HRW: Human Rights Abuses & Potential War Crimes by Turkish-backed SNA in Safe Zone

Human Rights Watch calls upon Turkey to stop human rights abuses in northeast Syria

HRW, the international non-profit human rights organization, in a report published today accuses factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA) of serious human rights violations and potential war crimes. The SNA is an umbrella organization of Turkish-trained and Turkish-armed groups, formerly known as the Free Syrian Army and are used by Turkey as troops on the ground in the invasion of northeast Syria. The human rights abuse accusations include executions and extrajudicial killings (e.g. the killing of political activist Hevrin Khalaf), civilian displacements and withhold information to the outside world on disappeared humanitarian aid workers working in the Turkish installed safe zone. Looting and unlawful confiscation of property occur while people who have become internally displaced because of Turkish military actions are refused to return to their homes. All prohibited under international laws (of war).

In a comment by the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson states, “Executing individuals, pillaging property, and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey’s proposed ‘safe zones’ will not be safe. Contrary to Turkey’s narrative that their operation will establish a safe zone, the groups they are using to administer the territory are themselves committing abuses against civilians and discriminating on ethnic grounds.”

Turkey invades the Autonomous Administration of North & East Syria

Turkey invaded the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North & East Syria (DAA), on October 9. The Autonomous Administration is a Syriac, Kurdish, Arab founded entity within Syria whose security was handed over in 2012, under mutual agreement, by the Syrian regime to Kurdish, Arab and Syriac armed factions – all merged later into the Syrian Democratic Forces. The enduring war in Syria and the almost absence of the Syrian state and Rule of Law in NE Syria, made the political wings of the armed factions establish the DAA to regulate daily life. The establishment of the DAA set in motion a democratization process co-initiated by the peoples of northeast Syria and succeeded in securing basic human rights for the peoples under its claimed jurisdiction. Although there were transgressions of the Rule of Law, which worked pretty well. Furthermore, the Autonomous Administration through its Syrian Democratic Forces, with air and logistical support from the Coalition against ISIS, succeeded in fending off ISIS from NE Syria and eventually defeating ISIS in Syria.

Paradoxically it is this Autonomous Administration that Turkey invaded on October 9 with the argument that the Kurdish YPG forces are PKK-terrorists in disguise and to create a safe zone in NE Syria for Syrian refugees to return to – although the US and the Coalition fully cooperated with the Syrian Democratic Forces of which the YPG is part and although most Syrian refugees in Turkey are in fact from the west of Syria. The non-state armed SNA factions are former opposition forces. These factions within the SNA mostly fought in the west of Syria and a larger part have turned radical and Islamist. Although their Code of Conduct is mostly secular the practice is that many SNA fighter reference Islamic law. (Social) media contains abundant evidence of Turkish and SNA leaders and fighters legitimizing their violations on Islam.

HRW: Turkish government should stop military assistance to SNA factions

In its report Human Rights Watch calls on Turkey to investigate on human rights abuses, where applicable immediately force the SNA fighters to stop the violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Moreover, the Turkish government should end its military assistance to SNA factions responsible for these abuses and human rights violations. Although, Turkey claims that the troops are not directly under its control and command, Turkey trained and financially backed the SNA factions. Turkey supports them furthermore through air support and drones and logistically supports them on the ground. Hence, Turkey shares a big responsibility for their actions.