Mr. Selçuk Polat
Dear Selçuk Polat,
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a non-governmental organization that works to protect fundamental human rights around the world, conducting systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries. Since its foundation in 1978, HRW has monitored developments in Turkey. The organization documented the forcible displacement of villagers from the southeast in the early 1990s, and in June 1996 published "Turkey's Failed Policy To Aid The Forcibly Displaced In The Southeast," based on field research conducted in the region. In June and July this year a HRW delegate visited Turkey and interviewed many displaced villagers, as well as representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations with an interest in this issue, in order to assess the progress of return in the light of international human rights standards, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles).
In 1997 the Emergency Region governor reported to the Parliamentary Commission on Internal Migration that 378,335 villagers, 820 villages and 2,345 smaller settlements (mezra) had been displaced from the provinces in or bordering the state of emergency region. Inquiries made by Human Rights Watch (HRW) indicate that most of these villagers were forcibly displaced by gendarmes in the early and mid-1990s, apparently because they were suspected of giving logistical support to the PKK. A smaller but still substantial number of villagers who had participated in the village guard system were driven out by repeated attacks by the PKK, or left for their own safety at the recommendation of the security forces.
Many villagers now believe that conditions in the southeast have improved enough to consider returning to their homes. Since the PKK announced a unilateral ceasefire within Turkey in 1999, clashes as well as security operations have continued, but at a much lower level than in earlier years. The inclusion of the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project (RVRP) in budget documents in 1999 suggests that the government shares the villagers' view. Although these developments give cause for optimism, hundreds of thousands of displaced villagers, deprived of home and income, continue to be displaced, living with considerable hardship in cities throughout the rest of Turkey. Most of the villagers who talked to HRW were keen to return to their homes for personal and economic reasons, but they had encountered various difficulties with state authorities. To summarize their complaints,
· governors either flatly refused permission to return, or refused permission unless the villagers signed prepared petitions indicating that they were not forcibly displaced;
· they were receiving little or no government assistance in rebuilding their property and re-establishing themselves economically.
Villagers also expressed general concerns about their security. In particular, they fear that if they return and the PKK resumes its attacks within Turkey, they may be subjected to violent raids by security forces or PKK and even a possible repeat of the trauma and expense of forced displacement. They also expressed discomfort at the prospect of returning to rural areas where their immediate neighbors are village guards, armed by the state and invested with vaguely defined but extensive powers and with a documented history of serious abuse. The dangers presented by anti-personnel mines or abandoned munitions are an added worry.
HRW's interviews raised many questions that villagers, non-governmental organizations, and official representatives were unable to answer. When our delegate asked in June for a meeting with civil servants in the Prime Minister's office responsible for the RVRP in order to resolve some of these questions it was suggested that we should address our questions in writing to you, rather than trying to deal with a multitude of issues in a brief meeting. Grateful for this suggestion, HRW would welcome your response on the questions and requests for documentation detailed below.
1. Statistics and other information relating to the original displacement
The success of the plans for return will require that the original problem be accurately documented and quantified through reliable statistical data. In its 1998 report, the Parliamentary Commission stated that the statistics provided by the Emergency Region Governorate (OHAL) were "problematic." Indeed, the Commission president, parliamentary deputy Haşim Haşimi estimated the number of displaced persons as "in excess of 1,000,000 citizens"-more than double the OHAL's figure. HRW is not aware that a revised figure has been produced.
Equally important as statistics regarding original displacement is a transparent accounting of government efforts and progress made in promoting return. Our efforts to piece together a full and detailed statistical accounting of the RVRP have been frustrated by the various contradictory figures given for numbers of returns and government funding of the return process. For example, a letter dated May 11, 2001 from the General Directorate for Village Services of the Office of the Prime Minister (B.02.1.KHZ.0.11.03/15.g-0798) to the Association for Social and Cultural Solidarity with Migrants (Göç-Der) states that 1 trillion TL had been allocated for the resettlement of twelve villages in four provinces. By contrast, an undated one-page summary concerning the RVRP that was emailed by the GAP administration to Göç-Der in May 2001 reported that 220 settlements were being resettled by 26,433 returnees. The Emergency Rule (OHAL) Governor Gökhan Aydıner speaking at a ceremony at Şaklat village, Diyarbakır province on August 7, 2001 offered another apparently contradictory account, stating that 3.2 trillion TL was earmarked for return and that 18,600 villagers had returned. But the U.S. State Department had been told by the Turkish government that 26,481 people had returned by the end of 1999 (Report on Human Rights Developments, 2000). A clear example of how partial information can be confusing or misleading is a letter written by the governor of Bingöl to Istanbul Göç-Der, dated May 27, 2001, which states that 713 billion TL had been spent on the RVRP in that province alone-but the expenditure seems to have been mainly on reconstruction of roads, and HRW's impression is that very few villagers have returned in Bingöl province.
