Opponents of the treaty are concerned that members of the military who were involved in Turkey's fight against terrorism and soldiers who carried out the Cyprus Peace Operation could be tried by the court.
The Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry had a falling out over the issue in 2007, but the Justice Ministry prevailed in convincing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to sign the treaty. Turkey declared at the time that it would not sign the treaty unless the court has jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism. With this demand Turkey intended to ensure that high-level members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who reside in European countries are tried by the ICC, but the EU rejected this demand.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) released a long-awaited EU reform package called the Third National Program, which suggests changes to 131 laws and 342 bylaws, after a Cabinet meeting on Aug. 18. The program also included a list of which international treaties Turkey would ratify. The list includes the Turkish government's ratification of the Rome Statute to demonstrate its commitment to international justice and the rule of law.
Erdoğan's 2004 promise
The EU has issued repeated calls for Turkey's ratification of the Rome Statute, which it sees as an essential component of the democratic model and values of the EU since Turkey is the only EU candidate country that has not ratified the treaty.
In a statement before the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Oct. 8, 2004, Erdoğan declared, "Turkey will soon approve the Rome Statute … and will become part of the International Criminal Court coalition."
In February 2005 an international coalition of more than 2,000 nongovernmental and civil society organizations, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), in a campaign initiated by Amnesty International called on the Turkish government to ratify the Rome Statute.
The CICC also noted the advances made in Turkey regarding constitutional amendments, in particular the amendment to Article 38 that allows for the extradition of Turkish citizens to the ICC, as well as the full abolition of capital punishment, limitations on the Turkish military's authority and strengthening of press freedom. The group stated that in early 2004 Turkey also joined the Friends of the ICC, a group of states that work to support the goals of the ICC.
Following Erdoğan's promising statement before PACE, the Foreign Ministry started preparations for ratification, but since the Justice Ministry opposed the move, preparations were suspended.
The world's first permanent criminal court, the ICC was established in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force. The court does not have jurisdiction over any crimes prior to that date. The ICC may also have jurisdiction in situations referred to it by the UN Security Council. In accordance with the court's principle of complementarity, however, the ICC will only act when national courts have been unable or unwilling to do so. The court's chief prosecutor last month requested an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Justice Ministry officials have stressed that all high-level officials who have been involved in the fight against PKK terrorism since the treaty went into force could be tried at the ICC. They say the PKK's upper ranks have been preparing to ask the ICC to prosecute Turkish commanders fighting the terrorist organization in Turkey's East and Southeast. In addition, opponents of the treaty bring up the example of the United States, which refuses to ratify the Rome Statute.
Among the several international civil society groups that have demanded Turkey ratify the treaty are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Parliamentarians for Global Action, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) and the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly. As part of a campaign initiated by Amnesty International Turkey in 1997, a national coalition of NGOs, including the TİHV, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), the Human Rights Agenda Association, the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, are also lobbying for the ratification of the ICC treaty.
Öymen: What's the rush to ratify?
Opposition parties, however, are likely to oppose the government's program, which continues to be termed a "draft" although it has already been discussed by the Cabinet because parts that include political commitments are yet to be discussed with opposition parties.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Onur Öymen said with the decision outlined in the government's new EU reform package, Turkey seems to be abdicating its previous demands regarding terrorism crimes.
"We demanded that terrorism crimes should be under the jurisdiction of the court, but the EU opposed this. According to the ICC treaty, commanders who fought against terrorism in Afghanistan or in Turkey's Southeast can be tried but leaders of terrorist organizations cannot. This is nonsense," he stated.
Öymen indicated that the United States has not ratified the treaty and that through bilateral agreements with about 30 countries, it took measures to ensure the immunity of its commanders from being tried by the ICC.
"I don't understand why we are rushing to ratify it. We will discuss the issue when it comes to Parliament," he said.
Other international treaties to be ratified
The government's EU reform package includes commitments to ratify several other international agreements. Among them are the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The government also included in the program that Turkey is to ratify the additional Protocol 12 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Protocol 12 broadens the anti-discrimination provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the Third National Program, Turkey will also ratify the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.