JEDDAH: A leading rights watchdog has condemned the illegal transfer to Turkey of 63 Syrians arrested by Ankara and its local proxies in Syria’s northeast in 2019.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Turkey and the Syrian National Army arrested and transferred the Syrians to face trial on serious charges connected to alleged activities in Syria.
The watchdog accused Turkey of violating its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power in northeast Syria.
Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”
Accordingly, Turkey is urged to respect international humanitarian laws, including prohibition on arbitrary detention and on the transfer of people to its territory.
The 63 Syrians, both Arabs and Kurds, were arrested and transferred to detention centers in Turkish areas between October and December last year in Ras Al-Ain, northeast Syria, after Turkey established control over the area.
Syrian nationals are believed to have been interrogated by Turkish police and charged with offenses under the Turkish penal code, although they were accused of crimes that were committed in Syria and are likely to result in the highest sentences possible.
Last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a warning about criminality in areas occupied by Turkey and Ankara-supported proxies, including in Ras Al-Ain.
Turkey considers the area it occupies in Syria as part of its territory in administrative terms. A division under the southeastern Sanliurfa governorate provides public services to northeastern Syria, including health care, cleaning and even garbage collection.
Crimes that the Syrian nationals are accused of include undermining the territorial integrity of the state, murder, and membership in a terrorist organization such as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The YPG has been listed by Turkey as a terror group closely linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been in a decades-long conflict with the Turkish state.
Documents accessed by HRW show the detainees have been accused of fighting with the YPG. However, family members and relatives claim they were holding administrative roles within the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northeast Syria and did not take up arms.
Detainees’ families allegedly lost direct contact because they had no phone number registered in Turkey to reach those detained. Some relatives claimed that their loved ones were beaten by the Syrian National Army when they were arrested.
Turkey considers the PYD as a terror group and political branch of the YPG.
The number of the Syrian nationals illegally transferred to Turkey might be close to 200, according to other estimates cited by HRW.
“As an occupying power in northeastern Syria, Turkey has to respect its obligations not to transfer protected persons from Syria to Turkey. This includes ensuring that the local forces it supports do not detain and transfer individuals as well,” Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at HRW, told Arab News.
Kayyali said that those transferred had been prosecuted “in a flawed and abusive manner” with little evidence.
Several ended up receiving the highest possible sentence under Turkish law — life without parole.
HRW called on Ankara to allow the detainees to contact their relatives in Syria.
“These detainees must be immediately returned to the occupied territories from which they were taken, and Turkish authorities should stop transferring Syrian nationals from the occupied area and detaining and prosecuting them in Turkey,” Kayyali said.
Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, and the new US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had a phone call late on Tuesday to discuss disputed topics, such as US support for the YPG.