Turkish-backed groups continue looting Afrin: UN report
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish-backed militias in Afrin are continuing their looting and pillaging of the occupied Syrian Kurdish enclave, according to a new report by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released on Wednesday.
"Properties, including homes, schools, shops and factories, in Afrin city continued to be occupied by Syrian National Army (Turkish-backed SNA) factions, particularly affecting displaced owners," the report said.
"During the period under review, the harvest from thousands of olive trees was taken – sometimes under the guise of 'taxes' – by armed groups, who no longer recognized formal or informal powers of attorney that had allowed absent landowners to maintain their property," it added.
For example, the Levant Front and the Sultan Murad Division sold the rights to harvest olive crops to third parties between July and November 2021 in Ma'batli and Bulbul (in Afrin) despite the objections of the absentee owners.
Last year, Turkish-backed SNA factions formed the Joint Committee for the Restoration of Rights to return stolen properties to their owners. Some owners have addressed their complaints to this body, the report said.
Nevertheless, some others "engaged directly with Syrian National Army factions to retrieve their confiscated property, through the payment of bribes, citing fear of reprisals by Syrian National Army factions as the reason for their reluctance to resort to available formal mechanisms."
"The Commission gathered several reports of retaliatory acts by individual Syrian National Army members against owners who had lodged complaints for property restitution or compensation, including verbal threats, beatings and abduction," the report said.
It also documented the killing of one farmer after he had managed to get his property back from armed factions in the Afrin subdistrict.
"Confiscation of private property by parties to the conflict, in particular when generating personal gain, such as through the sale of crops or the right to harvest crops or the imposition of 'taxes', may amount to pillage, which is a war crime," the report said.
It also underlined that "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.
"Where Turkish forces fail to intervene to stop such violations when made aware of them, they may violate the above-mentioned obligations," it said.
The report also mentioned that civilians continue to be detained by Turkish-backed factions due to "alleged security offences and for criticizing Syrian National Army factions" or over property disputes, including individuals who had submitted formal claims to retrieve their property.
The report underlined that released detainees reported torture and ill-treatment. There are also allegations that some deaths were caused directly by torture.
"Torture and ill-treatment allegedly took place mainly during interrogation sessions and included beating, stress positions, the use of Tasers, and electric shocks, including to genitals. Female detainees were also photographed in underwear," the report said.
"Most allegations involve accusations against the Hamza Division and the Sultan Murad Division."
The report also said that the Turkish-backed factions did not investigate "multiple accounts of deaths occurring in Syrian National Army detention."
"Syrian National Army elements may have committed torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, including through forms of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes," the report concluded.
Turkish-backed factions have occupied Afrin since March 2018, when the Turkish army launched a cross-border offensive against the People's Protection Units (YPG). Since then, civilians have faced kidnappings and arrests, often for ransom.