18th Oct 2015
A Statement by the General Command of the People's Protection Units
To the Press and the General Public
Amnesty International Report, published on 12 October 2015 and titled, "We Had Nowhere Else to Go – Forced Displacement and Demolitions in Northern Syria" is contradictory and puts the credibility of the organisation at stake.
1. The Basic Argument to Respond
1.1. The content of the report contradicts its title, and this is enough to prove its invalidity and to call for the prosecution of its authors.
1.2. The accusations in the report contradict Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
2. Supporting Arguments
2.1. Hurling unsubstantiated accusations without sufficient evidence.
2.2. Relying only on the words of the people, who are unsure of witnessing the events, without verifying their accounts.
2.3. Some of the eyewitnesses in the report are members of terrorist organisations, and have been involved in criminal activities and are part of this conflict.
2.4. YPG's statements deny the content of the Amnesty report.
2.5. During the preparation of their report, the authors of the Amnesty report were hosted by political parties hostile to the YPG and the Self-Administration in Rojava.
On 12th October 2015, Amnesty International published a report, titled "We Had Nowhere Else to Go – Forced Displacement and Demolitions in Northern Syria" in reference to the Self-Administration in what is known in Kurdish as Rojava. According to the report, Amnesty International researchers worked in Rojava after obtaining the necessary permission from the relevant authorities in the administration, and they were free to conduct their filed work without being hassled by the authorities. The Amnesty report is based on testimonies obtained from local villagers, who were allegedly subjected to "forced displacement" and their houses were "demolished", and on evidence gathered from satellite images. However, the report contains fallacies since the testimonies of the individuals interviewed by Amnesty International were incorrect and contradictory to the facts and evidence, widely available and easily accessible to everyone. In this official statement, we will mention some of these flagrant fallacies that put the credibility of the report and Amnesty International at stake.
Page 5 – Paragraph 1 – Line 3
The use of the term "forced displacement" is arbitrary without considering the cases in which this terms should be used according to Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which clearly states that "Deportation or forcible transfer of population' means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law." Comparing and contrasting the Amnesty report with YPG's statements, it is clear that the use of the term "forced displacement" is in sharp contrast to Article 7 of the Statute. Accordingly, the report's claim of a "war crime" committed by the YPG is a false accusation.
Page 6 – Paragraph 4 – Line 3
"The deliberate demolition of civilian homes described in this report is unlawful under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the destruction or seizure of the property of an adversary, unless required by imperative military necessity."
For the past few years, numerus reports have clearly indicated that the area has been witnessing armed clashes and the use of heavy weaponry by all belligerent parties, including the Syrian regime which attacked most of the areas mentioned in the report using explosive barrels and Scud missiles, causing destruction in the nearby villages.
Page 8 – Paragraph 4 – Line 6
"IS [the Islamic State] has been responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration including indiscriminate shelling, targeted attacks on civilians, torture and killing of detainees including civilians – including children – and captured fighters, unlawful restrictions on life-saving assistance, and mass forced displacement."
This paragraph clearly shows that the area witnessed armed clashes and that IS' indiscriminate shelling was responsible for the destruction of villages and the mass forced displacement.
Page 10 – Paragraph 1
"Residents said that the village came under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed opposition group, in February 2013. A local Arab official from the Tel Hamees countryside said that the YPG first clashed with the FSA and other non-state armed groups in the Tel Hamees countryside in December 2013, and that the biggest confrontation between the FSA and the YPG took place in the village of Husseiniya in February 2014.3 The official said that at that time, a number of armed groups, including Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa' 114, Forsan al-Sunna, and a group affiliated with IS forced the YPG to retreat."
Our YPG units did not enter the village of Husseiniya in 2014, which was under the terrorists' control. Instead, they withdrew from the outskirt of the village after completing their combat mission, which was named "deterrence and dispersal operation." The paragraph also clearly indicates that the area was witnessing armed clashes between different groups – clashes that are enough to destroy any village.
Page 11 –Paragraphs 4 & 5
"In January 2015 IS took complete control of the village. Several local residents said that none of the locals was affiliated with IS, but one resident said that in fact three men from the village were."
"Mariam a mother of seven living in the village, said that four or five homes were destroyed by IS when they took control of the village."
