The UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s long-awaited report on relations with Turkey finally came out last week.
Select Committees in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, provide powerful oversights on the work of government departments and policies. By holding government to account and making the results of their inquiries public, they are prime examples of democracy at work.
The Foreign Affairs Committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons, is made up of 11 backbench opposition and governing party Members of Parliament.
The Committee examining bilateral relations between the UK and Turkey was chaired by the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt. He launched the inquiry on 21 July 2016. Its remit was to focus on rights and freedoms as well as Turkish foreign and security policies and their relevance to the UK.
The Committee invited written submissions and witnesses for oral evidence, addressing issues such as the situation in Turkey regarding the status of democracy and rights, Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East and its relations with the UK, European Union and NATO.
It received written evidence from 32 persons or organisations, including from the Turkish Embassy , the Gulenist Centre for Hizmet Studies organisation, the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), Republican Peoples Party (CHP), various civil society organisations and individuals with Turkey expertise.
For oral evidence and questioning the invitees included Sir Alan Duncan MP (Minister of State for Europe and the Americas), Lindsay Appleby (Director, Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Dr Yüksel Alp Aslandoğan (Executive Director, Alliance for Shared Values), Özcan Keleş (Chairman, the Dialogue Society), Ertuğrul Kürkçü, (MP, Honorary President of the HDP), and the academics Professor William Hale, Professor Rosemary Hollis, Ziya Meral and Bill Park. Their long testaments and all associated correspondence can be found here.
Contrary to what has been claimed in Turkey, the Committee did indeed visit Turkey in January this year and put their questions to Turkish authorities, including President Erdogan. They also spoke to other politicians, journalists, business leaders and ordinary citizens.
The conclusions reached and recommendations to the government make sobering reading for all concerned.
On the 15 July coup attempt, there is strong condemnation.
“Terrorism and coup attempts are a denial of the most basic of human rights and freedoms, as well as of the values of democracy”, the report says, adding “It would be naive to assume that any country would go through a coup such as the one Turkey went through and not see significant changes made in order to protect its democracy and the rule of law”.
Reminding readers that the two movements with Islamist influences, the Justice and Development Party and the Gulenists, were once allied, the report sees “an added bitterness of a fratricidal conflict” in post-coup purges.
The Committee praises the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for its prompt display of solidarity with Turkey after the 15 July. However, the FCO comes under strong criticism for seeming to be “willing to accept the Turkish government’s account of the coup attempt and the Gülenists broadly at face value”. The Committee points out that nine months after the coup attempt, none of the accused have been tried and found guilty yet. Large numbers of suspects have not even been brought to trial.
The Committee expresses concern over significant weakening of the democratic institutions and culture of Turkey, mentioning freedom of expression being “notably deteriorated”. It calls on the FCO to press Turkey “to adopt a narrow and focused definition of ‘terrorism’, and to ensure that it is not applied in the politically-motivated sense of silencing the government’s critics”.
The UK government is also urged to give human rights sufficient prominence in its dialogue with Turkey. “When defending human rights, the UK must be both seen and heard”, it says. The Foreign Office is urged to support Turkey in its fight against the terrorist threat from the PKK while at the same time encouraging both sides to re-engage with the peace process.
“The resumption of the conflict since 2015 has deeply damaging implications for Turkey. Ultimately, there is no military solution to this conflict,” the Committee concludes.
There are many other recommendations relating to the situation in the Middle East, particularly the war in Syria, Turkey’s role in NATO and its worsening relations with the EU.
As there are explicit criticisms and strong recommendations for the FCO, the UK government’s response to the Foreign Affairs Committee will be awaited with great interest.
Compared to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan and his team seem to have a much clearer opinion on the involvement of the Gulenists in the failed coup and they express much more sympathy to the Turkish government. They see trade relations with Turkey as a crucial part of the strategic partnership with Turkey and prefer “engagement” to “admonishment”.
It will be interesting to see if – as recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee – the FCO would list Turkey as a “Human Rights Priority country” in its next Human Rights and Democracy Report.
The Turkish government’s immediate response to the report was predictably dismissive.
Turkey’s EU minister, Omer Celik called it “partial” and suggested the Committee should have “come together with Turkish parliamentarians, both from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and opposition parties, and drawn up a “joint report”, instead.
This post is also available in: Turkish