HRW: Justice central to Kurdish peace process

25 April 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL – International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a video featuring interviews with Kurdish residents of southeast Turkey whose relatives were murdered in state-sponsored killings, stating that justice for these individuals is key to Turkey’s ongoing efforts to build peace.

“Justice for the thousands of state-perpetrated killings and disappearances of Kurdish civilians in the 1990s should be an essential part of the peace process under way in Turkey,” the HRW said in a press release that accompanied the video. “Ongoing talks between the Turkish government and Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned leader of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), aim to end a decades-long conflict to further human rights and democracy in Turkey,” the group also commented, explaining Turkey’s ongoing settlement process.

The HRW said that dealing with the crimes of the past is a central element in solving the Kurdish question. Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at the HRW, also noted that Turkey’s statute of limitations on prosecuting for murder — 20 years — poses a potential risk for confronting the past, as most of the extra-judicial killings of Kurds in the Southeast took place in the 1990s. The HRW says many state officials have been afforded impunity over the atrocities of the 1990s, and this can only be overcome by the government and judiciary acting firmly and decisively against these crimes.

The HRW’s video, featuring interviews with families of the victims, also mentions that Turkey has been fined by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on many occasions after victims took the state to the court.

The group said: “In the most recent European Court ruling on April 16, 2013, in the case of Meryem Çelik and others, the court held Turkey directly responsible for the July 1994 disappearance of 12 men who are presumed dead, and the killing of another, following a military operation in a village in Hakkari province. The court further ruled that there had been a failure to investigate the 13 cases or the circumstances leading to the death of a 14th man — whom soldiers allegedly shot dead in the village during the operation. The court ordered compensation to the families totaling 1.4 million euros. In spite of many such rulings over the years, the Turkish authorities have taken few steps to put military personnel and state officials suspected of these crimes on trial.”

The HRW also noted that some prosecutors have invoked the European court judgments in decisions not to bar old investigations into political killings, despite the statute of limitations, citing a failure to conduct effective investigations in the past and the need to combat impunity. “While the prosecutors’ actions should be supported and represent an important step forward, they should be complemented by legal reform that abolishes the application of the statute of limitations for killings involving state officials in the same way as for torture,” HRW said.