ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish forces occupying the Kurdish city of Afrin are giving allied Syrian armed groups free rein to commit serious human rights abuses against civilians, said Amnesty International on Thursday.
“Research released today reveals that residents in Afrin are enduring a wide range of violations, mostly at the hands of Syrian armed groups that have been equipped and armed by Turkey,” Amnesty said.
The report, which follows an in-depth investigation into life under the military occupation since Turkey and Islamist rebel groups took control of Afrin in March 2018, claims these violations include arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, confiscation of property, and looting to which Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye.
Some of these groups, and Turkish armed forces themselves, also have taken over schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children, Amnesty said.
“Turkey’s military offensive and occupation have exacerbated the suffering of Afrin residents, who have already endured years of bloody conflict. We heard appalling stories of people being detained, tortured or forcibly disappeared by Syrian armed groups, who continue to wreak havoc on civilians, unchecked by Turkish forces,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
According to Amnesty, Turkey’s military offensive and occupation have exacerbated the suffering of Afrin residents, who have already endured years of bloody conflict.
Moreover, Turkish-backed rebel groups have arbitrarily detained civilians for ransom, as punishment for asking to reclaim their property, or on baseless accusations of affiliation to the PYD or YPG, Amnesty said.
Local sources told the international human rights watchdog of at least 86 instances of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, including a woman displaced from Afrin who said that her uncle had been taken away by rebels after he had returned to his village three months earlier.
“We don’t know where he is. He was head of ‘Komine’ [the local committee]. He is not affiliated with the PYD or YPG. He went back to Afrin because he was afraid he would lose his house,” she said. “They wouldn’t tell his wife where they took him.”
The findings are consistent with earlier reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) which have claimed that 1,000 civilians from Afrin have been kidnapped by rebel groups since March. About half of them are reported to have been released after paying bribes or ransom money.
Though given an opportunity to respond to the findings before the report’s publication, the Turkish government did not provide a concrete response to Amnesty’s finding, other than questioning Amnesty’s impartiality for terminology such as ‘al-Shahba region’ and ‘autonomous administration.’
“Turkey is the occupying power in Afrin, and therefore is responsible for the welfare of the civilian population and maintaining law and order. So far, its armed forces have failed utterly in these duties,” Maalouf said.
“It cannot evade responsibility by using Syrian armed groups to carry out its dirty work. Without further delay, Turkey must end violations by pro-Turkish armed groups, hold perpetrators accountable, and commit to helping Afrin residents rebuild their lives.”
Editing by John J. Catherine