Human rights situation in parts of Syria under Turkish control is grim: UN rights chief

Michelle Bachelet

The human rights situation in parts of northern Syria under the control of Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups is “grim, with violence and criminality rife” warned UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a statement today.

According to the statement, the UN Human Rights Office has noted “an alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations in these areas, including in Afrin, Ras al-Ain, and Tel Abyad, where increased killings, kidnappings, unlawful transfers of people, seizures of land and properties and forcible evictions have been documented.”

Bachelet said the victims include people perceived to be allied with opposing parties or as being critical of the Turkish-affiliated armed groups’ actions. They also include those considered to be wealthy enough to pay ransoms. The statement noted the increased infighting among the various Turkish-affiliated armed groups over power-sharing, with little or no regard for the safety of the local population, as well.

“People living in these areas whose rights have been violated are entitled to protection and a remedy. In this regard, I urge 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,” the high commissioner said.

According to data from the UN Human Rights Office, at least 116 civilians died as a result of improvised explosive devices (IEDS) used by unidentified perpetrators and explosive remnants of war (ERW) from January 1 to September 14, 2020. Of the deceased, 22 were children and 15 were women. Some 450 civilians were injured.

“I remind all parties to the conflict in Syria that the protection of civilian life remains paramount in all circumstances. The blatant disregard for the safety of civilians is against human rights law and obligations under international humanitarian law that all parties, including the armed groups and those that exercise control over them, must respect,” said Bachelet.

According to the high commissioner, Turkish-affiliated armed groups have also seized and looted people’s properties without any military necessity and occupied many of them with their own families.

“I also call on the Turkish authorities to respect international law and to ensure that violations committed by armed groups under Turkey’s effective control cease,” Bachelet said.

“This is 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,” she added.

Bachelet also voiced continued concern that parties to the conflict in Syria are using essential services such as water and electricity as a weapon. Turkish-affiliated armed groups, which control the Alouk water pumping station in Ras al-Ain, have repeatedly disrupted water supplies, affecting access to water for up to 1 million people in the city of al-Hassakeh and surrounding areas, including extremely vulnerable displaced people in various IDP camps.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls al-Hassakeh, has in turn been accused of hindering the electricity feed to the pumping station.

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