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Turks: Should Honor Geneva Convention



ABUSES: Turkey Should Honor Geneva Convention


Human Rights Watch/Middle East 
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April 20, 1995

TITLE: 4/20/95 Turkey Should Honor Geneva Convention in Iraq

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/MIDDLE EAST CALLS ON TURKEY TO HONOR THE GENEVA CONVENTION IN IRAQ

In a letter dated April 20 to the Turkish Foreign Minister Erdal Inonu, Human Rights/Middle East calls on the Turkish government "to acknowledge and to implement its obligations under the Geneva Convention for its operations in northern Iraq."  Turkey's failure to acknowledge these obligations may create the impression among Turkish troops in Iraq that they can "violate the rights of civilians and adversaries placed hors de combat with impunity."

The United States has been Turkey's most supportive ally regarding this operation.  During President Clinton's meeting with Prime Minister Tansu Ciller on April 19, he reiterated his stance that Turkey's actions against the rebels was justified.  He also urged her to seek a swift removal of the troops.  Despite mentioning concerns about innocent civilians, President Clinton failed to seek a reaffirmation of Turkey's commitment to the Geneva Conventions and assurances that Turkey comply with its
humanitarian obligations.

Human Rights Watch/Middle East Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords.  It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations  worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.  Kenneth Roth is the executive director; Cynthia Brown is the program director; Holly J. Burkhalter is the advocacy director; Ann S. Johnson is the development director; Gara LaMarche is the associate director: Juan E. Mndez is general counsel; Susan Osnos is the communications director; and Derrick Wong is the finance and administration director.  Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board and Adrian W. DeWind is vice chair.  Its Middle East division was established in 1989 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in the Middle East and North Africa.  Christopher George is the executive director; Eric Goldstein is the research director; Aziz Abu Hamad and Virginia N. Sherry are associate directors; Suzanne Howard is the associate; Brian Owsley is the Leonard Sandler Fellow.  Gary Sick is the chair of the advisory committee and Lisa Anderson and Bruce Rabb are vice chairs.

April 20, 1995

The Hon. Erdal Inonu, Foreign Minister Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ankara, Turkey

Dear Foreign Minister Inonu:

Human Rights Watch/Middle East is extremely concerned about statements by the Turkish Foreign Ministry that Turkey's operation in northern Iraq is not covered by the Geneva Conventions.  On April 5, your spokesperson Ferhat Ataman said: "Turkey, as it clearly indicated from the beginning, has no intention of occupying or invading Iraq.  There is no reason to implement the Geneva Conventions, because there is no question of a war between states or an invasion."

This statement incorrectly implies that the laws of war do not apply to this operation.  That sends an inappropriate and dangerous message to the Turkish military.  The soldiers in northern Iraq could interpret such statements as permitting them to violate the rights of civilians and adversaries placed hors de combat with impunity.
 
HRW/ME believes that Turkey's military operation in Iraq should clearly be governed by the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons (the Fourth Convention) as well as customary international law.  Article 2 of the Fourth Convention states: "The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets no armed resistance."  Given the large area currently occupied by the Turkish military in Iraq and the considerable military action in this zone, HRW/ME believes that this operation constitutes an occupation and therefore triggers the protections of the Geneva Convention.

On March 20, Turkey sent a force of 35,000 soldiers into Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi government.  To date only about 3,000 troops have been removed, and the military shows no signs of any immediate further troop reductions.  Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has indicated that she does not know when the Turkish troops will be withdrawn.  During his recent visit to Chile, President Suleyman Demirel said that Turkish troops would remain "in northern Iraq as long as they are needed to hunt down Kurdish rebels."  Turkish troops currently occupy a zone twenty-five miles into Iraq along the entire 178-mile Turkey-Iraq border.

Arguments that there is no sovereign power in northern Iraq do not permit Turkey to abdicate its obligations under the Geneva Convention.  It is well accepted that northern Iraq is still a part of the sovereign territory of Iraq.  Moreover, the government of Iraq objected to Turkey's military operation, which establishes that it is an occupation; armed resistance is not necessary for these purposes.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Turkey, as the occupying force, is responsible for the protection of civilians and civilian property in the area.  We fear that troops in the field will neglect this duty if your government continues to send the signal that the Fourth Geneva Convention is inapplicable.  Such abandonment of clearly relevant standards might serve as an invitation to abusive warfare.

HRW/ME calls on the Turkish government to acknowledge and to implement its obligations under the Geneva Convention for its operations in northern Iraq.  Turkey should also invite the International Committee of the Red Cross to monitor compliance with these standards.  In addition, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees should be ensured unrestricted access to provide services and protection for qualified refugees.

Sincerely, Kenneth Roth Executive Director Human Rights Watch

cc: The Hon. William Clinton

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