HRW would greatly appreciate your assistance in clarifying and reconciling these statements and in obtaining a detailed comprehensive statistical picture of the return process, enabling analysis in comparison to the situation on the ground from province to province and from year to year. Specific information we request includes:
a. What is the government's current estimate of the number of people internally displaced since 1984?
2. Procedural guarantees relating to displacement and return
The Guiding Principles state that decisions to relocate villagers must be taken by a State authority empowered by law to order such measures and that displaced people must be given full information on the reasons and procedures for their displacement.
None of the forcibly evacuated villagers interviewed by HRW had any official documents indicating who was responsible for the decision to evacuate them, under what powers the decision had been carried out, or how long the displacement would continue. Most of those who had been told by the authorities that they would not yet be permitted to return said that such information was given verbally by provincial governors, town governors or gendarmerie officers who refused to put their decision in writing. The villagers believed that the officials were trying to avoid creating an administrative act that could form the basis of a subsequent legal challenge or action for compensation. A small number of villagers had received notification that the Provincial Security Commission had ruled that their village was "not among those villages considered appropriate for priority return." Even where permission was given, governors showed the same reluctance to commit administrative decisions to paper: many of those interviewed by HRW who had been told that their village was now open to resettlement had no documents confirming this decision.
HRW has received parts of a list of villages in Diyarbakır province entitled "dönüşü uygun görülen köy ve mezralar." The muhtar who gave this partial list to HRW suggested that it was prepared by the Diyarbakır Provincial Governorate or the Emergency Region Governorate. HRW was unable to obtain an official and complete copy of this list, since our requests to speak to both these authorities were rejected. We would therefore be grateful to receive the full text of this list, and any other list showing villages that are currently considered unsuitable for resettlement. In addition, we would appreciate information regarding the following aspects of procedures governing displacement and return:
a. What written notification should a Turkish citizen have received when they were displaced from their home for security reasons?
3. Humanitarian assistance
The UN Guiding Principles state that all internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living, and that at the minimum, competent authorities shall provide them with essential food and potable water; basic shelter and housing; appropriate clothing; and essential medical services and sanitation. The principles require that special attention should be paid to the needs of vulnerable groups, including women, children and disabled persons (Principles 4, 18 and 19).
HRW is aware that some initiatives were taken to provide housing in cities for displaced villagers, particularly those that had been forced to leave because they had participated in the village guard system and were targeted for attacks by the PKK. Our delegate visited one of these developments-the Yalım Erez Konutları outside Van. This was a major central government investment, which was generally appreciated by residents, who came from the border regions of Hakkari. As a rather ad hoc and temporary arrangement, however, it suffered a number of shortcomings. Funding ran out before the sewage disposal system was completed and residents said that more than one child had drowned in cesspools flooded during the winter months. Most of the villagers are stockkeepers by profession, unskilled in other trades, and therefore find difficulty in maintaining themselves economically in an overcrowded city with a high rate of unemployment. They told HRW that they would prefer to return to their original homes. Moreover, provision of this kind was rare, and even in Van HRW spoke to other villagers from the same area who had left their homes under the same circumstances but had been unable to find accommodation in the Yalım Erez Konutları or elsewhere, and were therefore living in agricultural buildings.
HRW spoke to women with young families and disabled people who underwent great hardships during and after their evacuation, who said that they were not aware of any government initiatives to provide them with special support and assistance.
We would appreciate information from the government that would confirm or correct this impression we had of the humanitarian conditions for the displaced. Specifically, we are interested in your response to the following questions:
a. What provisions were made by successive governments throughout the 1980s and 1990s to provide basic needs to displaced persons?
i. What provision was made to find employment for villagers who had lost their livelihood?
b. What special provisions were made to meet the needs of women, children, and the disabled?
4. Current security risks
The initiation of the RVRP suggests that the government believes the general security situation in the southeast has improved sufficiently to permit villagers to return to their homes in safety.
a. Does the government consider that armed attacks by the PKK and other armed groups have diminished sufficiently to permit resettlement in all parts of the east and southeast without exception?
One of the possible risks facing returned villagers is unexploded mines and other munitions.
e. What arrangements are being made to ensure that villages opened for return are thoroughly de-mined?
The Guiding Principles require that displaced persons should participate in the planning and management of their return or resettlement (Principle 28).
