As the warfare ensues in Syria, Turkey has come under heavy criticism for committing war crimes and serious violations. Turkish armed forces and a coalition of Turkey-backed Syrian militia have been accused of atrocities such as the killing of civilians, unlawful attacks, and summary killings like the brutal murder of a leading Syrian-Kurdish female politician, Hevrin Khalaf. Her car was ambushed by members of the Syrian National Army – a coalition of Syrian armed groups funded by Turkey – and she was then viciously beaten before being shot to death.
Reuters reported that a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria has killed 218 civilians, including 18 children since the bloodshed began a week ago, and that more than 650 people were injured.
Amnesty International investigations
Amnesty International conducted an investigation by obtaining video evidence, as well as interviewing witnesses, which included medical and rescue workers, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers. The organisation gathered information that revealed “indiscriminate attacks in residential areas, including attacks on a home, a bakery and a school, carried out by Turkey and allied Syrian armed groups”
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, said in a statement, “The Turkish military offensive into northeast Syria has wreaked havoc on the lives of Syrian civilians who once again have been forced to flee their homes and are living in constant fear of indiscriminate bombardment, abductions and summary killings. Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.
“Turkey is responsible for the actions of the Syrian armed groups it supports, arms and directs. So far, Turkey has given these armed groups free rein to commit serious violations in Afrin and elsewhere. We call on Turkey again to end violations, hold perpetrators accountable, and protect civilians living under their control. Turkey cannot evade responsibility by outsourcing war crimes to armed groups.”
One Kurdish Red Crescent worker spoke about his endeavours to assist an 11-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister, both of whom were badly injured when mortars landed where they played outside their house. The area had come under heavy attacks at the time.
“The boy was injured in his chest. The injury was horrible. He had an open wound… and he couldn’t breathe. It looked like a [piece of] shrapnel ripped his chest open,” the Kurdish Red Crescent worker said.
The boy later died of his wounds and his sister had to have part of her leg amputated.
Amidst the warfare, there are also growing fears about the 100,000 civilians who have been displaced and whether they have sufficient food and clean water. Experts are concerned are that these figures could more than triple in the coming days.
Is prosecution possible for war crimes?
Over the years, many world leaders have been accused of war crimes. Apart from Turkey’s president, Erdoğan, both Trump and Assad have also come under scrutiny. Yet, the reality is that it is unlikely any of them will ever face prosecution.
The international criminal court responsible for pursuing war crimes is not recognised by Turkey, Syria or the US, which inadvertently, offers them some vague impunity.
Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch remain some of the few outlets for victims of war crimes – who rarely get the justice that they deserve.
One man who may inspire hope in others is Omar Alshogre, a Syrian refugee who was tortured as a political prisoner and now lives in Sweden. At 17-years-old, he was arrested in 2012 for being part of a protest in his hometown of Bayda. Along with other victims and witnesses, Alshogre is part of an upcoming legal case seeking out justice in EU courts.
Last year, French and German prosecutors were able to issue the first international arrest warrants for senior Syrian officials: Ali Mamlouk, National Security Chief at the time, and Jamil Hassan, Air Force Intelligence Directorate at the time. Yet, it remains far more difficult to target more senior officials such as country leaders since various loopholes and legislation mean that they are often immune from accountability.