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Turkey In No Position To School Israel On Human Rights

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  • Turkey In No Position To School Israel On Human Rights


    Protestors chant slogans against Israel and Syrian President Bashar
    al-Assad as they carry a mock coffin with the mention "In Hule,
    50 children massacred by knives" during a rally on May 31, 2012 on
    Taksim Square in Istanbul, marking the first anniversary of the Mavi
    Marmara incident. (photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)
    By: Orhan Kemal Cengiz for Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse. Posted on March 19.

    Who can take Turkey seriously when it accuses Israel of crimes
    against humanity and then lays out a red-carpet state reception for
    Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has an arrest warrant from
    the International Criminal Court?

    Or let's put it another way: Can the Turkey that couldn't settle the
    accounts of its massive human rights violations against the Kurds in
    the past and couldn't even apologize for what happened to the Armenians
    in 1915, place Israel's crimes against humanity on the world's agenda?

    Turkey's problematic past not only impedes its efforts to call
    attention to Israel's inhuman practices against the Palestinians,
    but also prevents it from holding violators of the rights of Turkish
    citizens accountable. For example, look at what transpired after the
    Israeli military attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010.

    Nine Turkish nationals lost their lives in the Israeli attack against
    the flotilla. The Israeli operation against the ship, from beginning to
    end, was an array of violations of international law. For an account
    of the terrifying actions of Israeli soldiers in that operation,
    one need only look at the report of the UN Human Rights Council dated
    Sept. 22, 2010 [A/HRC/15/21]. The UN report clearly says that contrary
    to Israeli allegations, nobody had fired on the Israeli soldiers. The
    Israeli soldiers had fired on civilians on board from close range,
    and even after the wounded civilians had fallen to the ground. The
    conclusions of the UN report clearly explain the human tragedy on
    Mavi Marmara that day:

    "The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the
    flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but
    demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It
    betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality."

    The Human Rights Council also provided a legal assessment of the
    Israeli operation: "It constituted grave violations of human rights
    law and international humanitarian law."

    So what did Turkey do against these "grave human rights violations"
    that killed nine of the citizens? It launched a born-dead legal case
    at Istanbul's High Criminal Court. The Istanbul public prosecutor asks
    for nine life sentences for the then-Israeli chief of staff, commanders
    of its navy and air force and the head of military intelligence for
    their responsibility in the deaths. In Turkish jurisprudence, it is
    not possible to try and sentence defendants in absentia. That means
    that unless these former Israeli officials agree to come to Turkey
    for trial by a high criminal court, they can't be penalized.

    Istanbul's 7th High Criminal Court held four sessions starting in
    November 2012 and heard depositions of hundreds of plaintiffs. The
    court is likely to hear even more plaintiffs in its next sessions,
    but since it cannot hear the depositions by defendants, it will
    at some point decide to suspend the trial. If the defendants ever
    come to Turkey, they will risk detention to compel appearance before
    the court. The court can also call on Interpol for the arrest of the
    defendants, should they show up in any European country, to bring them
    before the Turkish court. However, no such request has been sent to
    Interpol at the moment.

    If Turkey had been a country unworried about accounting for its own
    human rights violations, what choice did it have in the Mavi Marmara
    case? For example, if Turkey had been a party to the International
    Criminal Court, it could have asked for the Israeli soldiers to be
    tried there, as the operation was carried out on board a Turkish ship.

    The prosecutor in Istanbul said the Mavi Marmara, although
    Comoros-flagged, was registered in Turkey. The Israeli attack would be
    considered to have been committed on Turkish soil. Turkey then would be
    able to claim that this attack, along with the blockade against Gaza,
    was a war crime. And as there were crimes against humanity committed
    against those on board, the ICC would be qualified to try the case.

    Why doesn't Turkey become a signatory to the ICC, long demanded by the
    EU it hopes to join one day? Turkey is afraid of its past human rights
    violations being brought to the court one way or the other. Some of
    these fears pertain to the Kurdish issue and others to the Cyprus
    question. Turkey is afraid of being accused of ongoing violations
    arising from the inability of Kurdish villagers to return to the
    villages which were set ablaze in 1990s. Turkey also fears its 1974
    military intervention in Cyprus could be classified as aggression as
    per the Rome Statute. Although the ICC had declared its intention to
    investigate crimes of aggression only after 2017, Turkey is not sure
    of settling the Cyprus issue until then, and still fears of being
    accused. Turkey, although a candidate for EU membership, is the only
    country among all EU members and membership candidates that doesn't
    does recognize the ICC's jurisdiction.

    A country that cannot effectively cope with its own human rights
    and other issues in its past cannot give lessons in human rights to
    another country. Sadly, Turkey is so fearful of its own past that
    it cannot leave the corner it has backed itself into, not even to
    prosecute crimes against humanity committed against its own citizens.

    Instead, it must be content with filing legal complaints that will
    not produce any meaningful outcomes and serve only to appease its
    own public.

    Orhan Kemal Cengiz is a Turkish lawyer, journalist and human rights
    activist. A former president of the Human Rights Agenda Association,
    a respected Turkish NGO that works on human rights issues, he has been
    the lawyer of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches since 2002.

    He writes for Today's Zaman and Radikal.

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