UN urges Turkey to investigate possible war crimes in north Syria

Turkey rejects ‘unfounded allegations’ by the UN against Syrian opposition groups affiliated with its armed forces.

File: Displaced Syrians from the northern city of Afrin protest violations by local Turkish-backed factions
UN notes 'alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations' by groups in Turkish-controlled areas of Syria [File: Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The United Nations has urged Turkey to investigate possible war crimes and other rights violations it says were carried out by armed groups in the area of northern Syria it controls.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said violence and criminality was rife in those areas of Syria.

In a statement on Friday, Bachelet’s UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said it had noted an “alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations”, having documented increased killings, kidnappings, unlawful transfers of people, and seizures of land and properties and forcible evictions without any apparent military necessity

The victims include people perceived to be allied with opposing parties or as being critical of the actions of the Turkish-affiliated armed groups, Bachelet’s office said.

Increased infighting among the various Turkish-affiliated armed groups over power-sharing was causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, OHCHR said.

Bachelet urged Turkey to “immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes”.

Bachelet’s office said from the start of the year until last Monday it had verified the deaths of at least 116 civilians as a result of improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war, while a further 463 civilians were injured.

She said an investigation was “all the more vital given that we have received disturbing reports that some detainees and abductees have allegedly been transferred to Turkey following their detention in Syria by affiliated armed groups”.

Turkey rejects ‘unfounded allegations’

Later on Friday, the Turkish foreign ministry took umbrage at Bachelet’s statement and “strongly condemned the failure to mention the Syrian regime and the PKK/YPG terrorist organisation, which are the main cause of the violations in the report”.

Ankara considers the US-backed Kurdish Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey.

“We totally reject the unfounded allegations against Syrian opposition groups” and the “baseless claims against our country in connection with these groups,” it said.

In a statement, the ministry also accused Bachelet of “undue criticism” and said Ankara would notify the UN of its “views and challenges” related to the report.

Turkey controls large stretches of northeast Syria through various armed groups, and is conducting operations aimed at driving out the YPG.

In October 2019, Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies occupied a 120km (75-mile) stretch of land inside the Syrian border.

Ankara has also deployed forces in several military posts it established in northwest Idlib as part of a 2018 deal with Syrian government ally Russia, while Turkey also controls a stretch of territory along its border in neighbouring Aleppo province following a series of military offensives since 2016.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies