A report by human rights organisation Amnesty International has accused the US-backed Kurdish force, the YPG (Kurdish for the People’s Protection Units), of carrying out demolitions of homes and forced displacement of inhabitants in Northern Syria that amount to war crimes. The organisation’s report focuses on several villages in Northern Syria. but one that stands out is Husseiniya village in the Tel Hamees countryside, where approximately 94% of the buildings that were standing in June 2014 were destroyed in June 2015.
According to one witness in the report, the YPG took control of the area in February of 2015 and immediately began demolitions.
“They pulled us out of our homes and began burning the homes. They brought the bulldozers, they demolished home after home until the entire village was destroyed,” claimed the witness.
As well as Husseiniya, Amnesty International reports that the YPG also carried out “extensive demolition” in villages south of Suluk near Tel Abyad, where one of the villages mentioned is Asaylem village.
A resident told Amnesty International that the YPG destroyed 100 out of 103 buildings and believed that the demolitions were in retaliation for an ISIS VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that targeted YPG troops in the village.
The report also focuses on the forced displacement of villagers. One villager said that the YPG threatened them with US airstrikes if they did not leave, claiming that they would tell the US that they are IS. This is according to the villagers that there were approximately 1400 Turkmen families in the village of Hammam al-Turkman and 10 Kurdish families.
Farid (not his real name), one of the villagers, claimed that everyone was forced to leave their homes and that they spent nearly two months living in fields before 50% of the population were allowed to return, and even then could only return if they told the YPG forces who the ISIS supporters were in their village.
The YPG responded to Amnesty International’s accusations by claiming that the forced displacement of villagers only occurred in “isolated incidents” and only when the “threat of terrorism” required it.
Redur Xelil, the spokesman for the YPG, claimed that villagers were forced to leave for their own protection and not necessarily for any ties to armed groups. He is quoted as saying,
“When clashes happen there is shooting and car bombs, airplane shelling; all kinds of weapons are used. The better solution is to move civilians away from the frontlines until the situation improves.”
Amnesty International reports that the YPG’s forced displacement of villagers breaks international law as they did not provide adequate shelter or enjoy satisfactory hygiene, nutrition, and safety.
Although this is the most recent accusation against the YPG by a human rights organisation, accusations have been leveled against the Kurdish group for some time. Earlier this year the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) put together a list of approximately 50 children under the age of 18 that are fighting with the YPG/J -- including one 14-year-old girl, whose father claims she was taken from school and forced to join.
The YPG responded by saying that they are targeting the problem and have punished officers who have accepted recruits under the age of 18, yet they did not give HRW names or dates of those who were punished. The YPG also claimed that they are accepting 16- and 17-year-old recruits but are not using them in any military capacity. HRW responded by saying that the YPG should not accept anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose.
Athough HRW accepts that the YPG are fighting groups like ISIS, who have committed numerous war crimes over the last 4 years in both Syria and Iraq, the organisation maintains that it is no excuse to accept abuses of human rights by their own forces.
In the grand scale of things, the YPG’s abuses -- as serious as they are -- pale in comparison to abuses by other players in the conflict, such as ISIS, al-Nusra (Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch), and the Syrian government itself. It seems that no faction in the war is innocent.
As the United States starts to ramp up their support for the YPG and the FSA (Free Syrian Army), then both need to clamp down on their own forces as the eyes of the world are on them.
A link to the full Amnesty International report can be found here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde24/2503/2015/en/