UN may find Turkey responsible for war crimes over northern Syria invasion
The United Nations has warned of Turkey’s execution of the Kurdish civilians in northern Syria to constitute a ‘war crime’ and that Ankara may stand ‘deemed responsible.’
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The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Tuesday that its staff had viewed two separate pieces of video footage “showing what appears to be summary executions carried out by fighters belonging to the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group, which is affiliated with Turkey, on October 12.”
The OHCHR Spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva that the footage, which has been widely shared on social media, appeared “to show the fighters filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives” on the main highway.
“Only one of the captives appeared to be wearing a military uniform,” he said adding that the office had also received reports of the execution of Hevrin Khalaf, the Secretary General of the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, the same day “on the same highway.”
Colville further noted that the UN was working to verify the footage and confirm the details of the events, but stressed that under international law, “summary executions are serious violations, and may amount to a war crime.”
The top UN official warned that “Turkey could be deemed responsible as a state for violations committed by their affiliated armed groups, as long as Turkey exercises effective control over these groups or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred.”
Colville called on Ankara “to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into both incidents.”
Turkey, he said, must also “apprehend those responsible, some of whom should be easily identifiable from the video footage they themselves shared on social media.”
Militants from the Kurdish-dominated and so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said over the weekend that at least nine civilians were “executed” as part of Turkey's incursion into northeastern Syria.
Moreover, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has demanded an end to the Turkish military campaign in northern Syria.
“The imperative now is to end the incursion into #Syria & address all concerns through #ADANA,” Zarif wrote in a post published on his official Tweeter page late on Tuesday.
The top Iranian diplomat added, “Meanwhile, it is essential that the core principles of JUS IN BELLO are fully observed: distinction between civilians and combatant, & prohibition on inflicting unnecessary suffering.”
Russia also called Turkey's military incursion into northeast Syria "unacceptable," and said the operation had to be limited in time and scale.
“We didn't agree with the Turks any questions about their presence in Syria and we don't approve of their actions,” President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday during an official visit there by the Russian leader.
He said Turkish troops had the right under a 1998 agreement between Ankara and Damascus, known as the Adana Interstate Agreement on Combating Terrorism, to temporarily push up to a maximum of 10 kilometers (6 miles) into Syria to conduct counter-terrorism operations.
“But it doesn't give them (Turkish troops) the right to remain on Syrian territory permanently and we are opposed to Turkish troops staying on Syrian territory permanently,” Lavrentiev pointed out.
Meanwhile, Turkish footballers have celebrated their goal in a 1-1 draw against world champions France during a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) EURO 2020 qualifier at Stade de France in Saint-Denis with a military salute to soldiers fighting in northeast Syria on Monday night, raising the risk of an investigation by the European football's ruling body after a similar gesture against Albania three days earlier.
Olivier Giroud scored for France in the 75th minute of the showdown before Kaan Ayhan equalized for Turkey six minutes later. His teammates then lined up in front of the away supporters and saluted.
Turkey's veteran coach Senol Gunes defended the team's action, saying it was a gesture of respect for the armed forces rather than a political statement or agitation.
Moreover, the Paris-based aid agency Doctors Without Borders, known by the French acronym MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres), said on Tuesday that it was suspending most of its operations in northeastern Syria amid Turkey’s offensive in the territory.
“The latest developments have increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” Robert Onus, the medical charity's emergency manager for Syria, said in a statement.
MSF said it had been distributing blankets, food and water to “thousands of people who were arriving in the (northeastern Syrian) town (of Tal Tamer) since the Turkish incursion began last week.
“Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides of the conflict, we can no longer guarantee the safety of our Syrian and international staff,” it said.
“We are extremely worried about the safety of our Syrian colleagues and their families who remain in northeast Syria,” the charity noted.
MSF said its personnel would remain in northwest Syria, providing health care at facilities and in mobile clinics.
Separately, the United Nations Security Council will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss latest developments in Syria.
Diplomats, requesting not to be named, said a closed-door discussion had been requested by the body’s five European members, namely Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
It will be the second council meeting since Turkey began a cross-border military incursion into northeast Syria.
Furthermore, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his US counterpart Donald Trump that Ankara will never declare a ceasefire in northeastern Syria, and added that he was not worried about US sanctions over his country’s offensive against Kurdish positions in the area.
Speaking to reporters on a flight back from the Azerbaijani capital city of Baku, Erdogan said talks with Washington and Moscow on Syria's Kurdish cities of Kobani, officially Ayn al-Arab, and Manbij near the Turkish border continued, adding that it was “not negative” for Syrian government forces to enter Manbij as long as militants in the area were cleared, Turkish-language NTV television news network reported.
He also said he told Trump that Turkey would “not negotiate with a terrorist organization” in response to Trump's mediation offer.
The Turkish Defense Ministry also said on Tuesday that a total of 611 Kurdish militants from the People's Protection Units (YPG) had been neutralized ever since Turkey's operation in northern Syria started.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” to imply the terrorists in question surrendered or were killed or captured.
On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984. The YPG constitutes the backbone of the SDF.