Turkey Bears Responsibility For Possible War Crimes In Syria, Human Rights Watch Says

This is a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT (AP) — Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Turkey bears responsibility for some of the abuses and possible war crimes committed in Syria, mostly against Kurdish residents in northern Syria.

The New York-based watchdog said the abuses were committed by Turkish forces and also armed factions backed by Ankara in areas they control in northern Syria.

There was no immediate response from Turkey over the accusations, which came in a new, 74-page report by HRW.

As an occupying power in northern Syria, Turkey has had the responsibility to restore public order and safety, protect residents and hold those responsible for abuses accountable, the report said.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three major operations inside Syria, targeting Syria’s main Kurdish militia — the People’s Protection Units or YPG, a U.S.-backed faction that Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

The PKK has for decades waged an insurgency within Turkey against the government in Ankara.

Turkey's incursions and subsequent fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds. Some of those who stayed told HRW they suffered abuses by Turkish troops and a coalition of opposition fighters armed and funded by Ankara.

“Ongoing abuses, including torture and enforced disappearances of those who live under Turkish authority in northern Syria, will continue unless Turkey itself takes responsibility and acts to stop them,” said Adam Coogle, HRW's deputy Middle East director.

“Turkish officials are not merely bystanders to abuses, but bear responsibility as the occupying power,” Coogle said. “In some cases (Turkish officials) have been directly involved in apparent war crimes.”

The report — titled “Everything is by the Power of the Weapon: Abuses and Impunity in Turkish-Occupied Northern Syria” — documents allegations of abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and torture. Human Rights Watch says it also found that the Turkish army and intelligence agencies were involved in carrying out and overseeing abuses.

HRW said Turkey has failed to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population, and life for the 1.4 million residents of the region is marked by lawlessness and insecurity.

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

HRW concluded that accountability for serious human rights abuses and possible war crimes “in Turkish-occupied territories remains elusive.”

Turkey has said it will set up a safe zone in northern Syria where some of the refugees it is hosting inside Turkey can return home. Turkey is home to about 3.6 million Syrians who fled the decade-long civil war in their country.

“Turkey’s occupation of parts of northern Syria has facilitated a lawless climate of abuse and impunity — it’s the furthest possible thing from a ‘safe zone’,” Coogle said.