The United Nations Human Rights Council has published its latest biannual report on Syria, documenting abuses by Turkey and its jihadist allies, supporting they are engaging in gross violations of international humanitarian law.
Syria remains a human rights inferno where abuses committed in government-held territory are rivalled by those witnessed in areas held by the jihadi opposition and the Turkish army, the United Nations revealed today.
Based on investigations carried out from January 1 to July 1 of this year, the latest report of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria makes for grim reading. The horrors inflicted by the Syrian government on its citizens are well known and are among the underlying causes of Syria’s bloody, nine-year-long civil conflict.
Torture, arbitrary detentions, targeting of civilians and enforced disappearances continue to be the norm in government-controlled Syria. Prison conditions remain dire. Inmates are confined to tiny cells drenched in faeces, urine and vomit and are forced to survive on a loaf of bread and four olives per day. Some said they ate the olive pits “in order to get extra nutrition.”
Sexual violence is rife
Abuses occurring under Turkish occupation are, however, only just starting to be formally documented by the UN, with potential legal consequences for Ankara. The main perpetrators are brigades and factions operating under the military arm of the Istanbul-based gang called the Syrian National Army, who have organized extortion, looting, property expropriation, rape, kidnapping and murder. Some of the worst offences were recorded in Afrin, the Kurdish majority enclave that was invaded by Turkish forces in January 2018.
“One boy described to the commission how he had been detained by the Syrian National Army military police in the city of Afrin in mid-2019 and held for five months in Syrian National Army headquarters before being transferred to the Afrin central prison and released in March 2020. While detained, both Syrian National Army members and Turkish-speaking officials dressed in military fatigues were present. The boy was handcuffed and hung from a ceiling. He was then blindfolded and repeatedly beaten with plastic tubes,” the report said.
Sexual violence is rife. “On two occasions, in an apparent effort to humiliate, extract confessions and instil fear within male detainees, Syrian National Army military police officers forced male detainees to witness the rape of a minor. On the first day, the minor was threatened with being raped in front of the men, but the rape did not proceed. The following day, the same minor was gang-raped, as the male detainees were beaten and forced to watch in an act that amounts to torture,” stated the report. The incident occurred in Afrin.
First case of such strong evidence
“Claims of egregious human rights violations targeting nearly every aspect of civilian life in Afrin have been reported since the start of the Turkish invasion in January 2018, but for two and a half years, the international community has paid little attention,” said Meghan Bodette, a Washington-based independent researcher who founded the Missing Afrin Women Project, a website dedicated to tracking missing women in the Turkish-occupied zone.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Meghan said: “This Commission of Inquiry report marks the first time that the United Nations has put forward such strong evidence of war crimes committed by occupying forces there — in particular, evidence of torture, and sexual and gender-based violence. It will hopefully serve as a much-needed first step toward accountability.”
By failing to intervene, specifically in cases where Turkish forces were present when the abuses took place, Turkey “may have violated” its human rights treaties obligations, the UN said, using typically cautious language.
With those words, legal experts contended, the UN is effectively suggesting that Turkey participated in violations of international humanitarian law.