Turkey-backed armed groups looted, destroyed civilian property in Syria's Afrin: HRW
Human Rights Watch says Turkey-backed militants in the Syrian town of Afrin have looted and destroyed civilian property after taking control of the Kurdish-dominated region in March.
“Those who made the decision to take over Afrin also took on the responsibility of ensuring that both the residents of Afrin, and people there who have been displaced elsewhere have basic shelter in a way that doesn’t infringe on either of those groups’ rights,” HRW’s acting emergencies director Priyanka Motaparthy said in a report.
“So far it seems that they are failing to do the right thing by either group,” she added.
The report is based on interviews and eyewitness accounts of people who have been displaced from Afrin. They accuse Turkey-backed forces of moving their fighters from other parts of Syria into vacated homes and of taking over business premises without paying compensation.
Roni Seydo left Afrin in March but was told by a friend that an armed group had taken over his house, painting the word “seized” on the outside wall. He said his neighbors were questioned about his family and its possible links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Another former Afrin resident, photographer Ser Hussein, said one of his two studios was burned down and the other turned into a butcher’s shop.
Turkey began the so-called Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20 to clear the northern Syrian border of the US-backed Kurdish militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), whom it associates with the homegrown PKK fighting for autonomy on Turkish soil.
The Turkish operation was launched without permission from the Syrian government. It has also pitted Ankara against Washington, which supports the Kurdish militants.
The Turkish military said on March 24 that it had established full control over Afrin after more than two months of battles with US-backed militants controlling Syria’s northern border regions.
Elsewhere in the report, the New York-based rights group noted that pillaging or forcibly taking private property for personal use is prohibited under the laws of war and can constitute a war crime.
The international rights body said owners should be compensated for the use and damage of their property and the rights of owners and returnees should be guaranteed.
According to HRW, the so-called Free Syrian Army militant umbrella group issued a statement on March 9 inviting Afrin residents to submit complaints to the military headquarters in Azaz to claim their looted property. The militant outfit Ahrar al-Sharqiyah issued a statement on April 20 denying responsibility for property violations and looting and saying it had arrested several people who may have been involved in such acts.
Turkish officials have recently said they were looking into allegations of looting and property seizure and that they would ensure Afrin would be a safe place for residents to return.
The Turkish military says it has exercised “utmost care” not to harm civilians. The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitor, however said that more than 280 civilians had been killed since the onset of the operation.