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Turkey is responsible for rights abuses, ‘potential war crimes’ in north Syria: HRW

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Turkey bears responsibility for human rights abuses and violations of land and property rights in swaths of northern Syria it controls alongside its proxies, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.

Since 2016 Turkey has carried out successive ground operations to expel the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Syria’s north, with its proxies now controlling two large border strips.

Turkey “bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports” in Syria’s north, HRW said in its report.

Turkish officials in Syria’s north have in some cases “been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” with Turkish forces and intelligence agencies involved “in carrying out and overseeing abuses,” the report said.

Abuses and violations are “most often directed at Kurdish civilians and anyone else perceived to have ties to Kurdish-led forces,” HRW said.

Kurdish women detainees have reported sexual violence including rape, while children as young as six months old have been detained with their mothers, the report said.

Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.

The military police and the myriad rebel factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), both backed by Ankara, “have arbitrarily arrested and detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair military trials scores of people with impunity,” HRW said.

A Syrian who formerly lived under SNA rule told HRW: “Everything is by the power of the weapon.”

The rights group has also accused Ankara of having “summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees” from Turkey to areas under its control in Syria.

In July 2023 alone, Ankara sent back more than 1,700 Syrians into the Tal Abyad border area, the report said.

Hundreds of thousands of residents in northeast Syria’s Turkish-controlled border strip have been displaced from their homes, with SNA factions looting, pillaging, and seizing their properties, the report said.

“The hardest thing for me was standing in front of my house and not being able to enter it,” a displaced Yazidi man from Ras al-Ain told HRW.

Turkey and its proxies “should grant independent investigative bodies immediate and unhindered access to territories under their control,” the rights group said.

Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

© Agence France-Presse

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