HRW's inquiries gave the strong impression that villagers had not been given any opportunity to participate in the planning of their return. Although some had been summoned for meetings with provincial or town governors, the opportunity for dialogue was extremely limited. Some villagers were turned out of such meetings by governors when they complained that they had been forcibly displaced by security forces. At any rate, none of the villagers HRW interviewed had received any written record of the proceedings of these meetings.
a. To what extent have displaced villagers participated in the planning and management of their return or resettlement?
6. Government initiatives for village return
Various government authorities are making efforts to address the problem of internally displaced people, but the variety of initiatives is confusing for displaced people themselves and non-governmental organizations working on their behalf. In fact, even some government representatives interviewed by HRW did not seem quite sure how the RVRP, the RVRP sub-regional Development Plan, Central Village, Villagetown and Attraction Center projects fit together.
HRW would therefore be grateful to receive copies of legislation and regulations concerning Central Village, Village Town and Attraction Center projects. In addition, Human Rights Watch would appreciate thorough clarification of the plans for return and resettlement throughout the southeast, in the form of answers to the following questions:
a. According to the columnist Hasan Cemal writing in Milliyet of June 12, 2001, an Action Plan for the East and Southeast was approved in May 2000 by the National Security Council. Is this document publicly available?
i. If it is publicly available, HRW would be grateful to receive a copy of it.
b. What is the distinction between the Attraction Center Project (Cazibe Merkezi Projesi) reportedly run by the governor of Tunceli, the Central Village project, and the Village Town (Koykent) project?
i. Who designed, coordinated, and funded Central Villages?
e. Which villages in the southeast have been designated as Village Town projects?
i. Who designed, coordinated, and funded the Village Town project?
f. Which villages in the southeast have been designated as Attraction Centers?
i. Who designed, coordinated, and funded the Attraction Centers project?
g. Where the construction of residential units (konut) are planned, will full ownership of those units pass to the villagers in all cases?
7. Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project (RVRP)
During his visit to Turkey, HRW's delegate was unable to obtain any substantial text describing the aims, methods, legal basis, scope and resources of the RVRP. If such a text exists, HRW would be grateful to receive it. If detailed progress reports on the RVRP are available, HRW would be grateful to receive copies of these as well. In addition, we would greatly appreciate answers to the following questions:
a. Is the RVRP an extension of the Return to Village program of 1995 or an entirely separate project?
i. If so, how were such people invited to contribute?
ii. How were they selected in order to ensure a representative cross section of the internally displaced community?
iii. How were their contributions integrated into the RVRP?
h. What is the overall budget for the RVRP since its inception and for the foreseeable future?
i. How was this budget calculated?
i. Has funding for the RVRP or other schemes for resettlement of internally displaced persons been invited or obtained from foreign sources.
i. If so, from which sources, and how much was applied for or obtained?
j. Does the RVRP safeguard villagers' right to the enjoyment of their own property?
i. If so, what are those levels and from what standards were they drawn?
m. Do all displaced villagers qualify for assistance under RVRP?
HRW is concerned at the very extended schedule for the RVRP implied by such limited information as has emerged about arrangements currently under way. If the Toplumsal Bilimler Derneği (Social Sciences Association - TBD) finishes its initial field study in January 2002 (see below), it will provide proposals as to how the resettlement process might be carried out in one hundred villages-no more that 12% of the OHAL's estimate of evacuated villages (820), or 3% of the figure for all evacuated settlements including mezra (2345). The relevant ministries will then presumably begin deliberating about implementation of the program as a whole. Until the ministries produce a comprehensive and fully funded plan, villagers will remain cut off from their homes and livelihoods in very difficult circumstances of aggravated uncertainty about their future. In a letter received by Göç-Der headquarters from the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission (December 5, 2000; no: 00737) it is stated that Interior Ministry informed the Commission that the RVRP goal for 1999 was to secure the return of 1017 families. However, the Göç-Der has submitted petitions from 10,539 families seeking to return. If the families who have submitted petitions through Göç-Der were to be rehoused under the RVRP at the rate implied by the Interior Ministry's letter, some of them might expect to wait for a decade, unless, as is widely feared, the RVRP will be limited to only a small number of selected settlements.
o. What target dates does the RVRP set for returns and reconstruction for all evacuated settlements?
Quite reasonably, government authorities have introduced stop-gap measures pending the results of preliminary RVRP field studies. Some villages have benefited from these schemes, but others have not. Since the temporary schemes are even less transparent than the major plans, they added further confusion and in some cases, disquiet.
