Trump's withdrawal from Kurdish region has opened the door to a new wave of war crimes

Ellen Ioanes
Turkey Syria Kurds

Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press


  • Video of attacks on civilians, apparently by Turkish-backed Syrian forces, including a Kurdish politician, have raised the spectre of war crimes in the border conflict between Turkey and Kurdish-led forces in Syria. 
  • Two Syrian Kurdish journalists were killed by a Turkish air strike, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 
  • "Turkey could be deemed responsible as a State for violations committed by their affiliated armed groups, as long as Turkey exercises effective control over these groups, or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred," United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) stated in a report on Tuesday. 
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In the week since Turkish forces began a ground and air assault on Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, reports of civilian killings and other human rights atrocities have emerged, including the alleged execution of a female Kurdish politician by Turkish-backed Syrian forces.

According to Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Ahrar al-Sharqiya, a group fighting alongside Turkish forces, appears to have executed Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf, secretary general of the Kurdish Future Syria Party. Video of the attack, which the UN says took place on Oct. 12, circulated on social media.

The same day, the UNOHCHR reports, Ahrar al-Sharqiya apparently executed three Kurds, only one of whom was wearing a military uniform. The New York Times reports at least two killed. The UNOHCHR report also refers to an Oct. 13 incident in which at least four civilians, including two journalists, were killed by a Turkish airstrike while transiting the Tel-Tamor -Ras al-Ain Highway. The UNOHCHR stressed that it had not yet been able to confirm the report. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that two Syrian Kurdish journalists, Saad Ahmed and Mohammed Hussein Rasho, were killed in the strike.  Ahmed died of his wounds shortly after the strike, and Rasho reportedly died on Oct. 14.

Fighters with the so-called Syrian National Army called the Kurds "pigs" and "infidels," and in one video their forces shot a man whose arms were bound behind his back, the Associated Press reported. 

"Under international human rights and international humanitarian law, summary executions are serious violations – and may amount to a war crime," the UNOHCHR report stresses.

"Turkey could be deemed responsible as a State for violations committed by their affiliated armed groups, as long as Turkey exercises effective control over these groups, or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred."

The UNOHCHR also reports that five medical facilities in Syria have been damaged by alleged Turkish air strikes  since the Turkish incursion occurred, including one belonging to the Kurdish Red Crescent. 

As of Sunday, CNN reported that forces allied with the Turkish military had killed 11 civilians, including Khalaf. According to the UNOHCHR, Turkish authorities have claimed 18 civilian deaths in the fighting, including a 9-month-old infant, killed during cross-border mortar and sniper attacks by Kurdish forces.