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Kurdistan Workers’ Party

Volume 767: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reclassify the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a national resistance movement.

My Lords, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, is a proscribed organisation. The Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary to consider deproscription by written application. There are no provisions in legislation to classify a group as a resistance movement.

My Lords, when I tabled this Question I did not expect the Answer to be, “Yes, of course”. However, have the Government fully considered that the PKK long ago stopped killing civilians; that it has offered many ceasefires, particularly since 1999; that it is asking not for independence but for devolution; and that it has the support of non-violent civil society in the south-east and of many other minorities in Turkey? They all want a new constitution. Will the Government consider these points?

Political aspirations are of course noble and those are the types of issues which should be addressed in the peace talks that we want the PKK to return to. But the fact is that the PKK has been responsible for 140 deaths of military police and civilians in Turkey just in recent months, and that is the reason it is proscribed as a terrorist organisation and why it will remain so.

My Lords, we understand the urgency of the Kurdish issue in Turkish politics, and of course now in both Syrian and Iraqi politics, but can the Government at the very least be active in saying to the AKP Government in Turkey that we welcome the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Government, but we think that the provision of better civil rights for the substantial Kurdish minority in Turkey is an important issue for the future, and that the treatment of the HDP over the past few months within Turkish domestic politics has been deeply unfortunate?

A number of those points were raised at the EU/Turkey summit on Sunday which the Prime Minister attended. Of course there is an absolute need for those discussions to continue, but they must go through a diplomatic and political process; this is not to be decided by military violence.

My Lords, first, given that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is also proscribed as a terrorist organisation by several states and organisations including, I believe, Germany, the EU and NATO, do the Government accept that any decision on this issue would have to be made in consultation with our closest allies, especially our European partners? Secondly, the Prime Minister referred yesterday to 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups. Can the Minister say whether the claimed figure of 70,000 does or does not include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is engaged in the war on the ground against the so-called Islamic State and which appears to have gained support from the Mayor of London when he said in the media last week that his sympathies were with the PKK?

I think the Prime Minister said that there are 20,000 Kurdish fighters, who of course are Peshmerga and from the PYD, which of course is not a proscribed organisation. The noble Lord’s point about EU co-operation in these matters is absolutely central, although of course we will retain the power to decide these things at the national level. We have the cross-government Proscription Review and Recommendation Group, and the Home Secretary acts not only on its advice, but also on advice from other external organisations which can make their representations to her.

My Lords, the noble Lord has mentioned the peace process in Turkey, which is extremely important. I am sure that the Government, along with our European partners, are urging Turkey to carry on with that process. However, will they also urge Turkey to return to a ceasefire in order to create the conditions for a proper dialogue? Perhaps I may suggest that, because of our experience in Northern Ireland, we might have a lot to offer in terms of working with the Turks to find a resolution to this difficult question.

Certainly our position is that we are very supportive of a resumption of the peace talks because that is the only way to reach a lasting solution. It is part of a wider package which we need to recognise in terms of Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union and how that is related to its progress on issues such as human rights and freedom of the press. All these are bundled together and linked also, of course, to the ongoing problems with migration and the situation in Syria.

My Lords, were the very important issues of human rights, press freedom and restarting the peace talks with the PKK on the table during the recent talks between the EU and Turkey on the package that has been announced on the refugee issue? Surely these issues must have been central to any discussions between the EU and Turkey.

I do not have a specific answer, but I can write to the noble Baroness with details from the communiqué that was produced after the summit. At the summit the EU announced the prospect of a €3 billion package, while the Prime Minister has announced a payment of £275 million to help Turkey secure its southern border in order to reduce the flow of migrants into the European Union. However, I will certainly send a copy of the communiqué to the noble Baroness.

What I am saying is that the PKK is a proscribed organisation in terms of the global coalition against Daesh. It is not part of that coalition. There are Kurdish groups in the coalition, and I have mentioned the PYD and the Peshmerga in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. The reason is that our main ally in the fight against Daesh in the efforts to stem the flow of migration is Turkey, so we need to maintain strong links with our key NATO ally, and indeed EU aspirant.