The first paragraph is a clear reference to the involvement of some locals, affiliated with IS, in military operations against the YPG, and therefore they were legitimate targets in accordance with Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The second paragraph shows the involvement of IS in demolishing houses. There is no doubt that in cases of military engagement, the population would not stand waiting, but will leave voluntarily, fearing for their security and safety.
Page 11 & 12 – Last Paragraph & Paragraph 1
"We left before the YPG entered and returned in the beginning of March 2015. When we came back we saw our homes were demolished... We don't know who did it..."
This statement clearly shows that the so-called 'eyewitness testimonies' were merely based on assumptions without witnessing the actual events.
Page 12 – Paragraph 4
"... We fled at the beginning of the clashes ..."
This statement clearly indicates that the migration process was not forced but was on a voluntary basis.
Page 13 – Last Paragraph
"....he said he believed the demolition may have been in retaliation for the bombing."
This paragraph is another example showing that eyewitness testimonies were based on assumptions rather than seeing the actual events.
Page 14 – Paragraph 1
"Amnesty International collected information regarding the forced displacement of residents of eight other villages in areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration. Amnesty International researchers visited four of these towns and villages from which residents were displaced, speaking with a number of local residents."
This statement is contradictory – speaking with residents who were forcibly displaced and still live in their villages. Similarly the statement shows that Amnesty International researchers relied on people's assumption rather than real eyewitness testimonies.
Page 14 – Paragraph 3 – Lines 4, 5, 8 & 9
"....how they were forcibly displaced from their homes by fighters who they believed to be members of the YPG."
"Villagers told Amnesty International that they believed they were being punished collectively because some villagers were members of IS or supported IS."
These paragraphs also show that the so-called 'eyewitnesses' did not in fact see the actual events. Furthermore, the report refers to a village called al-Maghat, which does not exist and it is one of the southern suburbs of Suluk, which in turn was a military zone under the control of IS. Suluk was therefore the first line of defence for Tel Abbyad and IS military base. The majority of the houses in Suluk are still filled with bombs, left behind by IS before being defeated and expelled from the town.
Page 19 – Paragraph 1 – Lines 6, 7, 8 &9
"... After a week three men came around 12pm. They had shaved beards and spoke Arabic. They did not look like they were from the YPG. They were wearing green uniforms. They told us that we had until 3pm the same day to leave but we told them what we told the ones before them."
This paragraph also demonstrates the lack of credibility of the so-called 'eyewitnesses' their testimonies were used in this report – 'eyewitnesses' who are not sure of the identity of the fighters who threatened them and asked them to leave.
Page 19 – Last Paragraph
"Another resident, a man displaced from a nearby village, told Amnesty International that the YPG shot in the direction of two children when they approached an area bordering both the village and Suluk. Amnesty International spoke to the children, who confirmed the story."
There is an apparent contradiction in this text: speaking to children after being shot. Similarly, Amnesty International researchers visited villages whose residents were allegedly forcibly displaced and were still residents in their villages.
Page 21 – Paragraph 3 – Lines 2, 3, & 4
"Journalists have reported that the YPG displaced the Turkmen on 6 July 2015 and have identified some of the displaced persons by name."
In this section, Amnesty International relied on a photographic report, published on Siraj Press website, which belongs to the Syrian Revolution General Commission associated with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. The report includes the names of some families who were allegedly displaced by the YPG. However, the person who documented this report is named, Anwar Al Katav, who was the commander of an Islamic battalion and was involved in deporting Kurds and looting their properties in Tel Abbyad and its surrounding villages. He is currently an employee of the Syrian temporary government in Turkey.
Page 24 – Paragraph 3 – Lines 2 & 3
".....at which point they left the village for one week while clashes between the YPG and other armed groups were happening in the area."
This paragraph clearly demonstrates that armed clashes took place in the reported areas, which normally lead to destruction of both mud and concrete houses as a result of the use of heavy weaponry and aerial bombardment.
Page 26 – Last Paragraph – Lines 1, 2 & 3
"Ahmad, a Ras al-Ayn resident, told Amnesty International that one of his three sons was a fighter with the FSA's Farouq Brigade in Ras al-Ayn, which began fighting the YPG in Ras al-Ayn in 2013."
This paragraph demonstrates that some locals were involved in military operations against the YPG. That made them a legitimate target in a war zone. Therefore, questioning and detaining individuals suspected of assisting the enemy are not considered a war crime.
