US Kurdish ally committed 'war crimes' in Syria

US Kurdish ally committed 'war crimes' in Syria
4 min read
13 October, 2015
Forced displacement and home demolitions in northern Syria amounting to war crimes were carried out by US allied Syrian Kurdish political party (PYD) controlling the area, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Thousands of civilians have fled fighting between Kurdish forces and the IS [Getty]
Waves of forced displacement and home demolitions carried out by Kurdish forces operating in Syria's north and north east amount to war crimes, rights group Amnesty International said in a report published Tuesday.

The London based rights group said a fact-finding mission to 14 towns and villages in northern and north east Syria "uncovered a wave of forced displacement and home demolitions amounting to war crimes carried out by the autonomous administration" led by Syrian Kurds.

The report "We had nowhere else to go’: Forced displacement and demolitions in northern Syria" documents evidence of alarming abuses, including eyewitness accounts and satellite images, detailing the deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians and the razing of entire villages in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration, often in retaliation for residents’ perceived sympathies with, or ties to, members of IS or other armed groups.

"By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law," said Lama Fakih, Amnesty's senior crisis adviser.

Fighting IS

The Autonomous Administration is  flouting international humanitarian law
- Lama Fakih, Amnesty's senior crisis adviser
After Syrian government troops withdrew from majority-Kurdish areas in 2012, a Kurdish-led autonomous administration stepped in to fill the void.

Its security forces, including the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Asayish security forces, have fought the Islamic State group (IS) in these areas.

But residents of Raqqa province in the north and Hassakeh in the northeast interviewed by Amnesty say Kurdish forces have used the pretext of fighting the IS to conduct mass demolitions.

Amnesty said the destruction it examined had not occurred as a result of fighting, but was part of "a deliberate, coordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS, or where a small minority were suspected of supporting the group".

"They pulled us out of our homes and began burning the home... they brought the bulldozers… They demolished home after home until the entire village was destroyed," said one resident of the northeastern village of Husseiniya.

Amnesty said satellite images of Husseiniya showed nearly 94 percent of the village had been destroyed between June 2014 and June 2015.

In villages in Raqa province, an IS stronghold, some residents told Amnesty that YPG fighters had accused them of supporting the IS and threatened to shoot them if they did not leave.

Others said the YPG had threatened to call in airstrikes by the US-led coalition fighting the IS if residents did not evacuate their homes.

"They told us we had to leave or they would tell the US coalition that we were terrorists and their planes would hit us and our families," said one resident, Safwan.

"Isolated" incidents?

Syrian Kurdish forces have regularly responded to such accusations by calling the incidents "isolated", and saying short-term evacuations occur to keep civilians safe from nearby fighting.

The destruction was not a result of fighting, but part of a deliberate campaign of collective punishment of civilians
- Amnesty International
But Amnesty said many areas where forced displacement had occurred were not near the front lines.

"The Autonomous Administration must immediately stop the unlawful demolition of civilian homes, compensate all civilians whose homes were unlawfully destroyed, cease unlawful forced displacements, and allow civilians to return and rebuild," Fakih said.

Kurdish fighters have been among the most successful ground forces battling the IS group. Backed by US-led airstrikes, they defeated the IS group in the Syrian border town of Kobani earlier this year and have since expanded their territory along the border with Turkey.

But Amnesty adviser Lama Fakih said the Kurds' treatment of civilians amounted to collective punishment.

"In its fight against IS, the (Kurdish administration) appears to be trampling all over the rights of civilians who are caught in the middle."

A Kurdish official in northern Syria said forces may have committed minor violations against people suspected of ties to the IS group, but that such actions were not based on ethnicity. The official was not authorized to brief media and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The London-based group called on Kurdish officials to end such abuses, compensate the families for their losses and hold those responsible accountable.