UN report adds to claims that Turkish-backed militias are committing war crimes in Syria

A Turkish-backed militia operates in the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin. (Photo: AFP)
A Turkish-backed militia operates in the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin. (Photo: AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A new report issued on Tuesday by the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria suggests that Turkish-backed groups in the embattled Middle Eastern nation have “committed torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes.”

It stated that the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army (SNA) continues to unlawfully arrest Kurdish citizens in areas under their control in northern Syria such as in Tal Abyad, Afrin, and Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye).

“While detained, victims were often brought to makeshift facilities run by Syrian National Army brigades at the subdistrict level,” the report stated.

“The same brigades continued, as previously documented, to loot and appropriate civilian property along with detaining individuals, including agricultural land belonging to members of the Yazidi (Ezidi) minority group.”

The report documents cases of women and girls being commonly detained, either at the same time as their male relatives or following the detention of their spouses who are suspected of having links to the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) or the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers as the Syrian branch of the PKK, a group that has fought a decades-long insurgency against Turkey over Kurdish rights.

The UN report continued, “Female former detainees described being subjected to multiple rapes, beatings and torture by members of the Syrian National Army forces guarding them, and regularly denied food.” 

“Others,” it added, “were threatened with rape during interrogation sessions, assaulted and harassed, including while being held in solitary confinement, which amplified fears and the intimidation.”

The report detailed that, in exchanges with the commission, SNA leadership “stated that it was committed to respecting human rights in places of detention and providing fair trial guarantees,” and that its military judicial system was investigating “Syrian National Army elements involved in violations, with a view to holding them accountable.”

“Finally, in areas under effective Turkish control, Turkey has a responsibility to, as far as possible, ensure public order and safety, and to afford special protection to women and children,” the report concluded. “Turkey remains bound by its human rights obligations vis-à-vis all individuals present in such territories.”

In multiple previous UN reports on Syria, large numbers of potential war crimes and human rights violations by Turkish-backed groups have been well-documented.

Last year, for example, the commission said that Turkish-backed armed groups have subjected women, girls, men, and boys to sexual violence in Syrian areas occupied by Turkey. 

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

In July, the US sanctioned a Turkish-backed militia in Syria called Ahrar al-Sharqiya for human rights violations against ethnic Kurds.