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Syria: UN war crimes investigators say Turkish-backed militias rape and torture Kurdish population

This week, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a new report saying it has “reasonable grounds to believe” that Turkish-backed militias are committing war crimes against the Kurdish population in northern Syria, carrying out kidnappings, torture, rape and looting of civilian property.

During a news briefing, Paulo Pinheiro, the Chair of the Commission, said:

“In Afrin, Ra’s al Ain and the surrounding areas, the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture and rape.”

He said: 

“Turkey should act to prevent these abuses and ensure the protection of civilians in the areas under its control.”

The report, which is the 21st produced by the Commission, covers the first half of 2020 and is based on 538 interviews as well as documents, satellite imagery and other evidence. 

The militias, collectively known as the Syrian National Army since December 2017, number some 90,000 troops and are composed of fighters committed to bringing down the Assad regime and others who have mainly been recruited from the Syrian diaspora in Turkey. 

The report stated: 

“Since 2019, Kurdish women throughout the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions have faced acts of intimidation by Syrian National Army brigade members, engendering a pervasive climate of fear which in effect confined them to their homes.” 

It continued: “Women and girls have also been detained by Syrian National Army fighters, and subjected to rape and sexual violence – causing severe physical and psychological harm at the individual level, as well as at the community level, owing to stigma and cultural norms related to ideations of ‘female honour’.”

The Commission said it was investigating reports that at least 49 Kurdish and Yazidi women were detained in the Ras al-Ayn and Afrin regions by Syrian National Army members within the last year and that at least 30 women had reportedly been raped in February alone. 

According to the report, on two occasions, “in an apparent effort to humiliate, extract confessions and instil fear within male detainees,” Syrian National Army 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.”

The report states that one eyewitness “recalled that Turkish officials had been present in the facility on the first day, when the rape was aborted, suggesting their presence may have acted as a deterrent.”

“Another detainee was gang-raped in the same facility some weeks after this incident.”

Hanny Megally, a member of the Commission, said at the news briefing that Turkey has a “lot of influence” over the rebels. 

“Whilst we can’t say Turkey is in charge of them and issues orders and has command control over them, we think that it could use its influence much more to bring them into check, and certainly to pressure them to desist from the violations being committed, and to investigate them.”

Earlier this year, IOHR spoke to Syrian-Kurdish journalist Hisham Arafat about how rape is used as a weapon of war against Kurdish women and why the perpetrators are not being held accountable.



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