Families seek redress for Turkish incursions / British lawyers take Turkey to EU Court of HR


Report by Owen Bowcott from the Guardian UK:

Families seek redress for Turkish incursions

  • Raids on Kurds blamed for deaths and damage in Iraq
  • British lawyers take cases to human rights court

British lawyers are taking Turkey to the European court of human rights in pursuit of compensation for deaths and damage allegedly inflicted by repeated bombardments of northern Iraq.

The test cases, lodged in Strasbourg, will force one of Nato’s largest military powers to justify incursions aimed at destroying Kurdish rebel bases in mountains beyond its borders.

Details of the legal challenge emerged as Turkish jets launched a fresh wave of attacks over the weekend on positions occupied by the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) fighters in the Zap region of northern Iraq.

Ahmad Danas, a PKK spokesman, confirmed “there was a Turkish air strike last night … but it caused no casualties. They hit empty bases. The fighters do not have fixed bases.”

A senior Turkish commander said last week that Turkey and Iran are cooperating, sharing intelligence and carrying out coordinated strikes against the PKK and Pejak, the group’s Iranian wing.

In February, thousands of Turkish soldiers moved into northern Iraq in an attempt to annihilate strongholds occupied by the PKK. Turkey denies civilians were killed.

That incursion – the largest in a decade – provoked international criticism that it would destabilise the one region of Iraq that was relatively calm. US officials confirmed they were also sharing intelligence with the Turkish military in order to pinpoint rebel bases and minimise civilian casualties. Kurdish rebels have been fighting for a homeland in eastern Turkey since 1984. More than 30,000 people have died during the conflict.

Turkey, an eager applicant for membership of the EU, was one of the founding states of the Council of Europe, the body that established the European court of human rights. The legal claims have been brought by the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) on behalf of Muslim and Chaldean Christian villagers who say they lost their homes during Turkish air raids last October and December.

The cases will test the limits of the court’s jurisdiction but have a precedent. A 1995 case, also brought by the KHRP, resulted in the Strasbourg court establishing the principle that Council of Europe states could be held accountable for human rights abuses committed beyond their borders – even outside Europe. The KHRP failed on that occasion, however, to prove that Turkish soldiers had killed seven shepherds found dead in northern Iraq.

The latest cases have been prepared following a fact-finding mission to the area this spring. Kerim Yildiz, the organisation’s director, said of his investigations: “We have been told that Turkish shelling and bombing caused civilian deaths and injuries, and damage to livelihood, farmland and property.

“In Iraq I witnessed some of these atrocities and also saw that civilians have been traumatised [and] … displaced. The military operations have compromised the human rights of Iraqi civilians.” One of the British lawyers involved is Mark Muller QC, who chairs both the Bar Human Rights Committee and the KHRP.

A Turkish embassy spokesman in London said: “To my knowledge there were no civilian casualties [in northern Iraq]. But there were some civilians who complained that they had lost livestock.”

June 9 2008 by Owen Bowcott