On July 23 Anatolia Agency reported that deputy prime minister Mesut Yılmaz had referred to an Immediate Implementation Project providing for 2,850 families in Diyarbakır, Bingöl, Şırnak, Batman, Hakkari, Tunceli, Bitlis, Van, Muş, Siirt, and Kars. HRW spoke to villagers living in, or displaced from, seven of those provinces and none of them reported any involvement with the Immediate Implementation Project. Provincial governors have set up provisional systems for supplying building materials for returning villagers, but these appeared to be extremely variable in their implementation and some involved highly questionable practices. HRW received a copy of a "Return to village project specification" (Köye dönüş projesine ait şartname). This document, issued by the Muş provincial governorate for signature by villagers applying for assistance, states that a provincial Return to Village and Rehabilitation Commission will decide whether or not to supply reinforcing steel, cement and bricks to villagers who have brought their homes up to the damp proof course level. This means that indigent villagers have to make a substantial investment in excavating and pouring the foundations of houses (and presumably laying water, electric and sewage services) before they will learn whether or not they can receive assistance with materials for the rest of the building. The specification contains no provision for supply of doors, windows, stairs, bathroom and plumbing materials, or roofing materials.
Where governors are supplying bricks and cement, or in other cases, windows and doors, villagers are in all cases expected to supply the labor for reconstruction. HRW was informed that in some villages, such as Şaklat, Diyarbakır province, materials were only supplied to some villagers or that villagers were required to sign blank pieces of paper on receipt of the materials. In other villages, materials were promised but did not arrive.
p. Is the supply of only limited materials with no funding of the labor element a stop-gap measure or will be it be adopted for the RVRP as a whole?
Our research indicated that the application procedures adopted by local governors for the RVRP have caused anxiety among villagers. Joint applications and applications submitted through the initiative of third parties such as political parties and non-governmental organizations have been ignored or refused. In particular, governors have insisted that villagers submit their applications using a printed form that asks the applicant to mark the reason for their original migration. The alternatives range from "employment" and "health" to "terror" but do not include any space for those villagers who were forcibly evacuated by the security forces.
Recently, the reverse side of the petition form has included a printed declaration that the head of the applicant family must sign. It states: "I left my village as a consequence of the pressure of terror. I am going to return. Since there is no pressure of terror in my village, I want to return to my village without making any material demand upon the State." Forcibly displaced villagers fear that by signing this official document, they will not only put their name to an official lie, but also relinquish their legal claim in respect of state abuses and compensation for loss of livelihood and loss of enjoyment of their property. On the other hand, they are unlikely to be able to return at all unless they do sign.
u. Is the Prime Minister's Office aware of this practice?
8. Compensation for displaced persons
The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement state that where recovery of property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities have the duty and responsibility to provide or assist people to obtaining appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation. (Principles 7 and 29)
Some villagers were forced out by repeated armed attacks by the PKK, others may have been instructed to leave by armed forces who were unable to defend distant settlements.
a. What provisions exist in Turkish law and regulations to compensate villagers displaced by illegal armed organizations such as the PKK?
Many other villagers report that they were summarily displaced by gendarmes, and sometimes by village guards, who destroyed their property with fire or explosives.
a. What provisions exist in Turkish law and regulations to compensate villagers summarily displaced by security forces or village guards?
Under the state of emergency law, the emergency region governor has powers to move populations for security reasons.
a. Were these powers exercised at any time since 1984?
i. If so, in respect of which communities were these powers used?
ii. Were the moved populations served with any papers documenting that these powers were to be invoked?
iii. Were they compensated?
9. The village guard system
During the past decade civil defense measures provoked considerable discord in rural communities. Communities that joined the village guard system were highly suspicious of those that refused to participate. Relatives and colleagues of village guards, and in particular, village guard casualties suspected that neighbors who refused arms may have been sheltering PKK or providing them with intelligence. Conversely, communities that refused arms feared their newly armed neighbors who controlled checkpoints on roads, searched their homes, and often participated in the forced evacuations. Abuses by village guards ranging from theft to murder were documented by the April 1995 Parliamentary Commission Report on Unsolved Political Killings, which recommended abolition of the village guard corps. Some villagers interviewed by HRW said that village guards had occupied their lands and/or homes, rented out their grazing land to third parties, cut their timber, and threatened them when they returned to inspect their property. The UN Guiding Principles state that government authorities have a responsibility to facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled internally displaced persons (Principle 29). Reintegration of displaced villagers will inevitably mean addressing problems arising from the village guard system.
a. How many village guards are currently employed and armed?
