JHK views with deep concern the recent statements by the American and Turkish governments. A Turkish invasion of Kurdish-majority areas of Northern Syria would constitute a grave risk to the local civilian population, not least to religious and ethnic minorities and already displaced people.
A report of the UN Human Rights Council concludes that the Turkish-led invasion of Afrin province in 2018 was accompanied by the “war-crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture and pillage”, and that the subsequent occupation has been characterised by “hostilities, arbitrary arrest and suppression of political dissent” leading to “displacement towards government- controlled areas and to areas under Kurdish control.”
There is reason to fear that US withdrawal and further Turkish incursions would lead to similar patterns of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a larger scale. Minority populations, including Christians, Yazidis, Assyrians and Alawis, would be at particular risk of ethnic cleansing, summary killings and forced conversion. Local and regional authorities, already overburdened, would be poorly equipped to deal with the influx of refugees and displaced people. The work of NGOs such as JHK on the ground to support displaced people and genocide survivors would be fatally disrupted.
President Trump has said that he expects Turkey to assume responsibility “watching over the captured ISIS fighters and their families.” However the Turkish state has previously shown itself unable or unwilling even to prevent the movement of IS fighters back and forth across its own borders. During the past year JHK, in partnership with Yazidi community organizations, has been directly involved in helping liberate Yazidi women and children held captive among ISIS remnants in Al-Hol camp, bringing them to safety and beginning a process of rehabilitation. In recent days survivors have spoken to us of panic and despair at the prospect of former slave-owners and genocidaires being released en masse.
We call on the US and the international community to take all necessary steps to prevent an invasion that poses a grave threat to civilian populations and risks precipitating war crimes and crimes against humanity.