Syria: USA's Kurdish allies are 'razing entire villages' in areas under their control - new report | Amnesty International UK

Syria: USA's Kurdish allies are 'razing entire villages' in areas under their control - new report

Amnesty International has uncovered evidence of a wave of forced displacement and mass house demolitions - amounting to war crimes - in northern Syria being carried out by the Autonomous Administration, led by the Syrian Kurdish political party Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD) which controls the area.

The Autonomous Administration is a key ally of the US-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State armed group in Syria. In February, the Autonomous Administration’s military wing, the YPG (the People’s Protection Units), took control of the area, which had been under Islamic State control, and began demolitions, displacing villagers.

In a 38-page report released today (13 October), Amnesty reveals evidence of alarming abuses, including the deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians and the razing of entire villages in areas under the Autonomous Administration’s control - often in retaliation for residents’ perceived sympathies with, or ties to, Islamic State or other armed groups.

Amnesty researchers visited 14 towns and villages in al-Hasakeh and al-Raqqa governorates in July and August. In the village of Husseiniya, in the Tel Hamees area, eyewitnesses told Amnesty: “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 witness. Satellite images obtained by Amnesty illustrate the scale of the demolitions in Husseiniya. They show that of 225 buildings that were visible in June 2014, only 14 are still standing by June 2015, with close to 95% destroyed.

Meanwhile, in villages south of the town of Suluk, some residents said YPG fighters had accused them of supporting Islamic State and threatened to shoot them if they didn’t leave. While in some cases residents acknowledged that there had been a handful of Islamic State supporters in their villages, the majority were not supporters of the group. In other cases, villagers said YPG fighters had ordered them to leave, threatening them with airstrikes if they failed to comply. “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.

In one particularly vicious attack, YPG fighters poured petrol on a house, threatening to set it alight with the inhabitants inside. Bassma Mohamed al-Bilal, a schoolteacher and mother of three, described what happened: “They started pouring fuel in my in-laws’ house. My mother-in-law was there refusing to leave and they just poured it around her … They found my father-in-law and began hitting him on his hands … I said ‘Even if you burn my house I will get a tent and pitch it. This is in my place. I will stay in my place’.”

The YPG has sought to justify its actions, claiming they were necessary for the civilians’ own protection or militarily necessary.

Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor Lama Fakih said:

“This report uncovers clear evidence of a deliberate, co-ordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS, or where a small minority were suspected of supporting the group.

“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, in attacks that amount to war crimes.

“In its fight against IS, the Autonomous Administration appears to be trampling all over the rights of civilians who are caught in the middle.”

YPG are key US coalition allies

Last week the US Defense Department announced that it would be providing weapons to “a select group of vetted leaders and their units” in Syria, and would “provide them with air support” in their operations against Islamic State fighters. Amnesty is concerned that the USA and other members of the anti-Islamic State coalition may be offering weapons and support to members of the YPG responsible for the village destruction programme and other serious human rights violations.

Amnesty International UK’s Syrian Campaign Manager Kristyan Benedict said:

“The US and its coalition partners mustn’t turn a blind eye to the war crimes of their Kurdish allies in Syria.  

“With the drums beats of war growing ever louder in Downing Street, our message to the UK government is this - don’t overlook the crimes of your potential proxy fighters in Syria. There’s nothing ‘moderate’ about burning down entire villages and threatening its inhabitants with death.”

Some Kurds also targeted

Although the majority of residents affected by these unlawful practices are Arabs and Turkmen, in some cases - for example in the mixed town of Suluk - Kurdish residents have also been barred by the YPG and Asayish, the Autonomous Administration’s police force, from returning to their homes. Elsewhere, for example in the village of Abdi Koy , a small number of Kurdish residents have also been forcibly displaced by the YPG. In an interview with Amnesty, the head of the Asayish admitted civilians had been forcibly displaced but dismissed these as “isolated incidents”.

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