Arrests increase in Afrin, despite Syrian opposition promises to stop violations

“The reported figures indicate a marked increase compared to the arrests documented in earlier months, as 40 in June, and 101 in July and August 2020.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – According to a report by Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) released last week, at least 116 persons, including five women and a teenage girl, were detained in Afrin by Turkish-backed opposition forces in September 2020.

This despite promises by the Syrian opposition to investigate and stop abuses by Turkish-backed groups in areas occupied by Turkey and its proxy militias, such as in Afrin, Tal Abyad, and Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye).

“The reported figures indicate a marked increase compared to the arrests documented in earlier months, as 40 in June, and 101 in July and August 2020,” the report said.

Behind the arrests, the report alleged, were the Military Police Service, the Sham Legion, Ahrar al-Sharqiya, al-Jabha al-Shamiya, al-Waqqas Brigade, Northern Democratic Brigade, Sultan Murad Division, 113th Division, and 114th Division.

The President of the Turkish-backed opposition in Syria—the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces —Nasser al-Hariri, told Kurdistan 24 on October 23, “the committee is now working and submitting its reports, so far their work is good, yet it could be better.”

“In the past few days there was a campaign by the National Army, in order to prevent violations, they have returned some of the farmlands to their owners which were confiscated before.”

“Many problems have been resolved, and I want to emphasize that the Syrian opposition, the Coalition and the Interim Government are abiding by the international law and human rights, and we will carry out these laws in the field,” Hariri said.

“We will not accept any violations, rather we will fight such attempts, and we will solve the existing issues. The violations have been conducted by members of the National Army who have acted on their own, they will be tried at military courts. There are many violations - I am not denying this - but they will be taken to court.”

The attempts by the Syrian opposition to improve their image comes after a damning report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria in September that documented rape and human rights violations against civilians in areas occupied by Turkey.

Among the various instances documented include cases of at least 30 women who were reportedly raped in February alone.

In addition to gender-based violence, the commission said it corroborated repeated patterns of systematic looting and property appropriation by Turkish-backed groups as well as widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty perpetrated by various Turkish-backed groups. 

Read More: UN: Multiple Turkish-backed groups in Syria committing sexual assault

A day after the UN report, Harriri blamed Iran, the Syrian regime, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) for human rights violations, including against women.

Bassam al-Ahmad, the executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, told Kurdistan 24 that, initially, the Syrian interim government and the Syrian opposition rejected the UN Commission of Inquiry’s reports.

“This (new) report details who was arrested who, where, time and full names. So it's clear they are trying to use this different narrative on the media.”

Nasser al-Hariri in early September also made a surprise visit to the Maaratah Central Prison and the Military Court in Afrin to check the condition of prisoners and check the legal procedures.

“The reality on the ground is different, it's just for the media and Western governments,” Ahmad said. “They are trying to give an image to the US and Western governments that they are committed to human rights and international law, but the reality is different.”

Ahmad said Western governments should pressure the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition to stop human rights violations on the ground. “Because in reality nothing [has changed] from the beginning of the occupation until now.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in September called on Turkey to immediately launch an investigation into multiple credible allegations of human rights violations and possible war crimes by Turkish-backed groups operating in Syria.

Editing by Khrush Najari

(Additional reporting by Azad Altun)