A call for an end to collective punishment in Turkey

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Perhaps because we are distracted by violence throughout the Middle East, not to mention a high-stakes electoral campaign now in full swing, many of us here in the U.S. (including the media) have been overlooking a mass atrocity now underway in Turkey, our own NATO ally. Since the summer of 2015, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in effect been laying siege to predominantly Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey. This siege has denied food, water and even emergency medical care to civilians in areas that Erdoğan has placed under martial law.

Much of the worst suffering now occurs in the Turkish cities of Diyarbakir and Cizre — 100,000 of whose 120,000 residents have fled. In one ongoing incident that began late last month, over 20 wounded civilians have found themselves trapped underground after government shelling, and are still being denied any form of assistance. At the time of this writing, seven are known to have died from blood loss or continuing mortar fire, and those who remain are likely to perish of thirst unless something is done very soon to rescue them.

Erdoğan has asserted, and continues to assert, that his military is merely responding to Kurdish separatist fighters in Cizre. He charges academics and other intellectuals who question his violence with "academic terrorism." But even taking Erdoğan at his word — a growing body of evidence suggests we should not — to the effect that he is merely responding to separatists, the indiscriminate killing of innocents is wrongful and illegal under both Turkish and international law. Some members of the European Parliament have accordingly begun to take notice, but we in the States have largely remained silent thus far.

Alarmed by the Erdoğan government's evident policy of collectively punishing Turkey's Kurdish citizens, a friend and colleague — Anna-Sara Malmgren of Stanford University — and I have drafted an open letter to President Obama. We are respectfully asking the president to remonstrate with his counterpart in Turkey, Erdoğan, and to call on him to stop harming innocent noncombatants within his own country. We hope that all who are comfortable doing so will visit the website at which we have posted the letter and add their signatures to ours, those of our cosignatories and those of the thousands of others who have now signed.

Hockett is Edward Cornell Professor of Law at Cornell University, a fellow at the Century Foundation and senior counsel at Westwood Capital, LLC.