Image source: attached to the report - the official website of the United Nations
Image source: attached to the report - the official website of the United Nations

Syria/Afrin: Report of Independent International Commission of Syrian Inquiry at its 55th session on the most prominent violations

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued its report on 9th February 2024, which consists of 48 pages and covers the period from 1st July to 31st December 2023. The period during which the Syrian Arab Republic witnessed the greatest escalation of actions hostility during that period, according to what the committee stated in its summary report.

The report’s methodology was based on 528 interviews, conducted according the methodology and practices of commissions of inquiry and human rights investigations. The Commission relied on multiple sources (including non-governmental organizations and the United Nations) for information on incidents and developments it requested, and analyzed photographs, documents, videos, and satellite images.

It also explained that her investigations are restricted due to several reasons, including: refusing to enter the country, obstacles related to the people’s protection who is interviewing with and her adherence to the principle of “do no harm.”

The report included a detailed explanation of human rights violations in the Syrian conflict areas, during several axes, including the axis of violations in northern Aleppo, which included illegal deprivation of liberty, torture, ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, and looting by the SNA. The committee documented several cases of detention by the military police and armed military factions affiliated with the SNA. The arrests were ostensibly based on terrorism, membership in PKK, or alleged cooperation with foreign entities.

The report showed that some factions arrest people for the purpose of extortion and collecting sums of money from their families, and detain them for long periods without being brought before a judge. They are released after their families pay thousands of dollars. Also returnees to those areas that are under the control of the factions are detained for the purpose of interrogating them, especially the Brigade Suleiman Shah and the 211th Division. According to some witnesses with whom the committee communicated, this practice has become a habit for them and is known colloquially as an “entry visa” to the area under the control of the Suleiman Shah Brigade.

The report cited an example of the detention of “One man travelling from a government-controlled area was detained for months before gaining access to a lawyer, and was released when his family paid $1,000.In another case, a man returning to Afrin was detained for several weeks and was released after “his family paid $5,000.” A third man remained in detention while returning from an area under government control without being charged and his family not informed of his whereabouts despite paying thousands of dollars to an intermediary connected to the military police. In two other cases, detainees were held in solitary confinement for two months without access to Contact their family or a lawyer.

The committee documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in “several SNA detention facilities in Afrin, I‘zaz, Ma‘arratah, Raju and Hawar Killis.” The interrogation included several methods, including: severe beatings, beatings with cables, simulated drowning, threats to family members, and acts of humiliation. A case was documented of a man being interrogated by a Turkish officer and being beaten by a Syrian official in the prison.

Former detainees highlighted continued poor conditions in detention centers as well as limited food, poor hygiene and lack of sunlight. Some of them even having to pay for their own medicines and food. The death of a 38-year-old man was documented in August while he was detained by military police in the Afrin region following allegations of torture.

The report confirmed that “isolated cases of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by SNA members continue, including threats of sexual violence made against women detainees.” Even though the SNA informed them that it was investigating members of it regarding incidents of rape.

The report stated the continued harvesting of olives and the collection of taxes from the harvest by some factions, especially the Suleiman Shah Brigade, the Hamzah Division, and the Sultan Murad Division, which collect the profits, that appears to be acting with impunity, outside the control of the local authorities.

The report indicated that some factions confiscated part of the olive crop, depriving farmers of their basic income, and payments for crops increased significantly to exceed the value of the crops in areas under the control of the Suleiman Shah Brigade. As documented by the committee through two cases, “in which Kurdish men were arrested and detained by the Brigade for failure to pay more than $10,000 in “taxes”– one for a piece of land he was looking after and another for olive oil profits, despite having already contributed to olive “taxes” earlier in the season”. One of them was beaten while in detention and in the second case, dozens of ripe olives trees of a Kurdish man were cut down and robbed shortly after he refused to pay a share of his olive crop to the Sultan Murad division and they did not take any action after the complaints he submitted to the division.

Some armed factions also refused to issue powers of attorney to relatives of landowners or give them permission to harvest on behalf of their absent family members. They also seized lands owned by absentee owners. One of the witnesses described to the committee the Hamza Division’s control over his agricultural land and renting it after his return to Afrin city. They also forced the returnees to pay cash sums in exchange for restoring their homes. One of the factions stipulated on a Kurdish woman hand over her house in exchange for her husband coming to the area. After his arrival, the husband found the house occupied by a relative of a member of the SNA, and he was prevented from reclaiming his house despite having legal proof of ownership of the house.

It is worth noting that the report clearly indicated that “many homeowners in the Afrin region feared retaliation by SNA factions if they approached the authorities to complain about their houses being seized or occupied by armed actors or internally displaced persons, and there was little faith in the justice system.

The committee documented in its report that a humanitarian organization was forced to cancel the humanitarian cash aid project later due to “the Suleiman Shah Brigade “taxed” humanitarian cash assistance by summoning all families who received financial aid from a humanitarian organization.

The Committee noted that it had been informed of the commitment of the SNA to hold its forces accountable for violations of international law in accordance with international laws. At the same time, the Committee indicated that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Suleiman Shah Brigade, Hamzah Division and Sultan Murad Division factions of SNA continued to unlawfully detain individuals and commit acts that may amount to the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment and pillage.

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