Syrian militants abuse civilians in ‘Safe Zones”

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The Syrian National Army (SNA), a Syrian armed group backed by Turkey in northeast Syria, have summarily executed civilians and failed to account for aid workers who disappeared while working in the ‘safe zone,’ Human Rights Watch said today.

The armed group has also apparently refused to allow the return of Kurdish families displaced by Turkish military operations and looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.

“Executing individuals, pillaging property, and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey’s proposed ‘safe zones’ will not be safe,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

On October 9, 2019, Turkish Armed Forces and the armed group invaded territory in northeast Syria that since 2012 had been under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up primarily of the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Since the incursion began, Turkey and the factions it supports have indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, carried out at least seven summary killings, unlawfully occupied private civilian homes and shops and looted the owners’ property, and have not accounted for aid workers who may have been forcibly disappeared while working in their zones.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 individuals, including 2 doctors and 3 relatives of victims, to document these abuses. Human Rights Watch also reviewed footage and images provided by activists and relatives that corroborate these abuses.

On October 11, videos and images, including some posted by the SNA itself, have emerged on social media showing its members shooting at a person who was lying down without moving and appeared to pose no threat and standing atop the dead body of another person in a degrading manner.

Human Rights Watch also documented the execution of a Kurdish political activist, HevrinKhalaf, and researched what happened to three Kurdish Red Crescent aid workers who disappeared in SNA-controlled territory, including the apparent unlawful killing of at least one of them.

“Turkey is turning a blind eye to the reprehensible behaviour displayed by the factions it arms,” Whitson said. “So long as Turkey is in control of these areas, it has a responsibility to investigate and end these violations.”

Both international humanitarian law and human rights law prohibit unlawful killings and any arbitrary deprivation of life, which includes targeting civilians. International humanitarian law also strictly prohibits, and deems a war crime, the deliberate killing of injured, surrendered, or captured combatants (people deemed hors de combat) and enforced disappearances. (Source: HRW)

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