The letter was sent to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on February 22, 2005:
We have followed with urgent interest the implementation of the July 2004 Law on Compensation for Damage Arising from Terror and Combatting Terror (Law 5233 – “Compensation Law”). According to a Ministry of Interior press release in August 2005, 104,734 internally displaced persons had applied for compensation under the law before the deadline of 27 July 2005. The fairness of the assessments and the level of the settlements will be determining factors in whether or not the displaced families will be able to return in safety and dignity to their homes.
In recent months, provincial damage assessment commissions have begun to make their first rulings. We wish to draw attention to the inconsistency in the rulings; some of the rulings have been realistic and acceptable, while others seem patently inconsistent with the government’s avowed intention to eliminate “the difficulties faced by our citizens who were obliged to leave their villages.”
One group of decisions by Batman provincial damage assessment commission was that forty-one internally displaced families, who were displaced from 1992 to 2002 in Y village near Hasankeyf, should each be paid an average of 50,000 YTL (30,000 euros). This sum is hardly adequate to fully compensate a family for the destruction of its home and the deprivation of its livelihood for a decade or more, much less the profound trauma caused by the original displacements following the armed conflict. On the other hand, such a sum will substantially assist displaced families in returning to their homes in the southeast, or in integrating into cities to which they have fled. From this strictly practical point of view, the rulings of the Batman damage assessment commission may be deemed as the absolute minimum amount that could be considered adequate compensation.
By contrast, a decision of the Diyarbakır commission gave 101 families from village D near Kulp an average of 29,000 YTL (18,000 euros) each. In a group of villages near Kocaköy, the Diyarbakır commission gave 144 families an average of 18,000 YTL, with some families receiving as little as 5,000 YTL (3,000 euros). In Adıyaman, a family from village S received 17,000 YTL (10,700 euros) and in Elazığ a family from village A. received 16,000 YTL (10,000 euros). Such sums in no way meet the needs of a displaced family, typically impoverished by a decade in rented accommodations in the city, hoping to reconstruct their home, buy livestock or seed, and support themselves through two winters until they are able to establish an income stream. Such sums are also well below the average sums that the European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Turkish government to pay to families whose goods and houses it was responsible for destroying.
What is more, assessment commissions in Hakkari have rejected 243 internally displaced families’ applications on the grounds that villagers had been unable to document their forced displacement. For instance, the Hakkari assessment commission rejected dozens of applications from Akbulut village in that province on the grounds that the applicants had signed a paper ten years ago saying that they had quitted their village voluntarily. Given that many who were ultimately displaced from the southeast faced intimidation and threats of extreme violence before they fled, it is likely that any such statements were given under great duress.
Commissions must guard against fraudulent claims, but making unrealistic demands for documentation will only exclude genuine applicants. The true patterns of displacement can easily be established from official and non-governmental reports, from accounts given by village elders and muhtarlar, and the testimony of the displaced themselves. The assessment commissions should not attempt to deny displaced families the desperately needed compensation for which they clearly qualify by setting conditions that are impossible to meet, or do not take into account the circumstances surrounding most displacements.
The settlements in Batman province go one step toward meeting your government’s stated commitment to ensure the displaced can return in safety and dignity. The government must also ensure that returning villagers are safe from intimidation and attack by village guards; take reasonable measures to ensure that village sites are free of landmines; and provide essential infrastructure to returning communities (specifically, access to electricity, telephones, clean water, and schools).
We urge that you order an immediate and thorough review of the commissions’ work to ensure that all provinces consistently apply fair criteria in judging whether or not a particular family is entitled to receive a payment under the law, and consistently make payments that, although not full restitution, are at least adequate.
Europe and Central Asia division
Human Rights Watch
Kurdish Human Rights Project