14th Oct 2015
An open letter to Salil Shetty – Secretary General of Amnesty International
I am writing in protest at the publication of a report from your organisation called 'We had nowhere else to go – Forced displacement and demolitions in Northern Syria'.
As a British humanitarian who has spent 5 and half months with the YPG in Rojava, I'm utterly bemused by your 32 page report published Oct 2015.
I feel compelled to write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of foreign volunteers that have joined the YPG and the YPJ. Who are not only fighting on the frontline but are working hard alongside the Kurds in the hospitals and in the refugee camps.
In the time that I was in the country I had full access to the entire region, including the frontline. In fact, I would have been present at many of the events and locations mentioned in your report. I have never seen any evidence of deliberate property damage or forced evictions.
I just wanted to quickly deal with the two main points of your report:
• There were occasions when civilian were asked to leave an area where there was fighting. This was done with their safety in mind and once an area is secure civilians are allowed back. I saw many villages of all ethnicities deserted because of fighting and then populated again once the fighting had moved on. When I was in Til Tamir (an area mentioned in your report) my commander would often share our supplies with locals from the nearby Arab villages.
• When we entered a village sometimes we had to use people's properties. This involved fortifying them with sandbags and earth (using diggers). This was as a necessity of war and because of the risk of an ISIS attack. There was never a deliberate policy to damage property.
The report relies on unreliable witness testimony. If I'm being generous then perhaps civilians – confused and scared- being asked to leave an area and seeing diggers fortifying their homes could be mistaken about what's happening around them. At worse these reports are a deliberate attempt to discredit the YPG/YPJ.
It's upsetting for me to read this report because I know that the YPG has an excellent relationship with the Arab communities in Rojava. In many of the places mentioned in the report Arab YPG members would have been in the units liberating the areas. Before every major operation we are briefed about the rules of engagement – we were under no illusion that wrongdoing (including the accusations in the report) could lead to imprisonment. When you consider what the YPG is up against, then the high standards that it expects from its fighters are even more remarkable. We must be the only group operating in Syria that abides by the Geneva Convention!
Apart from the complete untruths, this report has another reason to be unwelcome for those that are fighting for democracy and equality in Rojava. The report has been jumped on by Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists to provoke sectarian violence and destroy the trust that YPG has fought so hard to build.
Instead of relying on third party testimonies. Why don't you come to Rojava to meet some of the people fighting on the frontline? The PYD has publically called for support from the international community to help it develop its growing democracy. The Kurds have been open and transparent with all international organisations and have been praised for their efforts in this regard.
I want you to look again at the report and retract it from circulation. As part of your investigation do go to Rojava and see for yourself the excellent work that people are doing for the region. Like me you will come away inspired.