Thursday, 21 May 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator David Norris: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. I raise a human rights matter which involves a distinguished parliamentarian and diplomat, Mr. Remzi Kartal, who is a member of the Kurdish National Congress. Mr. Kartal visited the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs with a delegation of Kurdish representatives some years ago. The Minister of State may have met him at that time. I met him and have a photograph of the two of us in Leinster House.
Mr. Kartal was granted political asylum in Belgium in 1994. I am sure the Minister of State will remember the events preceding this because a number of duly elected Kurdish members of parliament were imprisoned by the Turkish Government. It was a most extraordinary invasion of parliamentary rights. In any case, he was elected as a representative of the Democracy Party in Turkey.
Mr. Kartal was arrested in Spain in March of this year. I say as a kind of codicil to that arrest, which was flagrantly illegal, that a colleague of his, Mr. Eyyüp Doru, was also placed under similar restrictions by the Spanish authorities.
Over the past ten years, Mr. Kartal has been working for peaceful reconciliation for the Kurdish people and he has had complete freedom of movement around the states of the European Union. In March of this year, he went to Madrid to take part in a very ancient Kurdish festival called Newroz which is widely celebrated in the area of Turkey where Kurdish people predominate. He was arrested in Spain and is now subject to the possibility of being forcibly extradited to Turkey at the request of the Turkish authorities. This would be illegal under international law and I ask the Minister to protest strongly to the Spanish and Turkish authorities.
Following his arrest, he was taken to prison, held there for a couple of days and then released on condition that he must stay in a named residence, remain in Spain and report twice a week to the police. The same conditions operate in the case of Mr. Eyyüp Doru.
In this case, Turkey has abused the powers of Interpol, a matter which should also be looked at. In addition, the UNHCR has warned that in the eventuality of the return to Turkey of these two gentlemen, they face the strong possibility of torture. That reinforces my view that this possible procedure is completely illegal.
Why has this happened? Part of the reason may well be because there is a personal friendship between Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, and Mr. Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister. Even though I have some respect for both gentlemen, that is not sufficient reason to infringe the law.
Furthermore, the dossier produced in the Spanish court contained material that was used four years ago in Germany when a similar approach was made to the German authorities and, in consequence, Mr. Kartal was arrested, brought to court and tried. The Minister of State should be aware that the German court threw out those accusations stating they were a fabrication without any substance. A German court found that to be the case but now the Spanish are using the same entirely discredited material to facilitate the inhibition of movement and the possible extradition of Mr. Kartal.
Everything is made considerably worse by the fact that the Spanish Cabinet has taken a decision to extradite. On Friday, 8 May, it approved the extradition of both Mr. Kartal and Mr. Doru to Turkey. That is a most disgraceful abuse of the courts and of international diplomacy and is a violation of the fundamental rights of this distinguished former parliamentarian and diplomat. I ask the Minister of State to intervene on his behalf.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Dick Roche): I thank Senator Norris for raising an issue which in turn raises a number of subsidiary matters. As the Senator is aware, Mr Remzi Kartal, a pro-Kurdish political activist and a former member of the Kurdish Parliament, was arrested in March this year by the Spanish police on foot of an international arrest warrant issued by the Turkish authorities. Mr. Eyyüp Doru was arrested at the same time. The case of both men is being dealt with by the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, and the men are on provisional bail, as the Senator acknowledged.
I understand that on 8 May the Spanish Government approved the continuation by the Audiencia Nacional of judicial proceedings in respect of the extradition request by the Turkish authorities for the two men and that the case continues to be under consideration by the Spanish High Court. The situation may not be as final as the Senator indicated in his concerns.
Senator Norris will appreciate that it would be entirely inappropriate for the Government to seek to intervene in, or comment on judicial proceedings under way in another EU member state. We would resent any such intervention or interference with our courts. Therefore, I am in a bind and not in a position to make a statement on these individual cases.
However, I wish to update Senator Norris and the House on efforts under way to promote the Kurdish identity in Turkey and the role the EU is playing in this regard. This is relevant given that Senator Norris has mentioned a warrant that was reviewed and rejected in a German court.
It is estimated that more than half of all Kurds live in Turkey, with 15 million people of Kurdish ethnic origin residing there, mostly in the south east of the country. The Government’s concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey, including the position of people of Kurdish origin, are raised regularly in our contacts with the Turkish Government, including through our embassy in Ankara.
We are also concerned about the security situation in the south east of the country, which was improving gradually until 1999 although it has worsened in more recent years. This follows the resumption of violence by the PKK, a Kurdish separatist organisation founded in 1984 with the goal of forming a separate state of Kurdistan. The PKK appears on the EU list of terrorist organisations.
