Kevin Boyle, regarded as one of Ireland’s and the UK’s leading human rights academics, passed away on Sunday. Below is a column from Today’s Zaman (by Orhan Kemal Cengiz), Kevin Boyle, Öcalan’s picture and unsolvable Kurdish question, which pays tribute to Professor Boyle’s contributions to defending Kurdish rights. Boyle became a civil rights leader while at Queen’s University in the late 60s and was active in People’s Democracy and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. He also served as the director of human rights NGO Article 19, acted as special advisor to Mary Robinson during her time as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and practised as a barrister in the UK.
After being captured and brought to Turkey, Abdullah Öcalan’s pictures were all over all newspapers in Turkey. At that exact time, I was attending a fact-finding hearing before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In those photos, Öcalan appeared before a huge Turkish flag, looking quite confused and concerned.
During the break of the hearing I was looking at these photos. Kevin Boyle, who was the leading lawyer on our side, approached me to see what I was looking at and after having a very short glance of the picture of Öcalan, he made that comment I would never forget: “Abuse of power,” he said.
Kevin Boyle, professor of law and the then-director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Essex, had quite a sharp intelligence and was an extremely talented lawyer. He brought hundreds of cases before the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey on behalf of Kurdish villagers whose villages were destroyed, whose relatives were forcefully disappeared, who were severely tortured and who were subjected to so many other terrible human rights violations in Southeast Turkey.
The first time I heard Kevin’s name was in 1996 when I was the director of the Human Rights Center of the İzmir Bar Association. It was really very interesting to see that in almost all major cases against Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights, two British lawyers’ names appeared on the judgments, namely Kevin Boyle and Françoise Hampson. While I was following this fascinating link I found myself in London working on European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) cases.
Kevin, Françoise and some other British lawyers had played an extremely significant role in forcing Turkey to give an account for what it did in Southeast Turkey. Without having these lawyers, it would not have been possible to force Turkey to come before the European Court of Human Rights. Kurdish lawyers, who were trying to bring village destruction and other cases involving horrific human rights abuses to court, were themselves victims of harassment and intimidation in the 1990s. Not only the safe distance of British lawyers from Turkey, but also their mastery of advocacy, the drafting of legal documents, cross examination and most of all their unshakable belief in human rights, greatly helped everyone seeking justice before international human rights mechanisms. Many people wanted to see a political bias on the part of British lawyers for these cases against Turkey, but before Turkey, Kevin gave the United Kingdom a very hard time on cases before the ECtHR for cases coming from Northern Ireland.
If you look at these cases in which Turkey were condemned by the European Commission of Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights (especially those that were delivered in the 1990s) you can see everything from brutality to complete denial, from impunity to the to deep state, from a totally collapsing legal system to the blatant denial of Kurdish identity. In short, you can see everything that contributed to the creation of the Kurdish question and the keys for solving it.
If you really would like to understand why we still are unable to solve the Kurdish question today, just read all these terrific stories narrated in those judgments delivered by the ECtHR. Today, people are not kidnapped in broad daylight, people are not disappeared after being taken into custody, villages are not destroyed, but neither have we witnessed any apology for all those terrible things that happened just 10-20 years ago in Turkey. We have not yet confronted what created the so-called Kurdish question yet. Yes, today Turkey is taking important steps in the direction of democratization, in becoming a state of law and so on and so forth, but we cannot see a radical shift that will bring us face-to-face with our history of traumas. We even cannot face what happened in the Southeast, the root causes of the Kurdish problem.
If we really faced our history, with the hell that created all these judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, today we would have really appreciated what Kevin Boyle did for Turkey. I respectfully bow before the memory of this great man, Kevin Boyle, from whom we all learned a lot and who we lost on Sunday. Thank you Kevin for everything you did to bring justice to the countless victims of human rights violations in Turkey and everywhere else in the world. Rest in peace, we will always remember you.