Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Kurdish-Run Enclaves in Syria:
Arrests, Unfair Trials, Use of Child Soldiers, a HRW Report
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 19, 2014
Kurdish authorities running three enclaves in northern
Syria have committed arbitrary arrests, due process violations, and
failed to address unsolved killings and disappearances, Human Rights Watch
said in a report released today.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), an
offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, has effectively
ruled the three predominantly-Kurdish enclaves since Syrian government
forces withdrew from the areas in 2012, running a local administration with
courts, prisons, and police.
The 107-page report,
“Under Kurdish Rule: Abuses in PYD-Run Enclaves of Syria,” documents
arbitrary arrests of the PYD’s political opponents, abuse in detention, and
unsolved abductions and murders. It also documents the use of children in
the PYD’s police force and armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“The Kurdish-run areas of Syria are quieter than war-torn parts of the
country, but serious abuses are still taking place,” said
Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human
Rights Watch. “The PYD is firmly in charge, and can halt the abuse.”
In January 2014, the PYD and allied parties established a transitional
administration in the three northern regions: `Afrin (Êfrîn in Kurdish), Ain
al-`Arab (Kobani), and Jazira (Cezire). They have formed councils akin to
ministries and introduced a new constitutional law.
The PYD allowed
Human Rights Watch to visit the three areas they control, but because of
security concerns only a visit to Jazira was possible. There Human Rights
Watch visited two prisons in February 2014 and had unrestricted access to
officials, prisoners, and others.
Human Rights Watch documented
several cases in which the PYD-run police, known as the Asayish, appear to
have arrested members of Kurdish opposition parties due to their political
activity. In some cases, Kurdish opposition members have been convicted in
apparently unfair trials, usually for alleged involvement in a bomb attack.
People detained for common crimes said they had been arrested without a
warrant, were denied access to a lawyer and were held for long periods in
detention before seeing a judge.
At least nine political opponents of
the PYD have been killed or disappeared over the past two and half years in
areas the party partially or fully controlled. The PYD has denied
responsibility for these incidents but has apparently failed to conduct
genuine investigations. By contrast, the party-run security forces have
carried out rapid mass arrests after most bomb attacks, presumably carried
out by extremist Islamist militant groups.
The YPG maintains external
security in the three PYD-run areas, and is fighting Islamist non-state
armed groups, primarily Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and
the Sham (ISIS).
On May 29, ISIS forces entered the village of al-Taliliya
near Ras al ‘Ayn in Jazira and
executed at least 15 civilians, including six children, village
residents and first responders told Human Rights Watch. In recent months,
ISIS has also reportedly abducted hundreds of Kurdish civilians in Aleppo
province and executed several Kurdish civilians they suspected of belonging
to the YPG.
The PYD and local administration officials say that the
local judiciary and newly established “People’s Courts” are independent, but
lawyers and human rights activists described political interference in
investigations and trials. In some cases, judges have apparently convicted
people based only on their confessions, and disregarded complaints of abuse
Some detainees told Human Rights Watch that the
security forces had beaten them in custody and were never held to account.
In two recent cases involving the Asayish, the beatings victims died. In one
case the force member who beat the prisoner was punished. In the other, the
Asayish said the victim had killed himself by striking his head against a
wall. But a person who saw the body said the victim’s wounds – including
deep bruises around the eyes and a laceration on the back of the neck – were
inconsistent with self-inflicted blows to the head.
The two prisons
that Human Rights Watch visited – in Qamishli (Qamishlo) and Malikiyah (Dęrik)
– appeared to meet basic international standards. Prisoners said they got
food three times a day and exercise at least once a day, and were able to
see a doctor if needed. The two women in Malikiyah prison at the time were
held together in a separate cell. The men in both prisons were held in group
cells, regardless of whether they were accused of minor or serious crimes.
A PYD-led effort to reform Syria’s law in the Kurdish-run areas is
complicating the justice system, Human Rights Watch found. Some Syrian laws
need amending because they violate international human rights standards, but
the haphazard and non-transparent reform process has left lawyers, detainees
and even officials confused about the laws currently in effect.
positive development, the new constitution introduced in January, called the
Social Contract, upholds some important human rights standards and bans use
of the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch found that, despite promises
from the Asayish and YPG in 2013 to stop using children under age 18 for
military purposes, the problem persists in both forces. On June 5, the YPG
publicly pledged to demobilize all fighters under age 18 within one
The internal regulations for both forces forbid the use of
children under age 18. International law applicable in Syria for non-state
armed groups sets 18 as the minimum age for recruitment and participation in
direct hostilities, which includes using children as scouts, couriers, and
Human Rights Watch also investigated the violent
incidents in Amuda (Aműdę) on June 27, 2013, when YPG forces used excessive
force against anti-PYD demonstrators, shooting and killing three men. The
security forces killed two more men that night in unclear circumstances, and
a third the next day. On the night of June 27, YPG arbitrarily detained
around 50 members or supporters of the opposition Yekiti Party in Amuda, and
beat them at a military base.
The PYD-led administration, as the de
facto authority in `Afrin, Ain al-`Arab and Jazira, is required to respect
international human rights law and international humanitarian law. These
include prohibitions on torture, arbitrary detention, and the use of child
soldiers, and obligations to hold fair trials before regularly constituted
To address the shortcomings, Human Rights Watch recommends
steps that include forming an independent commission to review the cases of
alleged political prisoners, and releasing anyone found to have been
detained arbitrarily. A clear mechanism should be established for detainees
to report abuse during arrest, interrogation or detention, followed by legal
action against those responsible in regularly constituted courts.
newly established courts should apply Syrian law, amended where needed to
comply with international human rights standards. All changes to Syrian laws
should be promptly published and distributed.
The Asayish and YPG
should cease their recruitment of anyone under age 18 and decommission the
children currently in their forces.
“The Kurdish leadership in
northern Syria can do much more to protect the human rights of everyone in
the areas it controls – Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, and others,” Houry said.
“Even in an interim administration it should govern inclusively with respect
for critical views.”
“Under Kurdish Rule: Abuses in PYD-Run Enclaves of Syria” is
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