Senator David Norris: I am sorry but I really must interrupt the Minister of State at this point. I object in the strongest possible manner to this rubbish being placed on the record. Mr. Kartal, whose matter I have raised today, has no association whatever with the PKK. This material could be used to smear him. I suggest that this reply be withdrawn.
Deputy Dick Roche: I ask Senator Norris to bear with me. No such implication was made nor could such an inference reasonably or rationally be taken. I was simply referring to the reality that the PKK is such an organisation. Certainly, there is no evidence in my file or in the material I have that might be produced to suggest that this gentleman has specific associations——
Deputy Dick Roche: With respect to the Senator, if he bears with me he will see there is relevance. One of the key issues in respect of the EU enlargement negotiations with Turkey is to ensure legitimate anti-terrorism and security measures are not used to undermine full respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. As Senator Norris well knows, this is a specific part of the Copenhagen criteria which the EU applies. Any state looking for membership must meet it and the Turkish authorities know that full well.
In this regard, the number of cases taken against political parties in Turkey is of concern to the EU and to Ireland, and this issue has been raised regularly by the EU in the context of enlargement negotiations with Turkey. The progress report on Turkey prepared by the European Commission issued in November 2008 noted that “the current legal provisions applicable to political parties do not provide political actors with an adequate level of protection from the state’s interference in their freedom of association and freedom of expression”. In addition, the report stated that “the legal provisions on political parties need to be amended and brought into line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and best practice in EU member states”. Ireland fully supports the recommendations set out by the Commission in this report.
In March 2009, the European Commission for Democracy through Law of the Council of Europe, also known as the Venice Commission, presented an opinion to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on the dissolution of political parties in Turkey. This report has been welcomed by the Turkish Government which is undertaking political and legal consultations to adopt its recommendations and bring Turkey fully into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
We welcome that Turkey has made some progress in recent years in adopting wide-ranging political and legal reforms. Important legislative measures on human rights have been introduced and enacted aimed at strengthening the enforcement of human rights and protecting the cultural rights of all citizens, including those of Kurdish origin.
Reforms have seen the first Kurdish language classes begin in private schools and some programmes in the Kurdish language have been broadcast on state television and radio channels. At the 47th meeting of the EC-Turkey Association Council held in Brussels on 19 May 2009, the EU welcomed the launch of television and radio broadcasting in Kurdish nationwide 24 hours a day. In addition, the EU encourages Turkey to take further measures to enhance cultural rights in practice and lift remaining restrictions, especially in respect of the use of languages other than Turkish in local broadcasting and political life and when accessing public services. The EU also urges Turkey, in line with best practice in member states, to adopt appropriate measures to ensure cultural diversity and promote respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and with the principles laid down in the framework convention for the protection of national minorities. We continue to urge the Turkish Government to resolve any of the outstanding issues that relate to minority rights, including those that relate to Kurdish identity, and in co-operation with our EU partners we will closely monitor developments in the region through our embassy in Ankara.
I return to the matter of the Senator’s intervention. Nothing in this reply is in any way intended to pre-judge the position of this man or to suggest that anything other than due process must be applied properly in his case.
Senator David Norris: I thank the Minister of State for his clarification but virtually all of his reply was irrelevant. It was a type of history lesson, accurate enough as far as it went. I am sure the Minister of State knows only too well that dragging the PKK scent across this trail is not at all helpful and is completely wrong-headed. I accept his clarification but obviously it was unnecessary to have included that reference which could have been damaging. I very much regret it.
On to the substance of the matter, this man is being treated illegally. One hopes the Spanish courts will behave in the appropriate manner. I am not suggesting any interference with the Spanish courts but rather a diplomatic move as an indication to the Spanish Government that we are taking an interest in this as a matter of human rights and as a matter of considerable significance. It is astonishing that he should have been arrested on substance that has been shown to be nonsense in the German courts.
I am asking whether the Minister would be prepared to make some discreet, if necessary, diplomatic move with regard to the Spanish authorities, signalling to the ambassador here that there is considerable concern at Government level about this issue. We are entitled to be concerned as co-members of the European Union, since European police machinery has been misused in this affair. Indeed there is nothing whatever to stop a signal being sent to the Turks. They are not involved in a court case. The UNHCR is concerned about the possibility of torture. This man is innocent and the charges were thrown out in the German court. I am asking whether the Minister will make some move towards signalling to both the Spanish and the Turks that this situation is unsatisfactory, is being monitored and will continue to provoke demonstrations such as the one taking place as we speak, which I am going to join outside the Spanish Embassy this afternoon.
Deputy Dick Roche: I thank Senator Norris for that. I will ensure the appropriate embassies as well as the permanent representation to the Council of Europe have copies of the transcripts and are aware of the concerns.
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