Page 32 – Paragraph 1 – Lines 3, 4 & 5
"International humanitarian law also prohibits the displacement of civilians during non-international armed conflicts except for their own security or for imperative military reasons."
In the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the statement "unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand" shows that there are exceptions to the rules and all evidence presented in the Amnesty report indicate that were inevitable "imperative military reasons." Therefore, the Amnesty report contradicts the evidence it represents deliberately ignoring the "exception" clause in the Rome Statute.
With regard to the research in the Amnesty report, we will review some of the points which prove that the report was written in an unprofessional manner, driven by a particular party, in order to discredit the Self-Administration and the YPG:
1. Al Hosseinieh Village
In its report, Amnesty International claims that it visited Al Hosseinieh Village which is located near the town of Tel Hamis in early August this year and that the villagers had told them that the YPG was responsible for the demolition of 90 houses. In addition, according to 'locals' who were interviewed by Amnesty International, Tel Hamis fell to the opposition group, called the 'Free Army' during February 2013, and according to 'local Arab officials' in Tel Hamis, the YPG clashed with the 'Free Syrian Army' and other armed groups on the outskirts of Tel Hamis in December 2013. The 'local official' also adds that the largest of these confrontations occurred between the YPG and the 'Free Syrian Army' in February 2014 inside Al Hosseinieh Village – a statement that is also supported in the Amnesty report by a woman called Farah from the same village, who confirmed that she was present during the armed clashes between the YPG and the 'Free Syrian Army', which led to the destructions of some the houses in the village in February 2014. However, this statement is untrue and contradicts the facts. The armed clashes between the YPG and extremist groups in Tel Hamis and its surrounding areas began on 28 December 2013 and ended on 06 January 2014 without getting access to Al Hosseinieh Village and an official YPG statement was released then, which called the operation "deterrence and dispersion." We can therefore conclude that the two above-mentioned statements in Amnesty International report concerning Al Hosseinieh Village are far from the truth. As for the battle that took place in February, it was confined to the town of Tel Brak and not Tel Hamis. The YPG military operation in Tel Brak, called, "the loyalty to the martyrs of Tel Brak and Tel Hamis" was against al Qaeda-affiliated groups and the YPG issued a statement about the operation at that time.
2. Hammam Al Turkman Village
In the report, Amnesty International claims that it has visited Hammam Al Turkman Village nearby the town of Suluk, where Amnesty International researchers interviewed locals. One witness said that there were 1400 Turkmen families in the village and 1000 Turkmen families according to another witness. These figures, however, contradict the real figures. Hammam Al Turkman Village has more than 1500 families with a population of up to 15000 people – figures contradicting what have been reported by 'witnesses' in the Amnesty report, which indicates that those were bogus 'witnesses' and were not from the village. Furthermore, a meeting between the elders of Hammam Al Turkman Village and the military leadership of the YPG took place on 1 September 2015 in the town of Tel Abbyad, during which the elders submitted a list of 79 people from the village who were member of IS and left the area following their defeat. The elders asked the military leadership of the YPG to prohibit those IS-affiliated villagers from returning back to their village. Other families are still residing in the village and any media news agency or impartial INGOs, including Amnesty International, can visit the village and meet local residents and the YPG will provide security and protection for the delegation.
The Amnesty report accuses the YPG of "deporting Turkmen population" on 06 July 2015, based on news reports and written by a 'journalist' called Ghadaf Rajeh and publish on Siraj Press website, which is an unprofessional website and well-known for its links to the Syrian Coalition, which in turn hostile to the Self-Administration and the YPG. Unlike the Amnesty report which accuses the YPG of deporting Turkmens, the reports on Siraj Press website accuse the YPG of deporting Arabs from their villages. This contradiction raises questions about the integrity of Amnesty International reporters and their personal interests in forging facts.
The Amnesty report accuses the YPG of certain violations that amount to "war crimes." However, the report is a far cry from reality and does not take into account the complex reality of war. The authors of the report did not mention the atrocities committed by IS and its affiliates following their defeat in the region. Therefore, the Amnesty report is arbitrary, biased unprofessional and politicised, which does not commensurate with the organisation's purpose.
