UN report on Syria: "Military escalation after Erdogan's announcement"

UN report on Syria: "Military escalation after Erdogan's announcement"
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The Syrian National Army may have been involved in offenses including torture and sexual violence, which constitute war crimes, the reports says.

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) released Wednesday the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

The report, which presents findings based on investigations conducted in the first half of 2022, notes that military escalation followed the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 23 May that another incursion into Syria is planned, resulting in bombardment and mobilization in areas including Tell Rifat, Manbij, Ain Issa and Tell Tamr.

The report notes that an attack launched by the Islamic State (ISIS) on 20 January on Sina'a Prison, where suspected ISIS members were incarcerated, "revealed the capacity of the terrorist group to launch complex attacks and the threat it continues to pose."

"Insecurity continued in government-controlled areas, particularly in the south of the country. In Dar'a, scores of killings of former opposition leaders, as well as military and security members of the Government, were recorded," it says.

As for the northwestern parts of Syria, it observes:

"In Idlib and western Aleppo, violence continued, with mutual shelling between pro-government forces and armed opposition groups including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations."

Atrocities by SNA

The report includes accounts of offenses conducted by the "Syrian National Army" (SNA), which operates under the command of occupying Turkish forces in Northern Syria.

It says:

"Interviewees reported that: people arrested by factions and individual members of the Syrian National Army were held incommunicado for periods ranging from one month to three years; that family members were denied information about the whereabouts of detainees, including detainees transferred to Turkey; that family members seeking information on the fate or whereabouts of loved one were also threatened or arrested; that detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrest and not permitted access to legal representation; and that detainees were allowed to have contact with their relatives only after their relatives paid bribes or exerted pressure on members of the Syrian National Army, whereupon detainees were transferred to central prisons, such as Maratah prison. Only after such transfers did detainees finally appear before a court, including the military court in Afrin."

"Subjected to rape by individuals wearing Turkish uniforms"

It continues:

"New credible accounts were also gathered from both male and female survivors, including from minors, of beatings and other forms of torture by members of the Syrian National Army, including rape and other forms of sexual violence that took place in makeshift detention facilities between 2018–2021. One woman, a former detainee, described how she was subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence in 2018 during interrogations by individuals wearing Turkish uniforms and speaking in Turkish."

It adds:

"Severe torture and other forms of ill-treatment inflicted by members of the Syrian National Army also led to the death of a number of detainees."

It concludes:

"The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that elements of the Syrian National Army have arbitrarily deprived persons of their liberty. Some cases have been tantamount to enforced disappearances. Consistent with an established pattern, elements of the Syrian National Army may have committed torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, including through forms of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes. In some instances, the treatment inflicted led to the death of detainees, which may amount to murder, another war crime."

"Women's rights activists specifically targeted"

The report also notes that SNA's atrocities against the residents of occupied territories involved property appropriation, including of agricultural lands, and these led to mass displacements.

"Confiscation of private property by parties to the conflict may amount to pillage, which is a war crime, and is in any case prohibited when carried out based on discriminatory grounds," it adds.

Freedom of expression and assembly were also restricted by the SNA in several areas, it observes, and says:

"Women’s rights activists, both male and female, were specifically targeted by violence and threats of violence by members of the Syrian National Army and official religious figures when attempting to engage in public life, undermining their ability to meaningfully participate and contribute to their communities (...) Fearing for their safety, some women’s rights activists avoided speaking publicly about their work or have withdrawn from local organizations that advocate for gender equality. Women activists of Kurdish origin were particularly affected, with some ceasing all engagement in public life as they also feared arrest and detention by the Syrian National Army."

It states:

"In relation to the violations identified in the present report, the Commission notes that, in areas under effective Turkish control, Turkey has the responsibility, as far as possible, to ensure public order and safety and to afford special protection to women and children. Turkey remains bound by applicable human rights obligations with regard to all individuals present in such territories."

Turkish incursions

The report also observes in detail the impact of the fighting between Turkish forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that escalated in the context of a potential Turkish military campaign.

It provides information on separate incidents, including one in which Turkey is implicated in possible involvement in a war crime.

In the referred incident, three locations in the center of the Kurdish-majority city of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) were simultaneously shelled on 8 January, along with villages to the east of the city along the Turkish border, leaving one civilian dead, and a further twelve, including three children, injured.

"Photographs of remnants from one of the villages where civilians were injured indicates the use of unguided 120 mm mortars, which, given the range of the weapon, may have been fired from Turkey," the report says, and adds:

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the use of unguided explosive weapons to strike urban areas and villages amounts to the war crime of launching an indiscriminate attack causing death and injury to civilians."