Press briefing note on Syria, 15 October 2019
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 15 October 2019
Since the Turkish military offensive began on 9 October, we have verified a number of civilian casualties each day as a result of airstrikes, ground-based strikes and sniper fire. The worst incident we are aware of so far, which we are still seeking to fully verify, is a report that at least four civilians, including two journalists, were killed and tens of others injured when a convoy of vehicles was hit by a Turkish airstrike. The attack reportedly took place on the Tel-Tamor - Ras al-Ain Highway on Sunday (13 October).
The Turkish authorities have reported that 18 civilians have been killed in Turkey, including a nine-month-old baby, by cross-border mortar and sniper fire by Kurdish fighters, since this new conflict started last week.
We have received reports and viewed two separate pieces of video footage showing what appear to be summary executions carried out by fighters belonging to the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group, which is affiliated with Turkey, on 12 October. One of the videos – both of which have been widely shared on social media – seems to show the fighters filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives on the al-Hassakeh – Manbij (M4) Highway. Only one of the captives appeared to be wearing military uniform.
On the same day, we received reports indicating that a well-known Kurdish female politician, Hevrin Khalaf, was also executed on the same highway, apparently also by Ahrar al-Sharqiya fighters.
Civilians, as well as all _hors de combat _individuals such as captured fighters, are to be protected. Under international human rights and international humanitarian law, summary executions are serious violations – and may amount to a war crime. 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.
We are continuing to gather information about both these serious violations, and we urge the Turkish authorities to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into both incidents, and to apprehend those responsible, some of whom should be easily identifiable from the video footage they themselves shared on social media.
We are also appalled to learn of further attacks that affected medical facilities, which have been a particular and persistent feature of the conflict in Syria. As of yesterday, we had received reports of five such attacks: on 11 October, four health facilities were damaged as a result of what were alleged to be airstrikes and ground-based strikes by Turkish forces and affiliated armed groups in the areas of Ras al-Ain, Ain al-Arab, Tel Abyad and al-Malikya; and the following day, 12 October, a medical point belonging to the Kurdish Red Crescent was directly hit and damaged by an airstrike. Reports received by the UN Human Rights Office indicated that the Kurdish de facto authorities have relocated hospitals equipment that ceased services in al-Hassakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates because of the ongoing intensified bombardment.
We are also receiving reports of other attacks on civilian infrastructure, including power lines, water supplies and bakeries.