In addition, the report will greatly contribute to deepening of ethnic tensions as it portrays the ongoing conflict as sectarian war between the Kurds and Arabs, which is a dangerous and immoral issue that puts the credibility of Amnesty International and its researchers at stake. The reality on the ground is completely different and the area enjoys a peaceful coexistence among different ethnic and religious components.
The area that the report focuses on, and claims to be destroyed, was an area that witnessed intense fighting between the YPG and IS, during which heavy weaponry were used and street fight took place. It is the same area that had been previously controlled by various militant groups such Jabhat Al Nusra, several units of the Free Syrian Army and IS. These successive groups used terrorist strategies such as planting improvised explosive devices, mines, car bombs, suicide bombers and booby-trap houses. It is well-known in military that these tactics are the deadliest and most dangerous terrorist methods of combat in terms of the extent of destruction and the severity of their impacts on the lives of civilians. Currently, there are an estimated 16000 landmines in the area between Tel Hamis and Tel Abbyad. Our specialised units have removed a quarter of that number and there are still hundreds of landmines in nearby villages and farms, since we lack sufficient means to remove more. We have repeatedly called upon the international community and institutions to help us remove those landmines to enable civilians to return to their villages safely.
Burkan Al Furat (Euphrates Volcano), which is a joint operations room consisting of the YPG and factions of the Free Syrian Army and other allied local forces, with the help of the international coalition forces' air support between February 2015 and July 2015, were able to liberate more than 1500 villages between Tel Hamis (east) and Sarrin (west) from the terrors of IS. People in those villages and the villages of 'Arab settlement' live in their houses peacefully. Under IS, villagers were either deported, used as human shields or killed. By the same token, village houses were looted, demolished, filled with oil tanks and burned to create smokescreens to mislead the coalition forces' jets and our fighters, before retreating from an area in which they were dispelled, leaving behind complete destruction. Unfortunately, the report accuses our units and holds them responsible for the destruction that has taken place in Tel Hamis and Tel Abbyad. The authors of the Amnesty report were unable to see the entire picture and were driven by reports written by individuals, such as Anwar Al Kataf who has been accused of displacement and murdering innocent civilians and also membership of IS. Those individuals, and the organisations behind them, including the Syrian Coalition, are hostile to the YPG and the Self- Administration in Rojava.
After liberating and area from IS, the YPG takes control and attempts to secure the immediate needs of locals including medial aid as soon as possible even before the arrival of international humanitarian organisations. It is important to note that the increase in the number of fighters of Arabic and other ethnic background, totalling a quarter of YPG fighters, challenges the argument presented in the report about "forced displacement" of certain ethnic groups. The authors of the Amnesty report interviewed and listened to the testimonies of people who fled their villages with IS as they were members of the terrorist organisation and have blood of the Syrian people on their hands and are responsible for the atrocities committed. Certainly, their views and testimonies would be biased and impartial, which in turn makes the credibility of the Amnesty report questionable.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, areas that have been liberated from terrorism by the YPG and its affiliates, are regarded the most secure and stable across the country. We emphasise that the reality is painful, especially during the ongoing war, in which Syria has become an arena for a proxy war with each group serving the agendas of different regional powers. In these circumstances, maintaining stability and security and protecting civilians are extremely difficult and require a lot of effort and support. Despite the fact that in the areas under the Self-Administration and controlled by the YPG capabilities and resources are limited and scarce, we have managed to minimise the amount of destruction and losses compared to other parts of the country. This has been achieved thanks to the huge sacrifices our men and women fighters have made to protect civilians.
Amnesty International is a global civil organisation that has shed light on many human rights issues around the world. It also has a leading role in disclosing facts and human rights abuses globally. Unfortunately, however, the authors of the Amnesty report have failed to convey the reality to the general public. Instead, they have chosen certain terminologies and a title that does not reflect the actual content of the report, which leads us to question the credibility of the report and the veracity of the evidence presented.
We assure the public that an organisation similar to the YPG and its affiliates, whose members firmly believe in ethnic and religious diversity and fight against global terrorism to achieve peace and security, would never tolerate or condone violations or abuses might be carried out by its fighters regardless of their position or rank. We also emphasise the openness of the YPG's units in dealing with local and international humanitarian and human rights organisations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, which we ask to review its report and show the reality in service of its principles.
The General Command of the People's Protection Units (YPG)
Friday 16th October 2015