In today’s edition of the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Turkish newspaper columnist, lawyer, and human rights defender, Orhan Kemal Cengiz asks an important, powerful question. In his editorial piece The ICC and crimes against humanity in Turkey, he asks: While Serbs continue to deliver Serbian butchers to The Hague, who will try Turkish butchers who committed crimes against humanity in the ’90s against Kurds in Turkey?
It is a timely question. A significant question. A question that begs an audience. It might be, for many, an extraordinarily shocking question. And, unfortunately, it is not a question that enough people are asking. Why aren’t more people asking about crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Kurds?
There are also many questions that people never ask. They go unasked for fear of asking. Unasked for fear of knowing the answers. Unasked out of ignorance. Unasked, nonetheless. Many questions that, perhaps, we don’t know how to ask. Or to whom to direct them.
Cengiz writes in his column about the International Criminal Court (ICC) that ‘[d]uring the ’90s more than 3,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed and tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings were committed.’ Another question then might be, Why did this happen? As Cengiz points out, these crimes are a perfect fit for the definition of ‘crimes against humanity.’ Who committed these heinous ‘crimes against humanity’ against the Kurds? Ah, another question. No one is asking that one either.
According to Article 7 of the Rome Statute a ‘crime against humanity’ is an act committed as ‘part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.’ The ‘act’, to name a few, may be ‘murder’, ‘forcible transfer of population’, ‘torture’, ‘rape’, or ‘other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.’ All of these ‘acts’ have been directed against the Kurds for decades. Who is asking why?
The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Turkey is not a party to the treaty, which went into force on 01 July 2002. The court was ‘established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.’ There are now 139 signatories and 115 member nations. Joining Turkey in the group of non-member countries are Somalia, China, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and some others. Asking why these particular countries will not become party to such a treaty is one question that may not be necessary.
As the ICC cannot try the ‘Turkish butchers’ who perpetrated tens of thousands of Kurdish murders, we are back to Cengiz’s original question of ‘Who will?’ Certainly not the Turkish judiciary. Cengiz writes that only 20 of these murders are now being addressed in a trial in Turkey. Only 20. Only 20 of tens of thousands. And, he adds, that not a single person is ‘being put on trial because of their role in the destruction of villages in southeastern Turkey.’ What is preventing justice here? Where is the international outcry?
A few years ago in one of his columns (Bloody Turk! 18 Sept 2009), Cengiz said of himself : ‘I am not a religious person. I am not Kurdish. I am not gay. I am not Christian. I am not Armenian. I am not Roma. But I have spent all my life defending these people’s rights.’
Indeed, Mr Cengiz is an experienced lawyer and defender of human rights. He is president and founding member of the Human Rights Agenda Association, with more than ten years of experience working in human rights organisations, including a stint with the Kurdish Human Rights Project in London. At times Mr Cengiz has even had to seek protection because of the work he does. It takes courage to stand up for dignity and human rights.
But it doesn’t take decades of experience to ask questions. It does take courage to ask the right questions. It takes courage to want to know the true answers.
In this time of revolutionary change, the world is applauding people’s courage to stand up to the brutality of the region’s repressive regimes. They have the courage to face tanks and bullets, to demand reform and to question the legitimacy of the regime. The fear is gone and they want an end to oppression.
In Turkey too courage is building and the Kurds want an end to Ankara’s oppression. It’s time to start questioning Turkey’s repressive policies towards the Kurds. It’s time to start asking the questions that, until now, no one has dared to ask.