On the sixth year since Turkey’s capture of the Kurdish-populated town of Afrin (Efrîn) in northern Syria, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) have jointly filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office accusing Turkish-backed armed militias of committing crimes under international law in Afrin.
Turkey, along with allied Syrian National Army (SNA) militias, has faced allegations of human rights violations in the region since the country launched a ground incursion into northern Syria and took control of Kurdish-populated Afrin in January 2018. These reported violations include enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence and looting.
“Afrin’s population, and especially its Kurdish citizens, have faced widespread and systematic violations since 2018,” said Bassam Alahmad, executive director of STJ.
Criminal charges filed on Thursday demand a full investigation into crimes committed by Turkish-backed Islamic militias in Afrin. STJ and ECCHR were joined in their quest for justice by six survivors of the alleged crimes.
German prosecutors have focused primarily on crimes committed by the Assad regime and groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State (ISIS). Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with ECCHR, stressed the need to address atrocities against the Kurdish population in northwestern Syria: “The militias ruling in Afrin, with Turkish support, have established a reign of violence and arbitrariness.”
Turkey’s Afrin offensive displaced nearly 300,000 Kurdish residents, who have since sought refuge in the countryside north of Aleppo, known locally as the Shahba region. Since then, Turkey has been accused of systematically changing the region’s demographics, replacing the local Kurdish population with Arabs and Turkmen.
The atrocities committed against Kurdish and Yazidi women in Afrin, which have been documented in a number of reports by a variety of organisations, including the US State Department and the UN, have been identified by experts as a major cause of the displacement.