UN experts accuse Kurdish-dominated SDF of rights violations in Syria

UN investigators on Tuesday accused the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition of human rights violations and attacks on civilians in war-torn Syria, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Anadolu said a report issued by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria chronicles violations that occurred between July 2017 and January 2018 based on more than 500 interviews. The report said although attacks to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor seem to have “successfully dislodged” the radical terrorist group, the battles “came at an extremely high cost to civilians.”

“Even before the campaign to take Raqqa city began, the international coalition failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, when it launched an airstrike in al-Mansoura which killed at least 150 internally displaced persons, including women and children,” the report said.

It said the trapped residents of Raqqa were later used by ISIL as human shields. Regarding violations committed by the SDF, the report revealed that the SDF are interning up to 80,000 internally displaced persons to vet them for possible connections to ISIL. “SDF violations noted in the report also include forced conscription, including of children.”

“Elsewhere across Syria, places of worship, civil defense centers, homes, medical facilities, markets, bakeries and schools continue to be regularly attacked with impunity by warring parties,” the report added.

The US has supported the SDF, which is considered by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organisation.

The US should prevent People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants from traveling to Syria’s northwestern Afrin region from elsewhere in Syria to counter a Turkish military operation, autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson, İbrahim Kalın, said at a press conference on Wednesday. Kalın also said the Turkish government was working to extend a five-hour-a-day truce in Syria’s eastern Ghouta to 24 hours and that Erdoğan would discuss the situation there with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy has also slammed a recent Pentagon statement supporting a key YPG figure, known in Turkey as Ferhad Abdi Şahin, as “nonsense.”

“The Pentagon spokesman once again continued to speak nonsense,” he said, referring to Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning.

“You all are well aware that the PYD/YPG is a terrorist group. … Solid evidence showing that the PYD/YPG is part of the PKK has been put forward. I believe the Pentagon spokesman also knows this,” he said. The rebuke came after Manning identified the YPG fighter as a “general” at a press conference.

Meanwhile, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday that a total of 2,940 militants have been “neutralized” since the start of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear alleged terrorists from Afrin in northwestern Syria. According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as “to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aksoy said at a press conference on Tuesday that Turkish government would establish camps for 170,000 displaced people in Idlib province and the Operation Euphrates Shield region ahead of a possible refugee influx from Afrin. The camps will be established in nine regions including Azez, Elbil, Tugli, Teleffer, Naddah, Bardaklı and Maşad Rufi.

Turkish humanitarian agencies have long been planning to establish camp areas around Azaz as well as Idlib if large numbers of civilians head for the border seeking safety from the ongoing bombardment in Afrin.

HDP SLAMS TURKISH GOVERNMENT’S DE-KURDIFICATION PLANS IN AFRIN

On Monday, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) slammed Turkish leaders’ repeated announcements that they would resettle hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Afrin region and stated that it would amount to a war crime. According to a report by Kurdistan24, the military assaults on Afrin had resulted in the displacement of over 60,000 locals as of early last month.

“The government’s plans to transfer 350,000 refugees to Afrin under a campaign of invasion is an attempt of demographic change in contravention of international law and a downright war crime according to the Geneva Conventions,” a statement on the HDP’s website read.

At the beginning of the offensive to capture Afrin, President Erdoğan claimed that 55 percent of the population was Arab, that the Kurds there were from other places and that the enclave did not belong to “terrorists.”

The Erdoğan government labels the YPG, which is allied with the US in the fight against ISI, as “terrorists” for their ties to the outlawed PKK. However, the Geneva Conventions regulating the laws of war designate “the establishment of settlers in an occupied territory and changes to the demographic composition of an occupied territory” as an “exceptionally serious war crime.”

“We aim to give Afrin back to its rightful owners,” Erdoğan has said on various occasions as his army backing Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions continues to push back the YPG.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also claimed there were about 350,000 people from Afrin who had found refuge in his country, but according to pro-Kurdish sources he did not substantiate this figure about the region, one of the last safe zones in war-torn Syria. The self-declared administration of Afrin canton puts the area’s population at 446,000, citing a pre-war 2005 census by the Syrian state.

HDP deputy Osman Baydemir had earlier accused Erdoğan’s administration of aiming to “de-Kurdify” Kurdish lands. Baydemir likened the Turkish government policy to a plan of the 1970s by the Syrian Ba’ath regime to create an “Arab belt” in the north of the country by expelling the Kurds and resettling Arabs.

Co-president of the Executive Council of Afrin canton Hevi Mustafa considered the remarks a threat of ethnic cleansing and urged Ankara’s NATO ally the US to immediately enforce a no-fly zone over the region.

According to Kurdistan24, people displaced from border areas the Turkish army has captured have sought safety further inside Afrin, officials from both sides confirm. Afrin’s Health Council on Sunday revealed that the number of civilians killed by continued Turkish airstrikes and ground shelling had risen to 212, despite calls by the US and France for the implementation of a UN ceasefire Turkey refuses to abide by.

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!