UN receives formal complaint over Turkish airstrikes on civilian hospital in Iraq

NEW YORK — A formal complaint has been submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) accusing Turkey of targeting a civilian hospital in Iraq and resulting in the deaths of eight people. This is the first case concerning Turkish airstrikes against the Yezidi people to be brought before the UNHRC. The attack, which occurred on 17 August 2021, caused significant damage to the Sikêniyê Medical Center in Shigur (Şengal / Sinjar), Iraq, and left over 20 people injured.

The complaint, which was prepared over two years by four claimants, consists of survivor and witness testimony of the airstrikes. According to the claimants, the Turkish airstrikes violated their right to life, as guaranteed by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a crucial international human rights treaty.

Additionally, the claimants assert that Turkey failed to conduct a proper investigation into the killing of civilians resulting from the airstrikes and failed to provide effective remedies for the victims. This, they argue, constitutes a breach of their rights to a prompt, independent, and effective investigation under the same covenant.

Turkey justified the airstrikes at the time as targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Şengal Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şengalê, YBŞ), a Yezidi self-defense force.

The claim lodged with the UN argues that while the hospital was near a YBŞ checkpoint, it was situated in a civilian area and not directly protected by armed units. The claimants further assert that all eight of those killed were hospital staff members.

Survivor of the Turkish airstrikes the Sikêniyê Medical Center, south of Shigur (Şengal / Sinjar) Mountain in Iraq, destroyed in Turkish airstrikes on 17 August 2021.

According to the legal claim, Turkish airstrikes have caused harm to around 80 Yezidis since 2017 under the pretext of targeting PKK elements in Iraq, where the fighters have sought refuge in their decades-long conflict with the Turkish state.

The complaint emphasizes that the Sikêniyê medical clinic was a purely civilian establishment, operated by the local Şengal Council and housed 10 beds with about 20 occupants. One of the claimants, identified as C1, provided an eyewitness account of the attack, stating that he has yet to recover from the physical and psychological consequences of the event. Another witness, a relative of one of the victims, affirmed that there were no PKK members present at the site during the airstrikes.

The complaints are represented by Accountability Unit, a human rights NGO, and Women for Justice, a Yezidi NGO based in Germany, with support from human rights lawyers in the UK.

Aarif Abraham, the director of the Accountability Unit, stressed the significance of the case, citing clear violations of the fundamental rights of Yezidi citizens of Iraq by the Turkish state. Abraham called for accountability and redress for the victims, asserting that Turkey has enjoyed impunity for targeting non-Turkish nationals beyond its borders under the guise of combating terrorism.

Dr. Leyla Ferman, the chief executive of Women for Justice, expressed concern over the security risks posed by Turkish airstrikes following the Yezidis’ victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) in Shigur in 2017. She stated that the case presents an opportunity for the UN to address the security concerns of the Yezidi community.

The submission of this complaint to the UN Human Rights Council marks a significant step in seeking accountability and justice for the targeting of a civilian hospital in Iraq and underscores the urgency of addressing the concerns of the Yezidi community affected by these airstrikes.