DR. CAROLINE LUCAS
for the South East of England
DG – Enlargement
The European Commission
October 19th 2005
Thank you for your letter of July 20th concerning the detention of Mr Mehmet Tarhan for conscientious objection in Turkey. There are a couple of points that I would like to pursue further.
Firstly, you report that the Commission notes ‘Turkey does not recognise the right of conscientious objection, a right listed under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.’ This right is also recognised under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Turkey is already a signatory yet disregards when it comes to military service, claiming this is exempt. I disagree, as does the UN Human Rights Committee, which stated, in 1993,
"Many individuals have claimed the right to refuse to perform military service (conscientious objection) on the basis that such right derives from their freedoms under article 18. In response to such claims, a growing number of states have in their laws exempted from compulsory military service citizens who genuinely hold religious or other beliefs that forbid the performance of military service and replaced it with alternative national service. The Covenant does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection, but the committee believes that such a right can be derived from article 18, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief."
Furthermore, the right to conscientious objection to military service is an important part of the OCSE's commitment to upholding freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and Turkey has been an OSCE member since 1973.
My point is that Turkey’s compliance with the EU Charter of Human Rights may well form part of the accession talks yet this rings rather hollow when Turkey has failed to abide by the terms of existing human rights agreements to which it is a signatory. I would like to know if conscientious objection has been raised specifically with the Turkish authorities and what plans there are to do so.
The second point I wish to make is that in your letter you state that ‘Following the hearing of 9 June Mr Tarhan was released from prison’. This is incorrect. Mr Tarhan was actually escorted back to his military unit and then immediately sent back to prison. In other words, he was in prison from April – August 2005 awaiting trial despite the fact that the judge released Mr Tarhan in June because he had ”already spent two months in prison, which is about the time he would have to serve in prison if finally sentenced”. As I am sure you are aware, Mr Tarhan has now been sentenced to four years imprisonment, and may be returned to the military once this sentence has been served, beginning the cycle all over again. He has been assaulted whilst in prison, attacked for being gay and subjected to homophobic prejudice during the course of his trial. This is clearly unacceptable and, again, I would request that you raise these matters specifically with the Turkish authorities.
I look forward to your response and thank you, in advance, for your co-operation.
Caroline Lucas – Green Party MEP