Letter to Joseph Borell regarding Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Northeastern Syria from

Joseph Borrell

July 7, 2020

HR/VP of the European Commission

Rue de la loi 200 / Wetstraat 200

1040 Brussels, Belgium


Dear HR/VP Borrell,

The EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) would like respectfully to draw your attention to the recent deplorable Turkish disregard for human rights, democracy, and the very rule of domestic/international law. Specifically, the Turkish military invasion and continuing occupation of portions of northeastern Syria in October 2019 and more than 150 attacks on sites within the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq including the supposedly UN-protected Maxmur refugee camp housing more than 12 000 refugees and IDPs in June 2020 should be noted. Numerous civilians died in these Turkish attacks. In addition, we note the illegal removal of constitutionally elected mayors from the peaceful, legal, and pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey on bogus charges of terrorism. Their replacement by government appointed “trustees” is in violation of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) opinion released on 18 June 2020.

The EUTCC is an international NGO created in 2004 to promote Turkish accession to the European Union (EU) as a means to help solve the Kurdish problem in that country through guaranteed respect for human and minority rights to achieve a peaceful, democratic, and long-term solution. Thus, the EUTCC monitors and conducts regular audits of Turkey’s compliance with the EU accession requirements as listed in the Copenhagen Criteria. The EUTCC also sponsors annual conferences within the EU parliament in Brussels to review and assess Turkey’s progress in these areas of major concern for the EU and international peace and law. Upon conclusion of our annual conference, we release to the international press a final resolution regarding the conference’s major statements and findings.

In harmony with our continuing mission, the recent European Union (EU) Progress Report on Turkey declared:

The adoption of a law allowing the immunity of a large number of deputies to be lifted and the ensuing detentions and arrests of several HDP members of Parliament, including the two Co-Chairs, in November [2016], are a matter of grave concern. . . .  Many elected representatives and municipal executives in the southeast were suspended, removed from their duties, or arrested under terrorism-related charges, some of them on the basis of decrees under the state of emergency following the [Gulen] coup attempt. However, anti-terror measures need to be proportionate and must respect human rights. . . .   There has been backsliding in the past year, in particular with regard to the independence of the judiciary. . . . The anti-terror law is not in line with the acquis [in effect, the EU Constitution] with regard to its scope and definitions and its application raises serious fundamental rights concern. . . .  Many allegations of serious violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and of procedural rights [also] were reported.

In addition, the most recent (2019) U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Turkey concluded:

Significant human rights issues included: reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including former opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; the existence of political prisoners, including elected officials and academics; significant problems with judicial independence; severe restriction on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and unjustified arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking and the existence of criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement, some cases of refoulment of refugees, and violence against women.

Contrary to what the Turkish government often implicitly tries to maintain, the peaceful pro-Kurdish HDP political party is not linked to the violence that has occurred in Turkey. Indeed, the Turkish government itself has recognized this fact by currently allowing more than 50 legally elected members of the pro-Kurdish HDP to serve as members of the Turkish Parliament.  Although he has been incarcerated since October 2016, Turkish laws ironically permitted Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-chair of the HDP, to run for President of Turkey in the elections held on August 14, 2014 and most recently on June 24, 2018. Indeed, the HDP has legal offices in Europe and the United States.

Even during the current coronavirus pandemic—which has struck hard in Turkey—the government has continued to remove peaceful, legally elected HDP mayors and replace them with government trustees. For example, on March 23, 2020, the government removed eight more HDP mayors and again on May 15, 2020 another five. These five included Siirt, Igdir, Kurtalan, Baykan, and Altinova. A total of 51 out of 65 HDP-run municipalities have had their legally elected officials removed since the most recent local elections held on March 31, 2019.

Among the peaceful goals the HDP seeks are: 1.) Release of the approximately 5,000 non-violent Kurdish activists currently being held on terrorism charges; 2). Mother-tongue education for the Kurds in public schools; 3.) Reduction of the unreasonably high 10 percent threshold for election to the Turkish Parliament and its lowering to such EU standards as possibly 5 percent so that minorities such as the Kurds can be represented more accurately in line with their actual numbers; 4.) Expanding the boundaries for civil liberties regarding organizing, assembly, and speech; and 5.) The implementation of a new, more democratic Turkish Constitution to replace the authoritarian one written by the military in 1982 and subsequently amended by the Erdogan government to grant Erdogan even more power.

Based on these egregiously unacceptable facts, the EUTCC respectfully asks that the European Commission publicize this situation and consider further actions such as targeted, smart sanctions.


Respectfully yours,


Kariane Westrheim



Michael Gunter

Secretary General

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