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War Crimes Committed By Turkish Proxy Militias In Syria: UN Investigation

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War Crimes Committed By Turkish Proxy Militias In Syria: UN Investigation

A militant hauls off stolen goods in Afrin during the Turkish invasion of March 2018

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Turkey to launch an immediate investigation into violations and abuses committed in parts of north, northwest and northeast Syria. The relevant areas are under the control of Turkish military forces and affiliated armed groups. 

Speaking late last week of the findings of a UN report released several days earlier, the director of the UN agency, Michelle Bachelet, warned that the human rights situation in places such as Afrin, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, is grim, with many cases of unchecked violence and criminality.

The UN statement comments that an alarming pattern of grave violations has been documented in these areas in recent months, such as increased killings, kidnappings, and unlawful transfers of people, as well as seizures of land and properties.

Victims include those perceived to be allied with opposing parties, or critical of Turkish-affiliated armed groups, or rich enough to pay ransoms.

“People living in these areas whose rights have been violated are entitled to protection and a remedy. In this regard, I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups, and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes”, said Ms. Bachelet.

“This is all the more vital given that we have received disturbing reports that some detainees and abductees have allegedly been transferred to Turkey following their detention in Syria by affiliated armed groups.”

In the course of the latest investigation, the U HCHR has verified that since January at least 116 civilians were killed, and some 463 injured, by improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war.  Those killed included 15 women and 22 children.

Investigators also documented the abduction and disappearance of civilians, including women and children. The fate of some of them remains unknown.

At the same time, a rise in infighting among the different armed groups in the occupied areas over power-sharing and resources poses a grave threat to civilian lives and civilian infrastructure. The UN statement further notes that:

Turkish-affiliated armed groups have also seized and looted homes, land and other properties without any apparent military necessity, and have occupied many of them with their own families.

Ms. Bachelet remains concerned that warring parties in Syria are using water, electricity and other essential services as a weapon.

She cited the example of Turkish-affiliated armed groups disrupting water supply in Ras al-Ain, affecting access for up to one million people, including displaced people living in camps.

Similarly, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls al-Hassakeh, has been accused of hindering electricity supplies for the pumping station.

“As we have previously warned, impeding access to water, sanitation and electricity, endangers the lives of large numbers of people, a danger rendered all the more acute amid fighting a global pandemic”, Ms. Bachelet said. LINK

The report covered the first half of the current year and was published on Tuesday by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The report states that militants of the so-called Syrian National Army, also known as the Free Syrian Army, have detained civilians and transferred them to Turkey for prosecution, adding that such acts could amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation.

The panel also warned that assassinations and rapes of civilians were increasing in occupied areas in Syria’s north.

“In Afrin, Ra’s al-Ayn and the surrounding areas, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and rape,” panel chair Paulo Pinheiro told a news briefing.

“Turkey should act to prevent these abuses and ensure the protection of civilians in the areas under its control,” he said.

Panelist Hanny Megally said Turkey wields influence over militants affiliated with the so-called Syrian National Army as it has funded, trained, and allowed the terrorists to enter Syria from Turkish territory.

“Whilst we can’t say Turkey is in charge of them and issues orders and has command control over them, we think that it could use its influence much more to bring them in to check and certainly to pressure them to desist from the violations being committed and to investigate them,” Megally added.

Turkey seized control of the border town of Ras al-Ain last year when it launched a cross-border invasion into north eastern Syria with the help of its armed proxy groups to push Kurdish militants affiliated with the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.

The Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union has also denounced the frequent attacks by the Turkish military and allied militants against Syrian civilians and territories.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib and other areas in northern Syria over the last two years to support the armed militant groups.

The Syrian government has vowed to liberate all of its national territory from the invaders, including Idlib, which remains the last major bastion for foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists in the country.

Syria has repeatedly denounced Turkey’s military activities in the Arab state as a violation of its sovereignty, urging Turkey to withdraw its troops and stop backing the armed militant groups. LINK

There have been many reports of such incidents since the conflict in Syria intensified, often corresponding to major military offensives. For example, BBC reported in March 2018 in the midst of a major Turkish offensive into northern Syria:

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who seized the northern Syrian city of Afrin from a Kurdish militia on Sunday have been looting properties, reports say.

A UK-based monitoring group said shops and military and government facilities had been raided.

A rebel commander blamed ‘thieves’ for the looting and said a unit had been set up to prevent further incidents…

Pictures showed soldiers flying a Turkish flag from a building, and rebels tearing down a statue of the Kurdish hero Kawa Haddad.

AFP news agency journalists in Afrin also saw rebels break into shops, restaurants and houses, and leave with food, electronic equipment, blankets and other goods. They were then transported out of the city…

Turkey’s president (has) vowed to expand its military campaign to all Kurdish-held border areas to the east.

“The military operation will go on until the terror corridor through Manbij, Ain al-Arab [Kobane], Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Qamishli has been wiped out,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

Mr Erdogan described the fall of Afrin following a two-month offensive as a “comma” in its efforts to counter the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia…

The Turkish government says the YPG is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades, and considers it a terrorist group.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK – an assertion backed by the US, which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). LINK

Occupying Turkish military forces and proxy militia groups have also been accused of plundering other valuable resources from occupied areas, including olive oil and wheat, industrial machinery and in some cases entire factories. LINK1, LINK2, LINK3

As it has habitually done, Turkey denied the findings of the investigation.

Turkey has denied charges levelled by United Nations investigators who say that Syrian rebels backed by Ankara carried out possible war crimes this year…

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Friday in response: “We categorically reject the baseless allegations of human rights violations claimed against the Syrian opposition… and concerning our country in relation to them.” LINK

Turkey has taken advantage of the intense conflict in Syria to invade and occupy vast swathes of territory along the two countries’ border. While it claims it has invaded only to push back Kurdish militia groups and establish a buffer zone, all indications suggest that the Turkish political and military leadership have no intention of leaving the occupied areas.

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