The UN said on Tuesday 15 October that Turkey could be deemed responsible for summary executions of captured Kurdish fighters and a politician carried out by an affiliated armed group, acts that may amount to war crimes. The UN human rights office also said it had documented civilian casualties caused by air strikes, ground-based strikes and sniper fire each day since the Turkish offensive began in northeastern Syria nearly a week ago.
“Turkey could be deemed responsible as a state for violations by their affiliated groups as long as Turkey exercises effective control of these groups or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.
The briefing came after shocking footage emerged on Saturday 12 October showing pro-Turkey fighters executing nine Kurdish civilians including a female politician in Syria. The civilians were shot dead on the highway between Hasaka and Manbij after being taken from their cars by Turkish-backed militias who had crossed the border as the push into Syria deepened.
“We urge Turkish authorities immediately to launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation and to apprehend those responsible, some of whom should be easily identifiable from the video footage they themselves shared on social media,” Colville said, adding that UN war crimes investigators would follow up on all incidents.
A Kurdish political leader, Hevrin Khalaf, and her driver were among those killed on Saturday, according to Kurdish forces. Khalaf, 35, was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions”, the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a statement. Khalaf was the secretary general of the Future Syria party.
On Sunday 13 October, Turkish warplanes bombed a humanitarian support convoy in Ras al-Ain in northern Syria, which included several foreign and local journalists. The airstrike killed 19 people. Fifteen of them were civilians, including a female citizen and two local reporters. In addition, two civilians were killed in a bombing by the Turkish-backed factions on the village of al-Farat, north of the city of Manbij.
Several foreign journalists were with the convoy when it was struck, according to Stephanie Perez, a reporter from the French broadcaster France 2.
“Syria. We were in the convoy of Kurdish civilians targeted by Turkish forces and their allies at Ras al Ain,” Stephanie Perez wrote on Twitter. “Our team is fine, but some colleagues are dead.”
There were no details available of who the colleagues were but France 2 aired footage of the incident showing images of civilians mixed in with Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who were heading toward Ras al-Ain. The images, taken from about 10 km (six miles) from the town, showed bodies on the ground, burned out armored vehicles and other destroyed trucks and buildings. It then showed images of people panicking with bloodied faces and trucks burning after the convoy was hit.
The General Command of the SDF issued a public statement after the attack on the convoy. It said: “Before the eyes of the world and in the presence of many international media, Turkey and its allied factions continue to commit massacres against civilians in northern and eastern Syria and wage a genocidal war in every sense of the word. […] The convoy to Ras al-Ain, accompanied by many journalists from the media and protected by members of the internal security forces, was directly and brutally targeted, expressing what Turkey is really planning and revealing its true intentions.”
The statement continued: “This horrific massacre of our people in the north and east of Syria is a heinous crime committed by Turkey before the eyes of the world, ignoring all international and humanitarian values and customs. Therefore, we hold the international community responsible for the massacres of civilians by the Turkish army and call on all international forces to stop this massacre against us.”
According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights the Turkish military operation has killed 71 people since its launch on the afternoon of Wednesday 9 October, including 21 children.