British Parliament on Greek affairs
December 2000
Extracts from Debates, Motions and Written Answers at the House of Commons and the House of Lords  related to Cyprus and other Greek affairs.
House of Commons Debates (December 2000)

Commons Hansard  (12 Dec 2000)
House of Commons Hansard Debates for 12 Dec 2000 (pt 5)

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton):
What discussions he has had with his counterpart in Cyprus regarding inter-community relations; and if he will make a statement. 

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): During his most recent meeting with the Cyprus Foreign Minister on 3 October, the Foreign Secretary welcomed the progress made so far in the on-going United Nations Cyprus proximity talks. The discussions also covered the necessity for both sides to remain fully engaged in the UN proximity talks, aimed at securing a just and sustainable settlement in Cyprus, which will benefit both its communities. The United Kingdom remains strongly supportive of the UN process and is working hard to ensure that all involved continue to co-operate fully with the UN Secretary- General's efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.

Mr. Love: My hon. Friend will be aware that Mr. Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, has indicated that he will not take part in further proximity talks. What efforts are the Government making to ensure the continuation of dialogue between the two communities in Cyprus, and what pressures are they bringing to bear to ensure meaningful dialogue leading to a resolution of the conflict on the island?

Mr. Vaz: I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he has done on this issue and on the number of times that he has raised it in the House. It is vital that dialogue continues between the communities, and we have every confidence in the abilities of our special representative, Sir David Hannay. My hon. Friend will know from his meetings with Sir David and others involved in this sensitive process that we want all groups to participate. As the Prime Minister said on 23 December 1998, we want to see a just and lasting settlement for Cyprus.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: After the statement, sir.

House of Lords Debates (December 2000)

Lords Hansard  (20 Dec 2000)
Lords Hansard text for 20 Dec 2000 (201220-08)
European Enlargement

Lord Rea: My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his very good luck. He won two ballots for today's business, first, for the topical Question, and, now, for tonight's debate. He should place some of his money with Camelot for tonight's draw, but perhaps that would be pushing his luck too far.

The noble Lord has been most perceptive in raising this issue. The progress reports, mentioned in the title of the debate, on the candidates for enlargement offer us an opportunity to consider a whole range of social, legislative and economic aspects of the countries concerned. Like most other noble Lords, I shall concentrate on human rights and the treatment of ethnic minorities.

I have only had time to look at two of the reports--those on the Czech Republic and Turkey--so I shall be following along some of the same lines as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Of course, the Czech Republic is in the first wave while Turkey is still some distance away.

The issue in the Czech Republic which concerns me, as others, is the situation of the Roma. That is very similar to that in many central and eastern European countries. The attitude of Czechs to the Roma in their midst was brought home forcefully to me on a visit to Prague about six years ago when the daughter of two very fair-minded and cultured friends revealed a degree of racist hate against gypsies which surprised me, considering that her parents had been persecuted first as Jews and then by the communists, although they had originally been communists and held important posts in the first post-war government.

The problem is now recognised by the Czech government and the progress report stated that the Czech inter-ministerial Roma commission reported recently that the vast majority of the measures in the 1997 action plan to improve the situation of the Roma had been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the report says on page 26:

    "As regards the overall situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic, further efforts are needed, in particular to combat anti-Roma prejudice and to strengthen the protection provided by the police and the courts. Estimated Roma unemployment remains very high at 70-90%. Health and housing conditions are still much worse in the Roma community than amongst the general population. Attitudes at local level are largely unaltered, as illustrated by some recent district court judgements. The inter-Ministerial Roma Commission still has no budget to implement policies, no executive power and few permanent staff. The long-term strategic action programme essentially comprises a list of tasks for individual ministries, but contains no overall budgetary provisions".
The situation of the Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area was also described in some detail in the April report of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, who is Max Van Den Stoel, and also in the subsequent report of the seminar of the Roma in Bratislava in June this year. Both of those reports make quite moving and fascinating reading but they show what a long way there is to go.

But they also give examples of good practice. Sadly, those are too few and far between. For example, a really successful project is the Gandhi Secondary School in Hungary. It is aptly named because, of course, the Roma originate from India. It is dedicated to Roma children alone but brings them up to a good pre-university standard which is equal to or better than normal secondary schools as well as educating them about their own cultural heritage.

What is useful about this report that we have been discussing is that, while the Czech Republic is still a candidate for EU membership, it gives a critical commentary on progress with suggestions for improvement. What is not clear is whether there are set goals by which to assess progress, failing which admission might be postponed or denied. We understand now that there is no chance of that. But I should value my noble friend's comments on whether, perhaps, we should not require the achievement of definite stated goals in, for example, progress with the Roma community.

