The EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) held its 8th international conference in the European Parliament last week. With contributions from Leyla Zana, Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the BDP, Judge Essa Moosa from South Africa and journalist Cengiz Candar, among many others, the conference called both the Turkish government and the EU to action in the movement for peace and self-determination for the Kurdish people in Turkey. The final resolutions of the conference can be read below.

Final resolutions from the 8th international conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds

European Parliament, Brussels 7th & 8th December 2011

As the conference has heard over the last two days from leading academics, writers, legal experts, human rights organizations, there have been many changes in Turkey, the Middle East and in Europe since the last EUTCC conference nearly a year ago which have greatly impacted Turkey’s progress towards EU accession, and we have with this conference had the opportunity to come together to discuss and to clarify what the key problems are and the direction in which Turkey is heading.

There remains great concern about the situation in Turkey regarding the Kurdish question, particularly with the recent escalation in violence and the lack of progress in the accession process. Obstacles lie in both the negative attitude of the Turkish government, and with the lack of faith by EU member states in the process, characterised by prioritising their own interests and continuing to place Kurdish organisations in Europe on the terrorist list. This criminalisation of Kurdish representative groups is in contradiction of the Copenhagen Criteria and hampers the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

The theme of this 8th conference has been “The Quest for Democracy in Turkey – Universal Rights, Kurdish Self-Determination & the Struggle over the New Constitution”. Given its new position of strength following its great electoral victory on June 12, 2011, the AK party government is now in a position to move towards bolder models for solving the Kurdish problem and writing a new more democratic and civilian constitution that will take Turkey further along the path to democratization and bring it in line with EU regulatory standards. The EUTCC recognises the difficulty that bringing about a new constitution will bring, and welcomes the positive steps that have been taken so far by all parties, including the recognition by Parliament of the importance of reaching a draft text through consensus of all segments of society. The EUTCC urges the Parliament keep to its four-stage timeline for work on the constitution that promises to review proposals made by civil society groups, unions etc by April, and produce a final draft by the end of 2012. All stakeholders must be consulted, including NGOs and civil society and the findings must be used to develop a new Turkish Constitution in line with EU standards. When he addressed the Turkish parliament in September 2010, Turkish president Abdullah Gül declared that a new constitution has to be prepared that is “plural, democratic and civil” while meeting the needs and demands of every segment of society. However as the European Commission’s 2011 Turkey progress report has noted ‘the adoption of legislation implementing the September 2010 constitutional amendments was not accompanied by broad and effective public consultation involving stakeholders in the country, despite government commitments to this.’ A new constitution will fail unless Turkey commits to this pluralism with a full and broad consultation, and ensures change is implemented.

The current constitution was constructed by the military and bureaucrats with a mentality to protect the state, not the people. Insufficient space is given for human rights, and no allowance made for the great diversity in Turkey.  The new constitution must be driven by consensus and be developed with the full participation of all sections of Turkish society.

Issues with the current constitution begin with the opening four articles, which are immutable, and yet deny any plurality, any cultural, political or religious freedoms, and any form of participatory democracy. There are also articles in the current constitution which prohibit any development in modes of governance such as decentralization. Almost all the entire constitution is based on the ‘Turkification’ of all ethnic, cultural, religious groups and political beliefs and does not reflect the diversification of these groups.

It will be particularly challenging to bring this new constitution into being without also updating legislation in line with constitutional change, as much of the current legislation is anti-democratic. In order to have full participatory democratic and open discussion on a new constitution, the way must be prepared to enable this to happen. This includes reforms to the Anti-terror law, the Press law, the Law on Political Parties and the removal of the 10% electoral threshold. There must be a change too in the mentality of military and judiciary, and an institutional framework underpinning legislation that allows public servants to work in the spirit of the Constitution.

Pursuant to the presentation of Conference papers and interventions made by delegates, this Conference resolves to adopt the following declarations and calls for action to be undertaken by relevant parties to the conflict in the Kurdish Regions of Turkey:

  • Recalling the resolutions from the 1st – 7th International Conferences on EU, Turkey and the Kurds, the Conference continues to give its qualified support to Turkey’s bid for EU accession.
  • The EUTCC recalls those resolutions from the 7th Annual Conference which have not yet been actioned, and urge all parties to fully commit to a process of negotiation and dialogue.

The 8th EUTCC Conference adopts the following resolutions:

In relation to the Constitution:

1)    The references to Turkish identity and Turkishness in many laws and the Turkish constitution do not comply with the diverse nature of society in Turkey and enforces an ethnic Turkish identity on those who identify themselves as otherwise. State citizenship should be inclusive and decoupled from Turkish ethno-nationalism into a non-ethnic civic citizenship in which all ethnic groups in Turkey can participate on an equal basis. These constitutional references should be changed despite the dictum in Article 4 of the current constitution that they “cannot be changed; changing them cannot even be suggested.” This article has been widely criticised as undemocratic and should be removed.

