Syria/Afrin: An international human rights report talks about human rights violations in Afrin

On 14th May 2024, the CEASEFIRE Center for Civilian Rights and the Kurdish “YASA” Center for Human Rights Studies and Legal Consultations issued a detailed report on the violations to which civilians are exposed in the Afrin region by armed factions affiliated the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army under the title “Escalating human rights violations in Syria’s Afrin. The report was submitted to the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

The report presents the escalating violations in Afrin, Syria, between November 2022 and November 2023, based on the documentation of 152 cases reported violations depending on the testimony of victims and witnesses.

The report addressed the human rights situation in the Afrin region a year after exposing to a devastating earthquake, which began to deteriorate further more. The Ceasefire Center and YASA also monitored violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Afrin since the Turkish “Olive Branch” operation in 2018, when the Turkish forces and armed factions affiliated with the National Army occupied Afrin in northwestern Syria.

Reported incidents include a wide range of ongoing violations of the physical integrity rights of civilians in the region through arbitrary detention, torture, kidnapping for ransom, forced marriage and gender-based violence. As well as recruitment of children by armed factions, the impact of the earthquake and discrimination in aid distribution, the continuing policies of Islamization and Turkification in Afrin, the continued presence of Turkish forces in Afrin and the continued attacks on cultural celebrations such as Newrouz.

Furthermore, the report’s conclusion showed demographic shifts through forced displacement, destruction of graves and historical sites, illegal excavation of archaeological sites, deliberate destruction of olive trees, burning of fields and violations of HLP rights in the region.

Some interviews were conducted directly with victims of violations as well as with witnesses and their names and personal information were documented with details, but that information was deleted from the report.

The report mentioned a case of violations against women in which: “An armed group of six unidentified elements entered the home of a mother and her 18-year-old daughter in Afrin and kidnapped her daughter on charges related to working with the Autonomous Administration. The mother searched for her in various extremist faction headquarters, and provided them with details about her daughter and her picture. But she did not find any evidence about her. So the mother was forced to move from Afrin to Aleppo searching of safety for herself and her other children.”

 Regarding cases of forced marriage, the report stated that: “A 15-year-old Yazidi girl from a village near Afrin was forced into marriage with a man thirteen years older than her due to her family’s economic difficulties. Enduring physical and psychological abuse throughout the six-month marriage, the girl eventually managed to get a divorce. However, the family faced threats, and the man who married her demanded $25,000 for allowing the divorce. To escape this situation, the family had to abandon their village and relocate to Aleppo.”

 In another incident, a 17-years-old girl from the Maydan Ikbis village committed suicide when she was forced to marry a member of armed faction.

The report also published many cases of the seizure of the property and lands of Kurdish indigenous people by armed factions in various villages and districts of the region, including: “A resident of the village of Haj Hassanli in the Jenderes district reported that an unidentified armed group forcibly entered his house, threatening him and ordering him to vacate it within 24 hours. They warned of consequences, including death, if he reported the incident, leaving him with no choice but to evacuate his home without taking any personal belongings with him. After living with his father for two months, he approached the armed men occupying his house, offering them $2,000, but they rejected the offer and threatened him with death if he attempted to return home.”

The report mentioned many cases of forcefully cutting down fruit trees owned by indigenous civilians. In this regard, the report spoke of a case in which “A 34-year-old Yazidi man from the village of Qastal Jindo in the Sharan district reported that an armed group affiliated with Al-Shamye Front faction forcibly entered his house without providing any explanation. He was then taken to his land, where members of the armed group tied him to an olive tree and proceeded to cut down his trees –133 olive trees and 16 almond trees –before his eyes. The men beat him, breaking two fingers of his right hand, and threatened him with death should he attempt to file a complaint against them.

It is worth noting that many international reports spoke about violations committed by the armed factions affiliated with the Syrian National Army and supported by Turkey. All these reports were supported by testimonies from survivors, victims, and witnesses from the region. But the pace of violations did not diminish and the most important was the Human Rights Watch report, under The title “Everything is by the Power of the Weapon” and the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic for the current year 2024, in addition to other human rights reports from local organizations.

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