The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a devastating report on Friday on widespread human rights violations in Turkey as part of a government security crackdown between July 2015 and December 2016.
The operation affected at least 30 towns and neighborhoods in southeast Turkey, leaving some 355,000 people of mostly Kurdish origin displaced, according to the report.
Countless people have died as well, but finding human remains in such destruction is difficult the report states. The report also includes aerial images showing the widespread destruction.
“The report describes the extent of the destruction in the town of Nusaybin, in Mardin Province, where 1,786 buildings appear to have been destroyed or damaged, and the Sur district of Diyarbakir, where the local government estimates that 70 percent of the buildings in the eastern part of the district were systematically destroyed by shelling,” according to the UN press office. “The destruction apparently continued even after the security operations ended, reaching a peak during the month of August 2016. Before-and-after satellite images from Nusaybin and Sur show entire neighbourhoods razed to the ground.”
The UN Human Rights Office is “particularly alarmed about the results of satellite imagery analysis, which indicate an enormous scale of destruction of the housing stock by heavy weaponry.”
“Heavy damage is also reported from a number of other towns, including Cizre, in Airnak Province, where witnesses and family members of victims ‘painted an apocalyptic picture of the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods’ where, in early 2016, up to 189 men, women and children were trapped for weeks in basements without water, food, medical attention and power before being killed by fire, induced by shelling,” according to the UN press office.
“The subsequent demolition of the buildings destroyed evidence and has therefore largely prevented the basic identification and tracing of mortal remains,” the press release states.
Moreover, instead of opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the reported excessive use of force, recourse to heavy weapons and the resulting deaths, the local authorities accused the people killed of participating in terrorist organizations and took repressive measures affecting members of their families.
The report describes how one woman’s family “was invited by the public prosecutor to collect her remains, which consisted of three small pieces of charred flesh, identified by means of a DNA match. The family did not receive an explanation as to how she was killed nor a forensic report. The victim’s sister, who called for accountability of those responsible for her death and attempted to pursue a legal process, was charged with terrorist offenses.”
The report also includes information about the Turkish government’s accusations that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the government considers a terrorist organization, is responsible for atrocities, including kidnappings of adults and children and preventing the delivery of medical and other emergency health services.
“The UN Human Rights Office says it has been seeking access to the affected parts of southeast Turkey for almost a year, to independently investigate allegations of serious human rights violations,” according to the U.N. press office. “In the absence of meaningful access, the report – the first in a series – was produced through remote monitoring, using both public and confidential sources, satellite imagery and interviews to gather information about the conduct and impact of the security operations in the southeast of the country.
“The report also documents accounts of torture, enforced disappearances, incitement to hatred, prevention of access to emergency medical care, food, water and livelihoods, and violence against women.”
The U.N. report is further evidence of the ongoing conflict between the Turkish government and Kurds both inside the country and in Syria.
In November 2016, the Turkish government issued a warrant against Salih Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader. The PYD is the political arm of the YPG/YPJ militias, which cooperate with both the United States and Russia on the ground.
When CIA chief Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara, Turkey, in February he met with Turkish intelligence head Hakan Fidan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish officials reportedly stressed the need for the United States to abandon the Syrian Kurdish forces, considered among the most reliable allies Washington has found in the fight against the Islamic State and repeated their demand for the extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan’s government blames Gulen for organizing the failed coup against him in June 2016, though Ankara has admitted to not sending Washington any evidence proving this.
Earlier this month, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry warned that Ankara would not hesitate to bomb the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) should it seek to remain in the city of Manbij following the eradication of the Islamic State from that area. The YPG has been a longtime American ally, and the Pentagon is working to assert that it does not pose a threat to Turkey.
“We do not want any of our allies to stand with terrorist groups,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said. “We stated earlier that Turkey will hit the YPG unless they withdraw from Manbij.”
“They [the YPG] should leave Manbij because it has no relationship to them,” Cavusoglu said. “Manbij belongs to Arabs. Likewise, Raqqa completely belongs to Arabs.”