One year on, no justice for Uludere victims
One year ago today, on a bitterly cold winter evening, a Turkish fighter jet attacked a group of its own citizens who were crossing the border from Iraq. A total of 34 civilians were killed, most of them children.
The victims were Kurds from the villages of Roboski and Bujeh, on the Turkish side of the border. They were travelling a well-worn smuggling route, bringing in cigarettes, sugar and fuel to sell for a small profit where they lived in Turkey’s south-east, where few other job opportunities exist.
The Turkish army said following the incident that the villagers had been mistaken for fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a rebel group that has fought for greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds since 1984, and whose bases in the mountainous border region are a frequent target of the Turkish airforce.
One year on, the Turkish government has yet to make any meaningful effort to find out why these group of villagers – whose movements were reportedly being tracked by US Predator drones prior to the strike – were killed on that night.
Amnesty International has described the government’s record in investigating the incident as “not a promising one.” Outlining the problems with the investigation, it said: “A Parliamentary inquiry was established in January, 2012, but, according to media reports, it has been denied access to vital military reports and, the sub-committee carrying out the investigation has already indicated that it would not attempt to determine individual responsibility for the bombing.”
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch condemned the Turkish government for its failure to open and effective and transparent inquiry into what has become known as the Uludere massacre – named after the region in which it occurred – accusing it of failing to “live up to some of its most fundamental obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to safeguard the right to life.”
“The lack of progress in an entire year on completing any investigation of the Uludere incident is very troubling because it is consistent with the government’s overall reluctance to account to the public for the government’s wrongdoing,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at the rights group. “Holding state authorities who killed civilians accountable is crucial to upholding democracy and the rule of law.”
Nicole Pope, writing for Turkish daily Zaman, also mourned the government’s lack of accountability. “Parliament and the government set up inquiries, prosecutors are investigating the event, but the publication of official reports has been postponed. By all accounts, state officials are unwilling to shed light on the disaster and few people now expect that a convincing explanation will be forthcoming,” she wrote.
She added: “the mishandling of the whole issue suggests that Turkey remains a place where civilians can be killed with impunity.”
The Uludere massacre was not the first time civilians have been caught up in Turkey’s decades-old war with the PKK. With fresh airstrikes being carried out last night and little hope of a negotiated settlement on the Kurdish issue, it will not be the last.
For now, attention is focused on Turkey’s troubled neighbour to the south. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been at the forefront of international opposition to Syria’s crackdown on civilians in the civil war raging there. But many have been quick to point out his hypocrisy in failing to show the same restraint he demands of Assad when dealing with his country’s own rebellion.
The same people would no doubt argue that Erdogan’s condemnation of civilian deaths across the border would sound more convincing if those responsible for the deaths at Uludere were held accountable.Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, Roboski, turkey, Uludere
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