ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report, published on Thursday, documents several violations carried out by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels in Afrin and by the Turkish army itself, including the killing of civilians, which violates international humanitarian law.
On Jan. 20, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), launched a joint military operation to capture the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, located in northwestern Syria.
The released State Department findings mention reports that Turkish armed forces killed civilians during the capture of Afrin on March 16, 2018, specifically in the al-Mahmoudiya neighborhood, in which several people were killed while waiting to evacuate the city near a cattle market according to the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI).
“The strike reportedly killed at least 20 civilians, including women, children, and elderly persons. The COI assessed that, in conducting airstrikes beginning on January 20, the Turkish air force may have failed to take all feasible precautions prior to launching certain attacks, which it asserted was a violation of international humanitarian law,” the report included.
Following the initial attack, human rights violations were also carried out on March 18, during the occupation of the formerly Kurdish-held region of Afrin by Turkey and its affiliated groups, the report continued.
“Syrian opposition groups supported by the Turkish government reportedly looted and confiscated homes belonging to Kurdish residents in Afrin.”
The State Department report contradicts claims made by Turkish Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin in January, who stated Turkey was “committed to the safety of life and property of Syrians,” including the Kurds.
Quoting the COI, the State Department affirmed “residents in Afrin reported patterns of arbitrary arrests and detention, beatings, and kidnappings by armed groups affiliated with the FSA beginning with their takeover of certain areas.”
The report also documented that “Turkish-backed opposition armed groups reportedly engaged in forcible displacement of civilians and related abuses in Afrin.”
The State Department’s account of the events surrounding the Afrin invasion includes details from the COI report, a June 2018 HRW report, and information from NGOs such as the Free Yezidi Foundation and Yazda.
“Numerous residents of Afrin reported widespread looting and appropriation of civilian homes, hospitals, churches, and a Yezidi shrine by members of armed opposition groups and citizens when the armed opposition groups entered Afrin city in March.”
According to witnesses, Turkish troops were on occasion present in the vicinity of lootings but had not acted to prevent them.
“Residents reported having to purchase back cars stolen by the armed groups for between one million and 2.5 million Syrian pounds ($2,000 and $5,000).”
Additionally, “the COI noted the destruction of Yezidi religious sites appeared to have sectarian undertones, while house appropriations targeted mainly Kurdish owners who had fled clashes.”
The report noted that, although victims reported the cases to the newly established military police or local committees, both “reportedly failed to offer any tangible restitution.”
Turkish-backed armed opposition groups were also accused of barring access of returnees to their properties and informed them that their real or presumed support for the YPG [People’s Protection Units] precluded them from living in the area.
The Turkish-backed groups “confiscated homes that were marked with graffiti and then used by armed groups for military purposes or as housing for fighters and their families, who arrived from eastern Ghouta via Idlib after its evacuation.”
The report indicated Turkish officials may have been aware of the violations in Afrin but turned a blind eye. “If any armed group members were shown to be acting under the effective command and control of Turkish forces, the [UN’s] COI assessed that violations committed may be attributable to Turkish military commanders who knew or should have known about the violations.”
A report released by the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COR) on Syria released in February also suggested armed groups in Afrin are guilty of war crimes.
Editing by Nadia Riva