2)    The articles concerning education need to be changed as they presently reflect the ideological and monist education understanding of the state.  When drafting the new constitution, the Turkish Parliament should revise the current Article 42, which prohibits the teaching of any language other than Turkish as a first language in the education system, as recommended by The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its third report on Turkey in February 2005. Mother-tongue language rights should be enshrined in the new Constitution. No steps have been taken to implement the 2007 Recommendations of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to use languages other than Turkish in public services. In addition, the laws on surnames and the alphabet prevent Kurds from using their language freely, while the law on provincial governance has been the basis of changing the Kurdish names of many locations. These laws must be amended.

3)    Religious freedom should have more protection in the new constitution. Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution and Section 12 of Basic Law 1739 on national education provide that religious culture and ethics classes are compulsory in primary and secondary schools, which has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights as failing to meet the criteria of objectivity and pluralism necessary for education in a democratic society and for pupils to develop a critical mind towards religion.

4)    Provisions should be made for significant decentralization of the state and meaningful local government in line with current European standards as listed in the European Charter of Local Self-Government adopted in 1985 and presently ratified by 41 states including—with numerous important conditions however—Turkey, and the European Charter of Regional Self-Government, which is still only in draft form. The current form of government does not allow for regional differences and approaches to local problems and gives too much power to a central government that does not have sufficient knowledge and understanding of these problems. In particular Article 127 of the constitution has been applied disproportionately against the mayors and councillors in the Kurdish provinces. Governors should be elected by the local population rather than central government. Turkey remains obligated under the European Charter of Local Self-Government to reform its administrative structure, and the Turkish government should remove all its reservations to this Charter and other international agreements regarding this issue.

In relation to legislation reform:

5)    The Conference calls upon the Turkish Government to ensure that all legally constituted democratic parties are allowed to engage in peaceful political activity without interference and that Parliament remove the major hurdles to developing a pluralistic democracy and multi-party politics. Laws regarding political parties and the ways deputies are elected need to be altered as they are incompatible with the principles of democracy and the state of law. The 10 % threshold requirement for a party to elect members to parliament is in violation of the right to free elections as provided for by Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR, and should be reduced to 5 % in line with contemporary European standards.

6)    Article 301 of the Turkish Penal law on “insulting Turkishness” and Article 318 regarding criticism of the military prevent freedom of speech in Turkey and need to be deleted.

7)    The conference deplores the high number of journalists still in prison and the recent decision of the Constitutional Court on 2 May 2011 to amend the Press Law to allow prosecutors to file criminal cases against journalists years after their articles were published. According to an OSCE commission report, in April 2011 Turkey had the highest number journalists in prison in Turkey at 57.

8)    The Anti-Terror Law (TMY) protects the security of the state at the expense of freedom and security of individuals, is against international human rights law and must therefore be removed. The current KCK operation has been enacted on the basis of this Anti-terror law, and is a strategic policy by Turkish government to arrest MP’s mayors, journalists, politicians, academics, lawyers and human right’s activists. This operation has created serious obstacles to democracy and the enjoyment of basic rights and must be unambiguously condemned by the EU. For example, 36 members of Abdullah Öcalan’s legal defence team have been arrested, preventing the right to defence.

General Points:

9)    The Conference calls on the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the EU to investigate the current conditions of the detention of Abdullah Öcalan, who for 4 months now has had no visits allowed by his lawyers or relatives, in contravention of the ECHR. All necessary conditions must be met in order that Mr Abdullah Öcalan can play a full part in the negotiation process and also freely communicate with his organisation.

10) The EUTCC calls for the negotiations between the representatives of the Turkish state and Mr. Abdullah Öcalan, which are reported to have stalled, to be re-established. It also calls on EU to play a role in these negotiations by providing political and financial support for the creation of a democratic platform for dialogue between Turkey and Kurdish representatives. The basis for a general political amnesty must be prepared as part of a wider negotiated peace process.

11) The conference calls upon the public and civil society in Turkey, and the international community, to support and promote the peace-making process. Furthermore, the conference regrets the attitude of the EU and the member states with regards to the Kurdish question, the continued criminalization of the Kurds and Kurdish organisations, and their silence regarding Turkey’s negative attitude to the Kurds.

12) The Conference urges the EU, the United States and Canada to remove the PKK from their terrorist lists in order to facilitate negotiations, as this is currently preventing an open, democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.

13) The conference is concerned about the continued conflict between the PKK’s armed forces and Turkish armed forces, and the lack of respect given to their obligation to adhere to international humanitarian law in armed conflict and related humanitarian norms to protect civilians. The conference urges the EU to exert pressure on Turkey to becomes party to additional protocols 1and 2 of the Geneva Convention, and to allow international humanitarian organisations to operate in conflict-affected zones. The conference is also gravely concerned about reports of the use of chemical weapons by Turkish armed forces and call upon the EU and international community to investigate these reports.

14) The EUTCC Conference resolves to periodically make recommendations of measures for the Turkish accession process, the protection of human rights and the situation of the Kurds.