On Monday the 6th of July, the Greek Minister of Migration & Asylum and Minister for Citizen Protection, along with other Cabinet members and involved EU Commissioners, were called to appear before the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The LIBE Committee is in charge of most of the legislation and democratic oversight for policies enabling the European Union to offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice. Currently, it is largely concerned with issues related to asylum and migration and ensures the full respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU territory in conjunction with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The triggering factor for this session was a letter signed by more than 100 Members of the European Parliament calling for the investigation of shooting incidents by Greek border guards, in light of a joint report by Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Forensic Architecture, Der Spiegel, Pointer and Sky TV, which putatively substantiated the killing of Muhammad Gulzar, a Pakistani migrant, by Greek forces. As such, the Greek Government was requested to clarify their position regarding several ‘media and civil society reports’ which indicate that the country’s police and border guards systematically prevent migrants from entering Greece, using violence and even shooting at them, both at land and sea borders.
These are serious allegations which require serious answers. The underlying assumption in all this is that the evidence is adequately substantial and objective enough to be able to inform such a serious hearing. But is it?
Let’s take a look at the ‘proof’ provided by the aforementioned investigative journalists.
One of the first pieces of evidence leading to the conclusion that it must be Greek forces that are responsible for the killing of Gulzar, is that the journalists were able to discern Greek soldiers along the border fence, whereas they could not identify any Turkish security forces. The equation presented is: There are no clearly discernible Turkish security forces, ergo, there are no Turkish security forces involved. Nevertheless, such an association is deeply misleading, as the journalists seem to ignore the simple reality of security forces operating undercover in civilian clothes – a practice that Turkey seems to endorse, as documented multiple times, for example in this video.
Another piece of evidence lies in the observation that the Greek soldiers supposedly present at the incident were armed with M4 and M16 rifles, and Minimi light machine guns, all of which fire 5.56mm rounds, the type of which allegedly caused Gulzar’s fatal injuries. However, the journalists automatically attribute the bullets to the Greek forces, without considering whether the bullets could have been fired by Turkish forces. This is a pertinent question to ask, since both Greece and Turkey use rifles with a 5.56 mm calibre, a NATO standard applied throughout NATO member states. In fact, Turkey manufactures in its territory a variety of rifles that take 5.56 mm calibre. Thus, it would be irresponsible to claim that the type of bullet found can in itself help in determining which side shot it. ‘We couldn’t find any such weapons on the Turkish side of the border,’ they say, once again dangerously equivocating between what they themselves have found, and what actually took place.
‘We also obtained Gulzar’s death certificate, which stated that his injuries had been caused by a 5.56mm bullet,’ they argue. The investigation neglects to comment on the fact that the medical certificate was issued by the Turkish Institute of Forensic Medicine and evaluate the vested interest of Turkey to frame Greece for the death of Gulzar. Furthermore, one wonders why the certificate was issued at Istanbul and not Edirne, or another place much closer to the border. Driving the body of a dead immigrant for 3 hours to another city in order to have it examined by four medical experts and get a document certifying that indeed, the man is dead, seems rather odd (and is certainly not common practice).
The material of the investigation itself is also quite one-sided, given that they have included footage from TRT World. Yes, the Turkish news channel, which has been repeatedly accused for fake news reproduction, and is funded by a state that consistently gets the lowest of places in international media freedom reports. They find ‘further confirmation’ of their conclusions in images posted by the chairman of the Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Committee. Who is the chairman of the Committee? Hakan Çavuşoğlu, an MP of the AKP, i.e. the governing party. Again, the report forgets to highlight that the committee scrutinizing potential human rights violations by the Greek side is led by a person whose party affiliations could easily be translated to vested interests, and could have a certain agenda in proving that Greece is at fault. In the judicial context, it is well-known that no individual can preside over a hearing in which he holds a specific interest or bias – ‘nemo iudex in causa sua’. The conscious or unconscious bias renders the findings of the Committee partisan, their scrutiny lacking and the extent to which they truly hold Turkey accountable dubious. After all, since the journalists set out to reach the bottom of the case, the EU should wonder why didn’t they also contact the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex)? Especially given Frontex’s statement that it ‘has already increased surveillance capacity at the Greek borders.’
Under this prism, Der Spiegel’s statement that ‘evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the bullet came from a Greek firearm’, sounds far-fetched. Why did we witness such a wide mobilization on the EU level, though? The European reaction seems to be symptomatic of a trend omnipresent in Western democracies. Out of our hustle to promote our value system and denounce potential infringements, a somewhat myopic approach is developed, treating all sorts of allegations of human rights violations as equally plausible, missing the bigger picture.
What’s the bigger picture here? That ultimately, Greece and Turkey are fighting a war of narratives. And the EU should be aware of it and grant Greece a presumption of innocence. Neither out of some sort of nationalist instinct nor because Greece is a priori innocent. But for the simple reason, that comparatively, Greece enjoys a moral high ground vis-à-vis said allegations due to the fact that it is bound by the rigid EU human rights standards and by EU law, closely monitored by European institutions. This does not mean that Greece should not be scrutinized or should not be held accountable. Of course, it should! After all, the possibility of Greece having acted in violation of human rights is by no means excluded. But the possibility of Greece having acted in violation of human rights should be assessed in light of facts, relevant evidence, and serious analysis. This is not such a high threshold, yet the report that has inspired the recent developments in the European Parliament can hardly fulfill it, with its probabilistic language, its mixing up of correlation for causation and its attribution of evidentiary status to material from the Turkish side, by networks which have been repeatedly accused of fake news reproductions and by MPs of the party of the de facto dictator of the country.
A meaningful expression of objectivity, one of which the EU could be proud, does not consist of treating two cases alike, but of treating like cases alike. The European Union, by putting Greece on the stand on the basis of the aforementioned weak evidence, is not being nonpartisan. Instead, the EU shows to the entire world, including Turkey, that in the name of a facile objectivity, it is prepared to sacrifice the narrative of its member state, doubt its institutions and undermine the strong binding effect of its own acquis.