Of course, we cannot expect perfection. For that, we should first need to remove the beam from our own eye which is very much there. One only has to look at the Macpherson Report. But surely evidence of steady progress must be a minimum requirement and progress which has developed, I suggest, a momentum of its own, so that it cannot be reversed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am concerned that the inevitable timetable has been set out and that depends on economic criteria which overrule everything else. But once inside the EU, perhaps efforts to improve the situation of the Roma will slow down or stop. That is our worry.

Turkey is much further from fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria in terms of democratic institutions, the rule of law and the tolerance of national minorities as well as in a number of economic areas. The report on Turkey, while praising it on progress in several directions, still presents a formidable list of areas where much more progress is needed.

There is no time to go into those in detail but they include, for example, the need in the political sphere to end procedures by the chief public prosecutor to dissolve two legitimate parties--the pro-Kurdish Hadep Party and the moderate Islamist party, Fazilet. Both of those parties have been reborn after their predecessors were banned. The report lists several areas where the judicial system also needs to be much improved.

In the field of human rights, there is a great deal amiss, which is reported; for example, Turkey's non-accession to important human rights documents--the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 6, which abolishes the death penalty, although we acknowledge that the death penalty has not been used by Turkey since 1984, including the case of Abdullah Ocalan. Secondly, it has not signed the convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination or the Council of Europe's convention relating to the protection of national minorities.

The situation regarding torture and ill-treatment is reported to be potentially unchanged since previous reports and that is despite several reports on torture by a committee of the Turkish grand national assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, there is a climate of impunity for law enforcement officials in torture cases.

As those who have read the Guardian this morning will know, the situation in prisons in Turkey is in crisis. There is gross overcrowding in Turkish prisons with 72,500 in custody, of which some 12,000 are political prisoners, according to Kurdish sources.

I understand that legislation has been drawn up to offer amnesty to quite a high proportion of prisoners but we do not yet know which prisoners are to be released. There is now--and this is one of the causes of the trouble--a prison rebuilding programme. Human rights associations fear that the new system will isolate prisoners with no opportunity to socialise. That can, in itself, be a form of inhuman treatment which may already, I suggest, be being used in some cases in preference to physical torture.

Abdullah Ocalan, at his trial, after five months isolation, which still continues one and a half years later, was a pale shadow of his former militant and competent self. There were suggestions that drugs had also been used on him. Of course, that is much easier if someone is being held in isolation.

The current attack on prisons should cause great concern. Apparently, according to credible human rights organisations, the security forces carried out armed assaults on at least 13 prisons in the early hours of yesterday morning. Excessive, disproportionate force and live ammunition have been used and approximately 17 prisoners and one prison guard have died. As my noble friend is aware, the Kurdish human rights project has written to my honourable friend Peter Hain about that, asking for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to make an immediate visit to look at the situation in Turkish prisons.

The assaults were undertaken to break a long, non-violent hunger strike against the new F-type isolation cells and other violations of human rights in prisons. The desperation of the prisoners is shown by the fact that some apparently set themselves on fire rather than submit. There is still a serious restriction on press freedom. The report says:

    "There is still a serious problem with regard to the freedom of expression, including that in the political sphere. Existing legislation, as confirmed by many judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, still leads to interpretations that violate the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkish courts continue to restrict the expression of views with which the State disagrees, notably when it concerns the situation of the population of Kurdish origin".
There is some improvement in the south-east. On page 19 the report states:

"The authorities have also shown the will to allow a partial return of the population in villages and hamlets evacuated in the past for security reasons".

However, I have a report from the Kurdish human rights project that the village of Senlikko yu near Lice, which was rebuilt by returning inhabitants, was again forcibly evacuated and burned by an army raid on 3rd October. I could give a great deal more detail but time is marching on.

I turn briefly to deal with Cyprus. Over the past 12 months five rounds of proximity talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have taken place but so far there has been only marginal progress. Before the European Court of Human Rights there are over 150 cases brought by Greek Cypriots against Turkey for not allowing access to property. In the case of Mrs Loizidou, judgment has been found against Turkey, but the Turkish authorities have refused to recognise the verdict and still will not allow the owner access to her land.

Cyprus is on track to be admitted to the EU in the first tranche despite the Turkish army's occupation of 37 per cent of the country. As my noble friend knows only too well, there are numerous Security Council and other UN resolutions requiring Turkey to withdraw its armed forces. We should insist upon those resolutions being carried out as a precondition of Turkey entering the EU.

Turkey needs to change in so many areas. It will be an uphill task and will take, I suggest, at least a decade and possibly longer. However, many in Turkey want the EU to insist that Turkey reaches standards that comply with European conventions. We must not let them down by admitting Turkey too soon.

Of course, there is a view that within, rather than outside the EU, Turkey will be more easily persuaded to change. I do not accept that and nor do a great many people inside Turkey who strongly favour Turkey's eventual acceptance. As with the other candidates for admission, we should not allow strategic or economic considerations to override the urgent need for Turkey to reform its whole approach to human rights and the need for it to end its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, if only for the sake of its own people.

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