Many of the villagers and non-governmental organizations interviewed by HRW suggested that most of the villages that had been reoccupied were villages that had formerly participated in the village guard system, and that Village Towns were largely populated by village guards or members of villages that had participated in the village guard system. Visits to Konalga village town and resettled villages suggested that there may be some truth in this claim. Although village guards were not in the majority, they were a large minority of the male population. In many of the villages that have not yet returned, there are no village guards among the population.
a. Does the Turkish government have a policy of developing different return plans for villages or villagers associated with the Village Guard system than those who are not? If so, what are the differences in policy toward these two populations and what is the official justification for this differentiated approach
10. The future of mezra and villages in border zones
Official bodies interviewed by HRW in June and July indicated that the government was not encouraging villagers to return to distant mezra because they are often uneconomical and inconvenient for the provision of services.
a. Is there now a clear government policy to avoid repopulation of mezra?
HRW spoke to former village guards displaced by PKK violence from Uzundere, Cukurca in the border area of Hakkari. It was their view that the Turkish government intends to prevent resettlements on the borders with Iran and Northern Iraq in order to create a permanent buffer zone.
f. Does the Turkish government plan to resettle all villages in border areas?
11. Access and assistance by NGOs and IGOs
The UN Guiding Principles state that international humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced, and that such organizations should have unimpeded access to internally displaced persons (Principles 25 and 30).
a. Were international expert bodies such as UNHCR, UN Special Representative on IDPs, ICRC, UNDP, OSCE, COE, IOM or the World Bank invited to contribute to the planning and implementation of projects for return?
Other appropriate actors in this context are domestic organizations with a mandate for humanitarian work and domestic and international human rights organizations. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders also underlines states' responsibilities to enable such organizations to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.
To HRW's knowledge domestic organizations with a particular interest in this issue, such as Göç-Der, Migration and Humanitarian Assistance Foundation (GIYAV), the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA) or the People's Democracy Party (HADEP) were not invited to contribute to the planning and implementation of projects for return. Semi-official bodies such as local chambers of architects, engineers and medical practitioners might also provide local expertise and information, but to HRW's knowledge, such bodies have not been contacted or consulted.
e. Has the government sought to use the expertise and contacts of such non-governmental organizations and semi-official bodies?
It is important, in the interests of transparency, that the process of return should be monitored by non-governmental organizations. Domestic NGOs have had difficulties in gaining access to resettled villages. Representatives have been turned back, detained, and had their notes or photographs confiscated. In July, gendarmes turned HRW's own delegate back from visiting a resettled village. After notifying the governor's office, access was permitted three days later.
h. Do non-governmental organizations have an unrestricted right to travel in all parts of Turkey, and to visit such settlements?
HRW understands that the Toplumsal Bilimler Derneği (Social Sciences Association - TBD) has been hired to carry out research into the problem of displaced villagers, and that they were given this task after a competitive tender procedure. HRW would be grateful to receive the specification (şartname) supplied to bidders for the competitive tender.
HRW welcomes the fact that civil society has been incorporated into the process in this way. However, we are concerned that the TBD may be researching a group of communities that is not a true cross section of unresettled villages, and that this may result in the development of inappropriate plans. Among other potential problems, many villagers report that local governors would not accept their petitions unless they completed them in such a way as to indicate that they left as a result of PKK rather than gendarmerie activity. Therefore, the group of returnees presented to TBD as a focus for their field study may be a self-selecting and unrepresentative group, which would skew any findings.
l. Have any significant changes been made to the research project since it was allocated to the TBD?
i. What measures have been taken to ensure that the sample taken by TBD includes a representative proportion of villages that did not accept village guard service, and that were displaced by security forces rather than by PKK attacks?
ii. When and how will the findings and methods of the TBD's work be made public?
n. What is the role of Anadolu Kalkındırma Vakfı (Anatolia Development Foundation) in the RVRP or other projects for return? HRW has written separately to this organization to ask for copies of any projects they may have relating to village returns.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to put these questions to you and to learn more about the government's return plans. We look forward to your response and to constructive dialogue regarding these issues. Do not hesitate to contact my office-telephone, 1-202-612-4326-should you determine that an in-person discussion or other method of response to our questions would be preferable to a written exchange.
1. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
cc: Mr Hüseyin Akgül, President of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission , Ankara
Mr Rüştü Kazım Yücelen, Interior Minister, Ankara
Ms Şefika Gürbüz, President of the Association for Social and Cultural Solidarity with Migrants, Istanbul
Mr Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Relations, European Commission, Brussels
Ms Nedret Durutan, World Bank, Ankara