The following is an extract from the House of Lords Official Report for

May 22, 1997

From Lord Avebury

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Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they propose to take in response to the Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq and reported killing of civilians in Erbil.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have expressed concern about the Turkish incursion into Northern Iraq against the PKK, a terrorist organisation. We have urged Turkey not to exceed measures to protect her own territorial integrity and legitimate security concerns. We have also stressed to it the importance of respecting human rights and not endangering civilians. We are watching the situation closely.

We have raised the reports of the killing of civilians in Erbil with the KDP. It has said publicly that although it took action to close PKK offices in Erbil, it denies the allegations of rape and murder of civilians.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that repeated Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq are a violation of the United Nations charter and at the very least, the Turkish authorities have an obligation, which rests on every state that crosses an international frontier, to report its action to the Secretary-General of the United Nations? Has that been done? Will the Secretary-General lay a report before the Security Council to see whether Turkey’s legitimate security interests are involved or whether it is part of a wider Turkish plan to secure total domination of Northern Iraq with the KDP?

As regards the killings, has the noble Baroness seen the well authenticated reports from Kurdish sources which indicate that five women were raped and then executed in public in the streets of Erbil; that seven patients were dragged from their beds in the local hospital and murdered; and that 16 others were taken from offices and executed personally by the KDP military commander in Erbil, Jamal Mortaqa; and that the local correspondent of Med-TV has disappeared? Will the Government make it clear to the KDP and its Turkish masters that those crimes will become punishable by the International Criminal Court when it comes into operation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not quite sure how many supplementary questions the noble Lord has asked. However, perhaps I may deal first with the very serious allegations of infringements of human rights which the noble Lord has drawn to our attention. We have raised this matter with the Turkish Government and we have no hard evidence of the incidents which the noble Lord related to the House. We have spoken to both the Turks and the KDP about avoiding civilian casualties. The KDP has denied categorically any wrongdoing in Erbil such as that described by the noble Lord.

Further, we understand that Turkey has no wish to challenge Iraq’s territorial integrity in the way that the noble Lord suggested and, of course, we too respect Iraq’s territorial integrity. I stress to the noble Lord that we have urged Turkey not to exceed measures necessary to protect its own interests. We wish to stress to Turkey, as the EU presidency has done, that the solution to those problems is political and not military. Indeed, on 16th May the presidency called on Turkey to exercise the utmost restraint, to respect human rights, not to endanger the lives of innocent civilians and to withdraw its military forces from Iraqi territory as quickly as possible.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be aware that the protection of human rights was one of the central planks of the Mission Statement outlined by the Foreign Secretary–a statement which cost L54,000 to stage. Can the Minister say whether threatening Turkey with talks is a new and dynamic way of dealing with this obviously serious abuse of human rights? Further, is it not high time to talk turkey to Turkey?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that we appreciate the noble Viscount’s pun. However, I am sure that we all take very seriously the allegations that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has put before the House. As the noble Viscount rightly pointed out, this Government have placed human rights at the heart of our foreign policy. We are reminding Turkey–indeed, we did so even this last week–of the importance of respecting human rights and of avoiding endangering civilians in the region. The Turks have told Her Majesty’s Government that the Turkish forces will be scrupulous in their protection of civilians and that there will be full respect for human rights.

The noble Viscount asked whether we would be taking the matter further. I can tell him that we intend to take a fresh look at how agreed principles in international fora can best be used to encourage a productive and constructive response from Turkey. We agree that much more needs to be done and that quicker progress needs to be made to bring Turkish performance closer to what we would regard as European norms. We know this and the Turkish Government recognise our position on the matter.

Lord Rea: My Lords, will the Government take the incidents of human rights violations by Turkey, and the incursions across international frontiers by that country, as a signal for initiating European discussions to prevent arm sales to Turkey? Surely that would be compatible with the Foreign Secretary’s position.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the question of arm sales to governments whose record on human rights is not all that it might be is, of course, a matter of great concern to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. As my noble friend knows, the Government have an eight-point guidance memo about such sales of arms, which I am sure will form the basis of decisions as regards arms sales to all countries.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness if I may congratulate her upon her clarity of expression?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord may certainly do so. I thank him.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only safe rule is that international frontiers should only be crossed with the approval of the Security Council? Will the noble Baroness take up the matter with the Secretary-General so that proper discussions can be held at the assembly? We should remember the dangerous precedent of the 1930s when previous experience showed that tolerating the crossing of international frontiers was a dangerous and slippery slope which led to vast international conflagration.

As regards the murders in Erbil, is it correct that the United Nations still has personnel in the region? If so, will they be asked to report on the allegations? If there are no UN personnel there, will the international community ask Masood Barzani, the leader of the KDP, whether he will admit the UN Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, Monsieur Bacre Waly Ndiawe so that he can conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the murders?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord asks very specific questions about the role of the United Nations. I shall be happy to write to him on the specific points that he has raised in the last part of his contribution. On the question of incursions into other territories, I have expressed our concern. However, at the same time, the Government understand Turkey’s aim to maintain her own territorial integrity and protect her own legitimate security interests.

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Lord Avebury said today, May 23:

“It is essential that an inquiry be conducted into the murders in Erbil immediately by an independent international agency, and the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, M Bacre Waly Ndiaye, is best placed to undertake this task”.

“The international community should press the leader of the KDP, Mr Massoud Barzani, to invite M Ndiaye for this purpose. Since Erbil is legally in Iraq, the request for an invitation will have to be addressed also to President Saddam Hussain as well”.

“If the KDP and Iraqi authorities do not admit M Ndiaye to conduct an inquiry into these murders, the Rapporteur could issue a call for evidence, so that statements by witnesses to the atrocities in Erbil can be assembled with a view to future legal proceedings against the criminals”.

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