ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A new report the United Nations ’Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released on Thursday suggests armed groups in Afrin are guilty of war crimes.
“The Commission finds there are reasonable grounds to believe that armed group members in Afrin committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage,” the UN report stated.
“Due to the glaring absence of the rule of law, it similarly remains unclear whether Turkish forces were capable of exercising overall control over any armed groups present in the district,” it added.
The report contradicts the claim Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin made in January that Turkey is committed to the safety of life and property of Syrians, including the Kurds.
“The lack of effective complaint mechanisms and a centralized judiciary, coupled with the presence of dozens of armed actors’ power-sharing on the sub-district level, created confusion among civilians about which institution was responsible for addressing specific grievances, including in cases of detention and property appropriation,” the report explained.
It also mentioned that infighting among armed groups and a series of car bombs had exacerbated an already unstable security situation.
According to the UN report, over 50 armed groups operate in Afrin, including Ahrar al-Sham, Amshad brigade, Faylaq al-Sham, Jaish al-Nukhba, Jaish al Sharqiya, Jabhat al-Shamiya, Nur al-Din al-Zanki, and Sumina Shah brigade, among others.
The residents in Afrin describe “general absence of the rule of law, with parties in control either unwilling or unable to provide effective redress or, in some cases, extorting bribes from victims in order to do so.” These developments come despite changes in administrative, judicial, and executive structures in the region.
Some residents pointed to the lack of discipline armed groups demonstrated, especially with their involvement in “pillaging, arbitrary detention, and abduction.”
The UN report said Afrin lacks “an effective security apparatus and attendant absence of the rule of law,” adding that “the most common violations perpetrated in Afrin involved frequent abductions by armed groups and criminal gangs.”
Just as in Idlib, “numerous physicians, pharmacists, and other civilians perceived as affluent or their children were abducted for ransom. In some instances, individuals were re-abducted after having been released.”
The report noted that victims were often unable to identify their abductors, referring instead generally to armed groups, Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliates, or criminal gangs.
Despite victims and their families in Afrin reporting such cases to military police, civilian police, and Turkish authorities, there was little effect, the UN report found.
“Numerous cases involving arbitrary arrests and detentions by armed group members also included credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, often targeting individuals of Kurdish origin, including activists openly critical of armed groups and those perceived to be so,” it continued.
Arrests were occasionally followed by the confiscation of the victim’s property, including vehicles and livestock or the pillaging of their land, especially the cultivation of olive trees, which remains a significant source of income for thousands of farmers in the area, the UN report stated.
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Some analysts described the allegations as “very serious,” and suggested they could be used as “evidence of war crimes.”
Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said the behavior of Turkish-backed, Syrian rebels in Afrin “has been deplorable.”
“The US should also think twice about any force that Turkey would offer it for counter-[Islamic State] operations in northeastern Syria,” Heras told Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany