On 13 October 2015, Amnesty International issued a report on the movement of civilians and demolition of civilian homes in Syria by the Kurdish YPG forces.
Lama Fakih, Crisis Counselor for Amnesty International, said :
“By deliberately destroying civilians’ homes, in some cases by shaving and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants without any military justification, the autonomous administration abuses its authority and shamelessly flouts international humanitarian law, in the context of attacks constituting war crimes”.
YPG and SDF forces are also accused by Amnesty of threatening civilians with air strikes if they did not leave their homes.
Arguments denying these charges
- These accusations are unfounded and without sufficient evidence.
- These accusations rely only on people’s words, which they are not sure whether they witnessed the events or not. These charges have not been verified.
- Some witnesses of the report are members of terrorist organizations and have participated in criminal activities and are part of this conflict.
- The YPG statements deny the contents of the Amnesty report.
- During the preparation of their report, the authors of Amnesty were welcomed by political parties hostile to the YPG and the self-management of Rojava.
The Amnesty report accuses the YPG of certain violations that constitute “war crimes”. However, the report is far from reality and does not take into account the complexity of war. The report did not mention the atrocities committed by ISIS and its affiliates following their defeat in the region. As a result, Amnesty’s report is arbitrary, biased, unprofessional and politicized, which is not in line with the organization’s goal.
In addition, the report will contribute greatly to the deepening of ethnic tensions as it portrays the current conflict as a sectarian war between the Kurds and the Arabs, which is a dangerous and immoral issue that calls into question the credibility of Amnesty International and its researchers. The reality on the ground is completely different and the region enjoys a peaceful coexistence between the different ethnic and religious components.
The area on which the report focuses and claims to be destroyed was an area of intense fighting between the YPG and ISIS, during which heavy weapons were used and street fighting took place. This is the same area that had already been controlled by various militant groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra, several units of the Free Syrian Army and ISIS.
These successive groups have used terrorist strategies such as the planting of improvised explosive devices, mines, car bombs, suicide bombers and booby-trapped houses. It is well known in the military that these tactics are the most deadly and dangerous terrorist methods of combat in terms of the extent of destruction and severity of their impact on the lives of civilians. At present, there are an estimated 16,000 landmines in the region between Tel Hamis and Tel Abbyad. The specialized units of the YPGs and the SDFs have removed a quarter of this number and there are still hundreds of landmines in neighboring villages and farms because they do not have sufficient means to remove more. They have repeatedly called on the international community and the institutions to help them eliminate these mines to enable civilians to return to their villages safely.
The YPG and SDF were able to free more than 1,500 villages between Tel Hamis (east) and Sarrin (west) of the ISIS terrorists. Today, people from these villages and villages of “Arab colonies” live in their homes peacefully. Under ISIS, the villagers were expelled, used as human shields or killed. Similarly, the houses were looted, demolished, filled with oil tanks and burned to create smoke panels to deceive coalition forces and combatants, before retiring from these areas, leaving behind a complete destruction. Unfortunately, the report accuses the YPG and SDF units and holds them responsible for the destruction that took place in Tel Hamis and Tel Abbyad. The authors of the Amnesty report were unable to see the whole picture and were motivated by reports written by individuals, such as Anwar Al Kataf, accused of displacement and murder of innocent civilians and of being a member of ISIS.
After the liberation of the ISIS areas by YPG and SDF, the Kurdish and Arabo-Kurdish forces take control and try to guarantee the immediate needs of the inhabitants, including medical assistance as soon as possible, even before arrival of international humanitarian organizations. It is important to note that the increase in the number of combatants of Arab origin and other ethnic origins, amounting to a quarter of the YPG fighters, disputes the argument presented in the report on the “forced displacement” of certain ethnic groups.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, areas that have been liberated from terrorism by YPG and affiliated groups are considered the safest and most stable in the country. The maintenance of stability and security and the protection of civilians are extremely difficult and require considerable effort and support. Despite the fact that in areas under self-management and controlled by YPG forces, resources are limited, YPG has managed to minimize losses compared to other regions of the country. This was achieved through the sacrifices their men and women combatants made to protect civilians.
