Open Letter to UK Foreign Secretary: on NATO, Turkish Invasion of North-East Syria, Human Rights Violations & War Crimes

Turkey’s invasion forces have committed multiple abuses in NE Syria (Photo by Aaref WATAD / AFP)

By Peace in Kurdistan:

Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab MP
Foreign Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Dear Foreign Secretary

Ref. Turkish invasion of North-East Syria – human rights violations and war crimes

As NATO heads meet in Downing Street today to discuss the Turkish invasion of North-East Syria among other matters, we write to emphasise the catalogue of human rights violations and war crimes that the Turkish forces and the Turkish backed militias stand accused of in North-East Syria, in the hope that the British government will stand firm in its condemnation.

The British Kurdish community has noted well the supportive words from your office and the cross-party support in Parliament for the Kurdish forces and civilians in Syria but is still waiting in hope for some concrete actions from government to back them up. It is deeply concerning that weapons sales are continuing in the light of credible evidence of war crimes, in particular the targeting of civilians.

The Women’s Council of Northern and Eastern Syria has compiled a list of war crimes that it accuses Turkey of committing. Many of these crimes were filmed either by the perpetrators themselves and circulated on social media or were filmed by others. The evidence generally is strong, and in many cases, uncontested. The justification put forward by Turkey of course is that this area of Syria is administered by a terrorist organisation, namely the PYD. This assertion has not been accepted by the UK, USA or indeed by other NATO states.

Please see below the list of violations below as compiled by the Women’s Council and the consequent demands addressed to the international community. In the light of this list we invite you again to reconsider the issue of arms sales to Turkey and whether or not this trade is in fact in breach of the UK’s own arms control regulations. We also invite your comments on the full list of violations and demands.

Violations of human rights conventions

  1. Turkey has been attacking the regions of Northern and Eastern Syria and committing crimes of aggression since 9 October 2019. Thus it violates Resolution 3314 (XXIX) adopted by the UN General Assembly on 14 December 1974.
  2. These attacks violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.
  3. In Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), the Turkish state violated the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property by destroying the entire cultural heritage and flying its flag at all institutions.
  4. Turkey invokes its right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter in its attacks on Northern and Eastern Syria, but violates the article itself. An armed attack by Northern and Eastern Syria against Turkey has not yet been proven.
  5. Massacres have been perpetrated against the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Syriacs. These constitute a violation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948.
  6. The expulsion of 300,000 people from northern and eastern Syria and the prevention of their return, as well as the change in the demographic structure of the region, violate Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, adopted in 1949.
  7. The destruction of movable or immovable property and the appropriation of personal or communal property of the Kurds in/from Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî violate Article 8 of the Rome Statute.
  8. If Article 6 of the Rome Statute is violated, which includes acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such and defined as genocide, is equally present. Since the invasion of Northern and Eastern Syria by the Turkish State began, eight children have died and a further 69 have been injured. According to Heyva Sor a Kurd (Kurdish Red Crescent), 70,000 children were expelled from Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî.
  9. The number of women (civilians) killed in the occupation attacks in Turkey is 21. A further 154 women were injured in the attacks. These are violations of Article 7 of the Geneva Convention.
  10. The execution on 12 October 2019 of Havrin Khalaf (Hevrîn Xelef), General Secretary of the Future Party of Syria, the desecration of her body and the documentation of her murder are contrary to Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which regulates crimes against humanity.
  11. The mistreatment of the body of the fallen YPJ fighter Amara Rênas (Azize Celal) by jihadist troops of the so-called “Syrian National Army” (SNA), the degrading filming of the crime and the publication of the recordings in the social media violate Article 8 of the Geneva Convention.
  12. The abduction and execution of health workers Media Bouzan, Mohamed Bouzan Saidi and Havin Khalil Ibrahim (Heyva Sor a Kurd employees) violate Article 7 of the Geneva Convention.
  13. Members of armed groups published footage of YPJ fighter Çiçek Kobanê, who was wounded and taken prisoner of war and subjected to inhuman treatment. This constitutes a war crime under Articles 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the Geneva Convention and contravenes Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute.
  14. On 13 October 2019, fighter planes of the Turkish State of Serêkaniyê and a civilian convoy on their way to the city bombed under the use of banned and chemical substances. 18 people died in the attack and more than 70 were injured. These are also internationally outlawed war crimes. In this context, the human rights organisation Amnesty International also accuses Turkey of war crimes, mass killings and illegal or arbitrary attacks. The 13-year-old Mihemed Hemid (Mohammed Hamid), who suffered massive burns during the attacks on Serêkaniyê, is still being treated in a hospital in France.
  15. A bombardment of the Eluk/Amûdê drinking water depot cut off about 500,000 people from the water supply. Power lines and distribution systems were also targeted, opening the door to humanitarian disasters. These acts contravene Article 54 of Additional Protocol I of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, which regulates and prohibits the protection of objects essential to the life of civilians by attacking, destroying, removing or rendering unusable food, food-producing agricultural areas, harvests and livestock, drinking water facilities and supplies and irrigation systems.
  16. On November 2, 2019, a vehicle belonging to the Free Burma Rangers was attacked at Til Temir. The doctor Zau Seng (37) died in the attack, another team member was injured. An ambulance of the German aid organisation CADUS and the Serêkaniyê hospital were also attacked. These are violations of Articles 8 and 13 of the Geneva Convention.
  17. Humanitarian zones, security zones and safety corridors for wounded, fallen and civilians fleeing bombardment have not been created. This is contrary to Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Geneva Convention.
  18. The Turkish state bombed protected ancient sites and historic settlement mounds in northern and eastern Syria. This constitutes a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2347 on the protection of cultural property.
  19. In the attack on a civilian convoy on 13 October 2019, the journalist and ANHA correspondent Seed Ehmed (Saad al-Ahmad) was killed. On 12 November 2019, the Turkish army opened fire on a protesting crowd in Kobanê, injuring journalists* Zozan Remedan Berkel (JinTV) and Dilyar Cizirî (Ronahî TV). These acts violate Article 79 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts. Journalists carrying out dangerous professional assignments in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians and shall be protected as such.
  20. All churches in Serêkaniyê and the Armenian church in Girê Spî have been attacked and plundered. The Roman Statute identifies deliberate attacks on religious buildings as war crimes. Religious cultural assets are also protected against destruction, damage, theft and looting by the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

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