Turkish-backed Syrian rebels may have carried out torture, rape and looting: UN

Turkey must rein in the rebels it supports in northern Syria who may have carried out kidnappings, torture, rape and looting of civilian property, United Nations war crimes investigators said on Tuesday, Reuters and The Associated Press reported.

The panel of investigators also said transfers of Syrian nationals detained by the opposition Syrian National Army to Turkish territory for prosecution may amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation.

The report from the Independent International Commission of Syria — its 21st — was based on 538 interviews as well as documents, satellite imagery and other evidence. It covers the first half of 2020 at a time when a cease-fire between rebels and the government and its allies had largely held in the rebel-held Idlib region since March — a relative bright spot in an otherwise dismal situation.

The Independent International Commission of Syria said assassinations and rapes of civilians by all sides, marked by “sectarian undertones,” were on the rise in the conflict that began in 2011.

The commission said it was, for example, investigating reports that at least 49 Kurdish and Yazidi women were detained in the Ras al-Ayn and Afrin regions by Syrian National Army members within the last year.

“In Afrin, Ras al Ain and the surrounding areas, the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture and rape,” panel chair Paulo Pinheiro told a news briefing.

“Turkey should act to prevent these abuses and ensure the protection of civilians in the areas under its control,” he said.

According to commission member Hanny Megally, Turkey has a “lot of influence” over the rebels as it funded, trained and allowed the rebel force known as the Syrian National Army to enter Syria from Turkey. But the investigators were “frustrated that Turkey could be doing more to bring these armed groups that it has supported, funded, trained” and allowed to enter Syria from Turkey, Megally said.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry says it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties during military operations in Syria.

Ankara and Moscow back opposing sides in Syria. Russia, along with Iran, supports President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and Turkey backs rebels trying to oust him. Turkey seized control of the border town of Ras al-Ayn last year in an offensive to push back Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara views as a terrorist group.

According to Megally, investigations carried out so far by the Syrian National Army are insufficient, even as violations increase.

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