North Iraq, Doc 8131, June 3, 1998. On the basis of the report the Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution echoing its recommendations: Humanitarian situation of the Kurdish refugees and displaced persons in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq, Recommendation 1377, June 25, 1998. It also passed Order No. 545 (1998) resolving closer involvement in the issue and asking relevant committees to study the issues more closely.
207 John Connor, Rapporteur, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Humanitarian situation of the displaced Kurdish population in Turkey, Doc. 9391, March 22, 2002.
210 UNHCR's Statute does not entrust the organization with any specific legal obligations toward internally displaced persons, but the agency has had a limited operational involvement with IDPs since the 1970s. An article in UNHCR's Statute states that the High Commissioner for Refugees may "...engage in such activities...as the General Assembly may determine within the limits of the resources placed at [her] disposal" (Article 9). On the basis of this Article, the U.N. General Assembly has, on certain occasions, authorized the High Commissioner to act on behalf of internally displaced persons. The U.N. General Assembly has set the following criteria that UNHCR must meet if it undertakes activities on behalf of internally displaced persons:
a) obtain a specific request for involvement from the General Assembly, the Secretary General or another principal organ of the United Nations, such as the Economic and Social Council
In addition, UNHCR has developed its own criteria to guide its activities with IDPs. These include:
a) staff security
Finally, UNHCR has developed its own criteria for determining where it will get involved with internally displaced persons. These include:
a) where IDPs are located in the same areas as refugees or returnees and are affected by the same circumstances
211 Turkey retains a geographic limitation to its ratification of the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees ("Refugee Convention"), which means that only those fleeing as a consequence of "events occurring in Europe" can be given refugee status. For many years UNHCR conducted refugee status determination of non-Europeans independent of the government and attempted to resettle in third countries those whom it determined to be refugees. In November 1994, Turkey passed regulations on the treatment of asylum seekers. The regulations give the Turkish government the task of status determination of non-Europeans and lay down procedures to determine this status in accordance with the refugee definition in the Refugee Convention. Those who pass the test are referred to UNHCR for resettlement to a third country. The system as it currently stands is extremely hazardous for non-European refugees and various stages of the process put them at risk of refoulement.
214 Report of the Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Francis Deng, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/53, E/CN.4/2001/5, January 17, 2001.