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The ICC and crimes against humanity in Turkey

Tuesday 7 June 2011, by Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Finally Ratko Mladic, the former chief of staff of the Army of Republika Srpska, has been arrested and he is on his way to The Hague. This is, of course, a step forward for justice for the victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. I am sure it will be a huge relief for Bosnians to see Mladic accounting for the crimes he has committed before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

This news, of course, was also met with great happiness in Turkey by Turks, who have a deep affinity with the Bosnian victims for historical and religious reasons. Mladic and his men used to call Bosnian Muslims Turks. Whether they are aware or not of Mladic’s deep-seated hatred for “Turks,” Turkish people welcomed the news of the arrest of this perpetrator of genocide, who is called the Serbian butcher in Turkey.

In Turkey, most people focused on Mladic’s arrest without thinking too much about its implications for the Serbian people and political system. Delivering war criminals and genocide perpetrators one after another to the ICTY, an ad hoc international court, is a manifestation of a strong political will on the part of Serbia, is it not? In this way, the Serbian political establishment has parted ways with the bloody past of Serbian fascists. Some Serbs are really facing up to their past atrocities, in spite of strong ultranationalist segments that are still alive in that society.

Interestingly enough, between 1992 and 1995, while Bosnian Muslims and Croats were being butchered, there was another serious crime committed in southeastern Turkey. During the ’90s more than 3,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed and tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings were committed. While most Turks welcome the delivery of Mladic to the ICTY, most probably they don’t know that those involved in this destruction of villages and extrajudicial killings committed crimes that are defined as “crimes against humanity,” and thus they could also be transferred to The Hague if Turkey became a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity mean, amongst other things, “murder” and “deportation or forcible transfer of population” when committed as part of widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population. This definition is a perfect definition of the crimes that were committed against Kurds in those years. And we also know that the drafters of the Rome Statute also intended to cover the atrocities committed within the borders of a sovereign country. I have not heard about any person being put on trial because of their role in the destruction of villages in southeastern Turkey. Amongst those tens of thousands murders, only 20 of them are now being addressed in a trial in Cizre, murders allegedly committed by Col. Cemal Temizöz between 1993 and 1994 in this district.

We also know that some founders and commanders of JİTEM, which was responsible for most of these extrajudicial killings, are now being tried in the Ergenekon case for being members of this organization. It is, of course, quite significant to see them behind iron bars, but it is also quite sad that we cannot see them giving an account for crimes against humanity. Imagine if Mladic was being tried in Serbia for being a member of a terrorist organization that aims to overthrow the Serbian government. Would it then be said that justice was being served?

Interestingly enough, as far as I can see, most of Turkey’s hesitation regarding the ICC and reluctance to be a part of it stems from the possibility that the prosecutor in The Hague may press charges against people who have committed crimes against Kurds. Retroactive application of the Rome Statute is not a known practice, but bureaucrats in the Turkish Foreign Ministry may be keeping in mind the possibility that the ICC may adhere to the interpretation that in the case of an “ongoing violation” (reluctance to investigate extrajudicial killings and the inability of Kurds to return to their villages that were destroyed) it would be possible for past crimes, which were committed before a state party ratified the Rome Statute, can be tried by the ICC.

As you see, the situation is very complex. But we are left with a quite simple question: 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?

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Source : Todayszaman.com 31 May 2011

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