Turkey has illegally occupied Afrin since March 18th, 2018. In that time, thousands more of the region’s original residents— who had remained in Afrin throughout the invasion and initial mass displacement— have been forced to flee. Hundreds of thousands of Arab Syrian IDPs, as well as the families of fighters affiliated with Turkey-backed militias, have been moved into the area, forcibly changing Afrin’s demographics. Cultural symbols and religious sites belonging to the region’s Kurds, Yezidis, and Alevis have been destroyed, in a further effort to enforce Turkish and Islamic identity on Afrin. Torture, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, rape, and murder are all committed with impunity. Sixty percent of the region’s economic infrastructure has been either looted, sold, or destroyed, and tens of thousands of Afrin’s famous olive trees have been uprooted or burnt. Conflict between rival occupying militias is common, which threatens the lives and livelihoods of civilians.
What is a military occupation?
Under international law, “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”
Why is the occupation illegal?
Turkey had no legal basis to invade Afrin. Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations states that “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” While Article 51 of the UN Charter allows for military action to be taken in self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member state, no attack that met this standard occurred against Turkey from Afrin. Furthermore, Turkish authorities claimed prior to the invasion that the goal of their military operation was to remove the region’s Kurdish population and establish a more friendly government— which is not a legitimate excuse for military action.
What responsibilities does Turkey have as an occupying power in Afrin?
Occupying powers have certain commitments under international law that they must not violate. According to the International Committee for the Red Cross, these stiuplations include:
The occupant does not acquire sovereignty over the territory.
Occupation is only a temporary situation, and the rights of the occupant are limited to the extent of that period.
The occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation.
The occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.
To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.
The population in occupied territory cannot be forced to enlist in the occupier’s armed forces.
Collective or individual forcible transfers of population from and within the occupied territory are prohibited.
Transfers of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory, regardless whether forcible or voluntary, are prohibited.
Collective punishment is prohibited.
The taking of hostages is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons or their property are prohibited.
The confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited.
The destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities.
Cultural property must be respected.
People accused of criminal offences shall be provided with proceedings respecting internationally recognized judicial guarantees (for example, they must be informed of the reason for their arrest, charged with a specific offence and given a fair trial as quickly as possible).
Personnel of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement must be allowed to carry out their humanitarian activities. The ICRC, in particular, must be given access to all protected persons, wherever they are, whether or not they are deprived of their liberty.
Turkey has failed to meet these requirements in Afrin— especially those related to population transfers, hostage-taking, the destruction and seizure of property, and the maintenance of the rule of law.
Turkey has prevented international human rights organizations and independent journalists from entering occupied Afrin, making accurate reporting on the situation there difficult. These local and international monitors document and publish important developments taking place there.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
Violations Documentation Center in Northeast Syria
Turkish Crimes in Afrin: A report from the Foreign Relations Office of the Autonomous Administration in Northeast Syria on human rights violations committed against the people of Afrin.
Syria: Turkey-Backed Groups Seizing Property: Human Rights Watch documents looting and destruction of civilian property in occupied Afrin.
Syria: Turkey must stop serious violations by allied groups and its own forces in Afrin: Amnesty International documents various violations committed by Turkish forces and rebel groups in occupied Afrin.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Civilians in North-western Syria: The United Nations documents the structure of occupying authorities in Afrin and human rights violations committed by these groups.
Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic: The United Nations documents human rights abuses in Afrin, including looting, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, and torture.