Human rights groups decry Turkish ‘war crimes’ in northern Syria
More than a dozen organizations have signed a letter to European human rights officials detailing abuses committed by Turkey and Turkish- backed groups in northern Syria.
“Since the start of Turkish military operations on the areas of Kurdish origin in northern Syria, the region has turned into a hotspot full of all forms of human rights violations,” reads the letter addressed to Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Robert Ragnar Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights.
The 18 signatories have unanimously accused Ankara and its Syrian proxies of committing “war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as crimes of ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a military operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria in October 2019, seizing control of a stretch of northern Syria, known to Kurds as Rojava, including Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) Gire Spi (Tal Abyad). Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced in the offensive.
The military offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, followed the March 2018 invasion of Afrin, in Aleppo province, which came under control of Turkish forces and their Syrian militia proxies following two months of intense fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Since then, human rights monitors have accused these groups of serious violations against locals.
“The opposition prevented the displaced civilians from returning to their homes, practiced theft, robbery, plunder, armed robbery, confiscated property and crops, burned them, burned forests, abducted civilians, and arbitrarily arrested them. Cemeteries and cultural symbols were destroyed,” the letter added.
Violations have been “confirmed by reports of governmental organisations, and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria.”
According to numerous organizations, Turkish-backed armed groups in northwestern Syria have committed repeated violations against the local population with impunity, including killing, kidnapping, and sexual violence.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a late November report that pro-Turkish militiamen prevented Syrian Kurds from returning to their homes. Instead, they “looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.”
“Executing individuals, pillaging property, and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey’s proposed ‘safe zones’ will not be safe,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
Prominent war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed to Rudaw English that it had signed the petition.
Other signatories include the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Austria, The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria (MAF) and Kurdish Civil Society Organization in Europe.
Turkey blocked the water supply from the Euphrates into Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria last week, according to local officials.
Ilham Ahmed, president of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said that Ankara “intentionally” withheld the water to induce “a real drought in Syria.”