ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has said that it found reasonable grounds to believe that Turkish-backed armed groups occupying the northwest city of Afrin continued “to commit the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture and pillage.”
In February, the commission first accused the forces of war crimes. A new report, published on Wednesday, highlights the dire security situation that remains in the city.
Since the occupation of Afrin in March 2018 by Turkey and its proxy forces, civilians have fallen victim to multiple hostile or violent actions, including widespread demographic change.
“Local residents consistently described chaotic security conditions, a general absence of the rule of law and repeated cases of kidnappings, abductions, torture, extortion and assassinations,” read the report.
The victims of armed groups and gangs were “often of Kurdish origin, as well as civilians perceived as being prosperous, including doctors, businesspersons and merchants.”
Multiple residents said they believed that recent waves of arrests were “designed primarily to generate financial income for armed groups.” The commission gave the example of an instance when a group of young men “arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with Kurdish structures were forced to pay a fine of $400 in order to be released.”
The report also charges that victims regularly disappeared when traveling, primarily at checkpoints, or were abducted from their homes at night.
It mentions another case in May when a disabled child, his father, and grandfather were kidnapped by an armed group when traveling from Afrin to Azaz.
“One of those abducted was reportedly found dead a few days later displaying signs of torture,” read the report. “Accounts received by the Commission indicated that the second man was discovered dead 40 days after the incident, also with visible signs of torture; thereafter, the remains of the child were found.”
The commission found that activists openly critical of the armed groups and those perceived to be supporters of the former administration were regularly arrested, detained, tortured, and extorted.
One interviewee said he was arrested in January and suffered severe beatings and burns while in detention until the sum of $600 had been paid for his release.
The report also describes how displaced civilians attempting to return to Afrin have been frequently barred from their property, often appropriated by armed group members and their families. Others were required to pay up to several thousand dollars to have goods including vehicles returned to them.
The commission charged that armed groups in Afrin follow extremist ideologies and severely restrict the lives of females, with violations including “the imposition of strict dress codes for women and girls and limitations on freedom of movement.” Moreover, armed groups frequently harass women and girls at checkpoints.
Civilians who have complained to local councils, military police, and Turkish officials about these abuses “consistently stated that the parties in control remained either unwilling or unable to provide effective redress.” Local officials, according to the report, were “largely incapable of addressing grievances spawned by the unlawful conduct of dozens of armed groups.”
Officials of Kurdish origin working in local institutions have also largely been replaced by those of Arab descent.
The commission concluded that there is “no indication that the Turkish authorities were either capable of or willing to control the misconduct of armed groups.”
Editing by John J. Catherine