Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cake Can Not Be Had and Eaten

Prime Minister Erdogan, addressing a press conference at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) headquarters in Jeddah this past Wednesday, affirmed Turkey's European vocation while declaring that “Turkey will not lean to either left or right and will not leave its values and principles during its continuous negotiations to join the European Union.”

However, in November, many EU officials were left to wonder just what those principles when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was due to attend an OIC meeting in Istanbul. The decision raised the ire of plenty of internationally-conscious Turks with whom I spoke at the time, many of them AKP supporters, and several of whom generally approve of Erdogan. I post this now because I did not have a chance to before, and because Erdogan's praise of the OIC renews the issues' relevance.

The OIC has consistently supported al-Bashir, widely recognized as responsible for crimes against humanity committed in Sudan's Darfur region. (For an example of this support, see this statement fom the OIC to the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, in which the OIC called on the Council "to reflect and respect the views of the Sudanese Government which is cooperating with the human rights machinery" -- this despite the fact that there is plenty of evidence to more than suggest that al-Bashir was not only complicit in crimes against humanity, but may have acted in a planning capacity.) Muslims make up the vast majority of those targeted by paramilitary groups receiving assistance from the Sudanese government. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest in March.

While the AKP's foreign policy has unequivocally condemned crimes committed by Israel in its invasion of Gaza last January, it has been less keen to raise human rights concerns in regard to Sudan (not to menton Iran). Last March it was widely expected that Turkey would use its temporary seat at the UN Security Council to try to defer the ICC's warrant. This move was followed up in November by plans for the Sudanese leader's visit to represent Sudan at the OIC meeting. While the European Union did not publicly question Turkey's flirtations with intervening on the war criminal's behalf at the Security Council, the OIC meeting proved a different story. Then, the EU made clear to Turkey that it did not approve of Bashir's invitation or its friendly relations with the war criminal. Click here for the story from Hürriyet, and for an international perspective, see this piece from the UAE's the National.

Particularly noteworthy at the time was President Gül's condemnation of EU intervention in Turkish foreign affairs. President Gül has been seen as more Euro-friendly than other AKP leaders, but expressed strong disappoval of "EU meddling." While the AKP's position was that the OIC meeting was not a bilateral meeting between Turkey and Sudan, and that Bashir, as the head of state of a member country, could not feasibly be dis-invited, AKP leaders did not and have not since questioned the OIC's continued support of the war criminal. Most likely under pressure from Turkey, al-Bashir eventually declined the invitation.

However, soon after, Erdogan not only expressed his belief that al-Bashir is innocent of war crimes in Darfur, but said that Muslims could not commit genocide and that crimes in Israel were greater. For a reaction of Erdogan's comments at the time, see Joost Lagendijk's thoughtful column in Hürriyet. Lagendijk is former chair of the EU Parliamentary Committee with Turkey and a long-time supporter of Turkey's EU accession. See also Seth Friedman's column in The Guardian.

Turkey's new foreign policy is said to be centered around creating good relations with all of its neighbors, but eventually, troublesome decisions about human rights will come about. While Erdogan may visit the OIC and express support for it and a vocation for Europe, eventually Turkey will have to deal with where it stands in relation to human rights and realize that those principles -- not exclusively European by any means -- require it to condemn crimes against humanity. Are they not also Turkey's principles? Just as importantly, if they are, these human rights principles call Turkey to use its increasing power and influence for their advancement, including within the OIC. There is nothing inherently inconsistent about Turkey's membership in both institutions, but there will continue to be a nauseating element to the president and prime minister's statements until Turkey makes it clear what its principles are, and just what it will do to uphold them.


And, as a germane aside, around the same time Erdogan made these comments, he said Turkey would reconsider signing the Rome Statute establishing the ICC if it were to be amended to include terrorism a crime under its jurisdiction. Shortly after, the Dutch proposed an amendment doing just this. The proposal will be formally made at the ICC's review conference in Kampala next June. For some background on this, in Rome, states parties discussed adding terrorism and drug trafficking as crimes justicable under the Court's jurisdiction, but decided not to. There has also been discussion of making pre-emptive war a crime under the Statute as well. Any amendment must be approved by 2/3 of States Parties to the Statute.

In 2004, Erdogan promised to sign the Rome Statute and push for ratification. The Justice and Foreign Ministries assembled a working group while the Foreign Ministry began drawing up plans for ratification following the prime minister's 2004 promise. However, officials in the Justice Ministry ended up opposed (see previous posts). There has been a great deal of mis-information about the ICC by opposition in the Turkish media, including that the Court may try Turkish soldiers involved in the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. (The Court has no jurisdiction over crimes predating its establishmnet in July 2002.) Turkey's signature and ratification are squarely in the hands of the government, which again, expressed in its August 2008 National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA) that it planned to join the ICC, which the EU has long called on Turkey to do. Whether it happens, like Turkey's EU membership, is another thing entirely.

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