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2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı meets with Council of Europe

2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı meets with Council of Europe

On Tuesday, 07 May 2019, representatives of the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı travelled to Strasbourg, France to meet with representatives of the office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland and the Executive Secretariat of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). Representing the 2019 International Peace delegation to İmralı were Ögmundur Jónasson, former Minister of Justice of Iceland, and Connor Hayes, a student of Philosophy.

International Peace Delegation to Imrali

Earlier this year, from 11-16 February 2019, the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı travelled to Turkey and the Turkish region of Kurdistan. Other members of the delegation included Tony Burke, the assistant general secretary of Unite the union, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) union, Paul Scholey, partner of Morrish Solicitors, LLP, Maxine Peake, a prominent actress and playwright from the UK, Beverly Keene, an activist and lecturer in economics in Argentina, John Hunt, a writer and editor, and Jon Spaull, a photographer and filmmaker.

During the visit, the delegation travelled to Istanbul, Ankara, and Amed (Diyarbakir), where they met with officials of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), various political bodies, human rights organizations, trade unions, law firms, and civil organizations, including members of the Mothers for Peace. The delegation also had the opportunity to meet with Ms Leyla Güven – the HDP MP who initiated the mass hunger strike resistance to end the isolation of Mr. Öcalan that now includes more than 7,000 people around the world from Diyarbakir Prison on 7 November 2018 – in her home in Amed, then on her 98th day of hunger strike.

The delegation also sent a letter to the Minister of Justice of Turkey, asking for a meeting to express their concerns about the situation as well as requesting to visit Mr Öcalan on İmralı Island. The delegation never received a response to this letter. The full report of the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı can be found here. Additionally, a documentary has recently been made focusing on the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı, Mr Öcalan and the broader situation. The documentary, narrated by delegation participant Maxine Peake, can be watched in full here.

Sharing the findings with the Council of Europe

Mr Jónasson and Mr Hayes travelled to Strasbourg in order to share the findings of the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı with the Council of Europe and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The purpose of the visit was to convey the experiences and the information acquired during the visit of the delegation to Turkey in February. To this effect, both meetings in Strasbourg were thought to be successful and informative. The delegation explained the rightful frustrations and anger felt by those suffering from human rights abuse amongst Kurdish people in Turkey directed against the international community, and in this context, very pointed criticism was being made of the Council of Europe.

The CPT has made 7 official visits to İmralı Island Prison since Mr Öcalan’s abduction in 1999, the last one coming on 28-29 April 2016. Since any report written by the CPT can only be published with permission from the state in question, the report of this 2016 visit was not published until March 2018. In this report, the CPT makes recommendations for all inmates of İmralı prison – Mr Öcalan and the three others being held prisoner on the island – to be allowed regular visits with their family and lawyers, regular time to spend together with one another, as well as

“a complete overhaul of the detention regime of prisoners sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.”

The Turkish government, however, has yet to implement any of these recommendations. In January 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a motion expressing concern over the situation of human rights in Turkey in general, as well as for the case of Mr. Öcalan in particular, and expressly calling on Turkey to implement the recommendations made in the most recent CPT report on İmralı Prison.

Restrictions on remit limit transparency

Both the office of Secretary General Jagland and the CPT and stressed that while the confidentiality restrictions in their mandate prevent them from sharing the details of their work, the issue of the isolation of Mr Öcalan and the situation in Turkey and Kurdistan is very high on their agenda, and they are actively engaged in dialogue with Turkish state officials to get the government to implement the recommendations made by the CPT in the report following their most recent visit to İmralı Prison.

They also expressed their deep concern over the ongoing hunger strikes and hoped to reach a situation where the hunger strikes could be brought to an end. Additionally, both the Council of Europe and the CPT stated they were optimistic about the situation, especially given the recent visit between Mr Öcalan and his lawyers on 02 May 2019, the first such meeting since 2011. They stated further that the statement issued by Mr Öcalan and the other three inmates of İmralı Prison was very productive and well-received by the officials in Strasbourg. The statement of Mr Öcalan and the other prisoners can be read here.

Turkeys continued human rights abuses

The representatives of the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı expressed concern that the Council of Europe and the CPT had not taken up the issue of isolation and human rights atrocities in Turkey soon enough, forcing the currently ongoing mass hunger strikes protesting against the isolation. Additionally, the delegation expressed concern that while the Council of Europe and the CPT are active, their work is not open enough to the public, creating the perception that they are not working on the issue, and aimed at getting the work done by the Council of Europe and the CPT to become more public and concrete.

There are confidentiality restrictions within the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, which serves to articulate the mandate of the CPT, and for this reason, criticisms made of the CPT are not always fair. The delegation pointed out, however, that the work of the Council of Europe and its subsidiary bodies had to be brought more out into the open and that here rules and frameworks had to be changed, for instance, that the publication of the reports following visits of the CPT should not be at the discretion of the state being inspected. This was discussed at some length in the office of the Secretary-General since it is not in the power of the CPT to change the framework it operates in.

Implementing CPT recommendations critical

The representatives of the Council of Europe and the CPT shared their concerns about this issue as well, but stressed that the strict confidentiality measures in their respective mandates prevent them from being more public about their work, and re-iterated that they were taking the issue seriously, engaging in talks at the highest level, and that they are optimistic about the situation. The primary concern of the Council of Europe, the CPT, and the delegation is to achieve the implementation of the recommendations made by the CPT in their last report by the Turkish state. Furthermore, it is the duty of the Council of Europe and the PACE to find a way to ensure that the recommendations of the CPT are adhered to by every one of their member states.

Peace negotiations must resume

In addition to meeting with the Council of Europe and the CPT, the representatives of the 2019 International Peace Delegation to İmralı had the opportunity to meet with the hunger strikers in Strasbourg, then on day 142 of their hunger strike. The hungers strikers said that while they had some minor health issues, they were all of high morale. The representatives of the delegation gave a brief overview of the meetings they had had earlier in the day, and conveyed that both the Council of Europe and the CPT were taking the issue of Mr. Öcalan and the isolation with the utmost seriousness and urgency, as well as the fact that they were optimistic about the situation.

In reflecting on the trip to Strasbourg, Mr Jónasson said the following:

I think all those we met with recognized the commitment of our delegation. This we emphasized and to this effect also letters were sent by other members of the delegation. Now the task is to press on because one thing is absolutely clear, serious human rights abuse is being carried out in Turkey against the Kurds and that this will not come to an end unless peace negotiations are resumed. Here the stop of the isolation of Öcalan on İmralı Island is a key factor and we urged that the Council of Europe work to this end. I felt our message was understood and appreciated.

Ögmundur Jónasson, former Minister of Justice of Iceland

This article first appeared at International Initiative “Freedom for Ocalan – Peace in Kurdistan”

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By International Initiative

The International Initiative regards itself as a multi-national peace initiative working for a peaceful and democratic solution of the "Kurdish Question" with Kurds and Turks peacefully living together. Even after his imprisonment Abdullah Öcalan is still regarded as the undisputed leader by a majority of the Kurdish community.

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