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23 Mar, 2016 21:02

RT’s #JusticeForKurds petition garners 10k signatures in matter of days

RT’s #JusticeForKurds petition garners 10k signatures in matter of days

RT’s petition calling for the UN to investigate human rights abuses by the Turkish military against Kurds in Turkey has gathered over 10,000 signatures. It is alleged that the government crackdown has seen innocent civilians killed en masse.

The petition, named #JusticeForKurds, was launched on March 17 on the Change.org website. It calls for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to take action.

RT’s petition on Change.org: We urge UNHRC to investigate alleged mass killing of Kurds in Turkey

RT traveled to Cizre in the southeast of Turkey to get a firsthand account of the alleged abuses. The channel’s correspondent, William Whiteman, said he witnessed shocking scenes of destruction in the city while collecting horrifying accounts of an alleged massacre of Kurdish civilians there.

Reports claiming that Turkish troops had slaughtered dozens of civilians trapped in basements in Cizre first surfaced in February. A member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party accused the military of having “burned alive” around 150 people while they were trapped in the basements of different buildings.

The material RT gathered was passed on to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the international and Middle East branches of Medics Without Borders (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Amnesty International.

The ICRC said they do not have a Turkish office and, thus, cannot investigate the situation in Turkey’s southeast, while the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s office in Geneva only offered a press-release dated February 1.

Meanwhile, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), an international humanitarian-aid group, said publicly commenting on “extreme acts of violence” is “not the primary mission of the organization.”

“Regarding the situation in southeast Turkey, MSF does not have a team in the area, and thus do not have the capacity to assess the situation on the ground,” the NGO’s representative in Turkey, Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, told RT in a written statement dated March 21, adding that “MSF’s principle is not to comment on any situation without directly bearing witness.”

On the same date, Amnesty International promised to examine the facts outlined in RT’s petition, with Andrew Gardner, an expert on Turkey with the charity, telling RT that the situation in Turkey’s southeast “resembles collective punishment.”

In an interview with RT, Garner stressed that the curfews imposed in areas inhabited by Kurds are an “unacceptable limitation of rights of the people” and said that there was clear evidence that “young children, elderly people, people who clearly were not fighters” were killed during the crackdown.

He also confirmed that Ankara had denied Amnesty International monitors, as well as those from other international observers, access to the curfew-affected areas and had done nothing to investigate allegations of abuse “in any meaningful way.”

Garner stressed that there is an urgent need for both Turkish and international human rights organizations to do everything possible to investigate the claims that civilians had been killed en masse by Turkey’s military.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed support of RT’s petition and also appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office, asking it to inquire into the allegations.

Speaking to journalists during a joint press-conference with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the ministry “voiced grave concern over the report presented [by RT]” and had “alerted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the matter.”

Meanwhile, a report released by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation in February found that, between August 16 and February 5, at least 224 civilians had been killed, including 42 children, adding that over 1.3 million people have been affected by curfews implemented by the Turkish government.

Ankara’s crackdown against the Kurds shows no signs of abating, with security forces arresting 10 people in the town of Silopi, 30 kilometers east of Cizre. The incident took place on March 20 as a crowd celebrating the Kudish Newroz festival (the Persian New Year also celebrated by the Kurds) gathered in defiance of the Turkish government’s ban on mass gatherings amid a crackdown on Kurdish militants.

Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon to forcefully disperse the crowd that had gathered for the festivities, which had been organized by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party.

In the meantime, in a written statement sent to RT on Wednesday, German MP Sevim Dagdelen, a spokesperson on International Relations for the Left Party and member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Bundestag, accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “waging a war against [his] own population” and committing “war crimes.”

She added that her party “is concerned with new reports about paramilitary special forces that terrorize the Kurdish population in Cizre and elsewhere,” saying Turkey “should be held responsible for the killing of civilians,” as she called for a “prompt and extensive international investigation into the allegations” of massacre.

On Tuesday, Marie-Christine Vergiat, a French lawmaker from the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, said that the reports from Cizre should be properly investigated, stressing that Turkey “needs to justify its position” and that “infants could not be terrorists.”