Report of the United Nations (UN)
In addition to the statements of the main defendants of the YPG, the UN Commission on Syria published an official report on 13rd March 2017, in which it acquits YPG and SDF forces of forced displacements and ethnic cleansing of Arab villages and communities of the Syrian Kurdistan region. You will find the report in the following link:
The report clearly refutes Amnesty International’s widely known and disseminated claims that YPG were accused of discrimination, ethnic cleansing and displacement of Arab communities.
From the day of the publication of the Amnesty report, many “left” organizations, as well as Turkish or pro-AKP ultra-nationalist parties, have taken this report as their main source. The YPG, which for the most part have fought for the protection of all ethnic and religious groups, especially for the security and well-being of Arab communities, have been characterized as “violent, oppressive and imperialist/colonialists” rather than the revolutionary, inclusive and democratic body they are.
Amnesty International’s poor report has contributed to ongoing propaganda against Syrian Kurdistan, Kurds and YPG. It is profoundly detrimental and has promoted the agendas and interests of certain groups and parties, particularly with regard to Turkey.
It is stated in the report of the UN Commission in Syria that “the SDF troops began to allow displaced civilians to return to certain villages, including Al-Haj Hussain, Mustafa Hammada, Saidin, Shash (al-Bo Banna), Khrbat Khalid, al-Hamaadat, Al-Rous and Jib Al-Nashama.” This proves that the Kurdish forces do not prevent the return of civilians once the zones are secured.
Moreover, “since mid-2015, the Commission has noted the indiscriminate presence of anti-personnel landmines, improvised explosive devices and traps in civilian inhabited areas captured by ISIS or SDF, including houses and vehicles. Such hidden and improvised bombs continue to be placed by ISIS as part of its withdrawal strategy, with a devastating effect. Shortly after SDF launched operations to liberate the Tishreen Dam from ISIS at the end of December. ISIS members began to plant anti-personnel mines on roads leading to the villages surrounding the dam, as well as in the neighboring areas leading to Minbij. The inhabitants declared that the ISIS militants had told them that the plan was “to prevent the Kurdish troops from advancing in Minbij, in case the Tishreen dam would fall” … The SDF began to clear the areas through Minbij shortly after capturing the city in mid-August.”
As stated by the YPG commander, Kurdish forces delineate areas that are not secured. The return of civilians is delayed, but justifiably because it can not be blamed for an armed force to want to secure the places it has liberated.
Moreover, the UN report continues as follows :
“The presence of bombs concealed by ISIS justifies the temporary removal order of civilians from the Tishreen and Minbij areas, but only for the time required for the troops of the SDF to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of Civilians […].”
Regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Arab communities, the UN Commission in Syria found no evidence in support of these accusations :
“Although the allegations of “ethnic cleansing” continued to be received during the reporting period, the Commission found no evidence to support the allegations that YPG or SDF forces targeted Arab communities in or that the YPG cantonal authorities systematically sought to alter the demographic composition of the territories under their control against a particular ethnic group.”
This kind of biased and unverifiable report proposed by Amnesty only contributes to the worsening of ethnic tensions because it does not describe the Syrian war as it is, but it points to a sectarian conflict between the Kurds and the Arabs which does not exist. Everyone can easily understand that these accusations are false by simply referring to the alliance that exists between the Kurds and the Arabs within the Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the main effective forces that fights the Islamic State in Syria.
YPG and SDF strongly believe in ethnic and religious diversity. Among their ranks, the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and all other ethnic groups have a common goal of fighting the Islamic State to regain peace and security.
They have already punished combatants under their leadership who had committed abuses or violations against terrorists who had been captured.
In conclusion, we call on international human rights groups to conduct their own field investigations in areas controlled by the Kurds and not to rely on statements made by people whose affiliations are not known. An investigation of such importance must be taken seriously and done in the best possible conditions. Moreover, the YPG have promised full support to groups that would like to come to do their work in the areas under their control.