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The soldiers emptied our village on a cold day in November 1993. They not only burned the place but fired on it with artillery. There were one hundred and ten families and now there are just fifteen people there. Now it still is not safe. I have been deprived of my home and my productive life for ten years. We received no assistance from the state to return. Now we want to be compensated. We villagers are open to negotiation. We are not taking these actions out of enmity. We worked out a project for the re-establishment of the village, including reconstruction of the houses, a health centre, a school. For all this we need infrastructure – a sewage system for example. People will laugh at this – a village in the southeast hoping for a sewage system – but the state should provide these basics.
—Villager from Kırkpınar, near Dicle, Diyarbakır province, interviewed in Diyarbakır, November 25, 2004

On December 17, 2004, the European Union (E.U.) decided that Turkey should continue to the next stage of its application to join the union by setting a date for the start of formal negotiations for full membership. An impressive track record of human rights reforms—including the abolition of the death penalty, new protections against torture, greater freedom of expression, and increased respect for minorities—prompted the positive decision. Unfortunately the reforms did not help the 378,335 people who were internally displaced in Turkey during the 1990s.

In May 2003, the E.U.’s Accession Partnership with Turkey required “the return of internally displaced persons to their original settlements should be supported and speeded up.” Almost two years later, the Turkish government’s performance remains poor. The 2004 European Commission Regular Report on Turkey’s progress observed that: “[t]he programme for the return to villages proceeds at a very slow pace. Serious efforts are needed to address the problems of internally displaced persons” and warned that their situation is “still critical.”1

In place of policy or program achievements for internally displaced people (IDPs), the Turkish government supplied the E.U. with statistics suggesting that returns are proceeding at a regular pace. If a third of the displaced had returned to their homes, as the government claimed, this would be a respectable performance. In fact, progress has been much more limited. Human Rights Watch has compared some of the government statistics with the situation on the ground. Our analysis found that the official statistics are not entirely reliable, and that permanent returns are running at a much lower rate than indicated.

The practical obstacles to return remain: villagers are slow to return because their homes and villages have been destroyed and the security situation in the remote countryside remains precarious. Many of the villagers who return live in primitive shelters located in settlements without electricity, telephone, education, or health facilities. Assistance with reconstruction and support in re-establishing agriculture is minimal or non-existent.

Village guards—paramilitaries, usually Kurdish, armed and paid by the government to fight the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party, now known as Kongra Gel)—have not been disarmed, and are implicated in attacks on returning IDPs. Regular security forces have also committed extrajudicial executions of IDPs.

Current conditions in Turkey do not permit the return of internally displaced persons “in safety and with dignity,” in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (U.N. Guiding Principles).

There are signs that the Turkish government is preparing to take a new and more constructive approach toward the return of IDPs. The government has announced plans to establish an agency to reshape the failed Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project and disarm the village guard corps. It has begun, tentatively, to share its work on IDPs with intergovernmental organizations, and in response the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has submitted a modest plan to collaborate with the Turkish government in meeting the needs of IDPs. The July 2004 Compensation Law adopted by the Turkish Parliament may provide some restitution for the losses suffered as a result of the scorched earth policy implemented in the southeast during the 1990s, although obstacles to its success are already emerging.

However, these are untried initiatives, and with the exception of the Compensation Law, not past the planning stage. The past decade is littered with widely-touted initiatives for IDPs that were starved of funds, lacked political commitment, and were eventually discarded. If the government’s new approach is to count for something, it needs to move quickly to operationalize plans for the government IDP agency and approve and implement the UNDP project. Success will also depend upon close scrutiny by the international community throughout 2005 to keep the government on track and avoid a repeat of earlier failures.

[1] European Commission, 2004 Regular Report on Turkey’s progress towards accession, October 6, 2004, B.1.3.

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