Human Rights Watch (HRW) has detailed widespread human rights abuses in Turkish-held areas of northern Syria in a damning report released on Thursday. The report highlights a range of atrocities committed by Turkish-backed armed opposition groups, known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence, and unfair military trials.
Scores of people have reportedly fallen victim to these abuses, with perpetrators enjoying impunity. HRW highlighted ongoing violations of civilians’ housing, land, and property rights, as SNA factions continue to forcibly seize homes, land, and businesses.
The report highlighted the aftermath of Turkish military operations in northern Syria, which resulted in the displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
In a significant development in August 2023, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against the Turkish-backed Suleiman Shah Brigade and Hamza Division, as well as their leaders, Mohammad Hussein al-Jassem, Walid Hussein al-Jassem, and Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr, for committing serious human rights violations against the Kurdish population in the Afrin region.
The HRW report also highlighted Turkish airstrikes causing civilian deaths and injuries, as well as water cuts to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), jeopardising the right to water for nearly one million people in the city of al-Hasakeh and surrounding areas.
In addition to human rights abuses, the report also highlights Syria’s dire economic crisis. By mid-2023, more than 90 percent of Syrians were living below the poverty line, with millions struggling to access quality food and relying on humanitarian aid to survive. More than 600,000 children were reported to be chronically malnourished.
The Syrian government was accused of severely restricting the delivery of humanitarian aid in government-held areas and diverting aid to punish dissent. Meanwhile, internally displaced people (IDPs) in north-eastern Syria faced dire conditions in overcrowded and under-resourced camps.
The report also highlighted the issue of refugees, noting that 12.3 million Syrians had been forced to flee the country since the start of the conflict in 2011, with 6.7 million internally displaced. It also criticised Turkey for deporting thousands of Syrians to northern Syria, with reports of Turkish border guards shooting indiscriminately at civilians and using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants attempting to cross into Turkey.