ISTANBUL—Turkey’s parliament has made it harder to prosecute for alleged human rights abuses committed during counterterrorism operations, a move that strengthens the government’s hand in its fight against Kurdish insurgents.
A law passed late Thursday gave expanded powers to the in a campaign launched in southeastern Turkey last July after the collapse of a two-year cease fire. Hundreds of civilians, police , and Kurdish militants have been killed in some of the deadliest fighting of a 32-year-old conflict.
The measure is a sign of the ’s re-emergence as a central player in national security decisions under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had moved during the previous decade to curb its influence following allegations of coup plotting against him.
“This law is an Eid gift for our brave security forces who are courageously fighting terrorists in the region,” Fikri Isik told parliament, referring to the religious holiday early next month marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. “It is a very important law that will boost their morale and motivation.”
Critics of the measure said it allows the to act with impunity in an offensive that has destroyed parts of cities with artillery and tank fire.
Prosecutors investigating complaints of abuse in counterterrorism operations will now be required to seek the prime minister’s approval before filing charges against any top general. The defense or interior ministries would have to authorize any charges against lower-ranking personnel.
and who end up being charged would go to trial in courts, under a provision of the law that reduces the jurisdiction of civilian courts.
The law applies retroactively to operations conducted over the past year. It also allows commanders, under some conditions, to issue search warrants on their own rather than seek a judge’s prior approval.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch, said prosecutors were already reluctant to pursue allegations of abuse by the in its campaign against the insurgents. She said numerous allegations had been brought to the attention of authorities since September but that there had been no information about how they were resolved.
Parliament’s action “puts into law what was already in practice,” she said. “The fact that there is no willingness to investigate the is very alarming and shows a very cavalier disregard for international law and Turkey’s own laws.”
Buildings were in ruins late last month after heavy fighting between Turkish government and Kurdish fighters in the southeastern Turkey Kurdish town of Yuksekova. Photo: ilyas akengin/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The law also drew criticism from European officials, who already were demanding that Turkey change sweeping antiterrorism laws used against academics, journalists, Kurdish members of parliament, and other critics of the government.
“People’s feeling of injustice will grow stronger” because of the law, Kati Piri of the Netherlands, the European Parliament lawmaker who monitors Turkey, wrote on her Twitter account. “Impunity prevails.”
A Turkish official said the legislation is being unfairly criticized “and it most certainly doesn’t curb civilian oversight of actions.”
Officials say the is confronting an insurgency that moved from mountainous rural areas into cities during the cease-fire. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has led the armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy in the southeastern provinces since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and its other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.
The conflict has cost more than 40,000 lives. Since the fighting resumed last summer, at least 281 civilians, 525 members of Turkish security forces, and 553 Kurdish militants have been killed, according to the International Crisis Group, which tracks conflicts worldwide. Turkey’s state-run news agency said six were killed in two attacks Friday. Turkish officials have put the death toll for Kurdish fighters in thousands.
Some Kurdish lawmakers and human rights organizations have accused the state of war crimes, charging that the carried out indiscriminate attacks that engulfed civilians.
Turkish officials have denied the allegations, and accused Kurdish lawmakers of providing support for terrorists.
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