Statement from the Next Century Foundation to the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018 on the Syrian Arab Republic.
Mr. President, The Next Century Foundation shares the concern of the entire world with regard to Eastern Ghouta. However, we do not think that the UN approach of promoting temporary ceasefires is credible any longer, exemplary though it may have been at one time. By the UN’s own admission there are some 500 fighters from the group formerly known as Gebat al Nusra in Eastern Ghouta. This group has been supported by some in the Arab World. The Arab World as a whole could offer refuge to the fighters whose only other prospect is to fight to the death. Were they to do so, then a ceasefire might be of value. In any other context, a ceasefire is merely a breathing space before the resumption of further fighting and yet more misery for the population of Eastern Ghouta. Indeed conceivably one dire but unintended consequence of a UN promoted ceasefire might be to enable the population of Eastern Ghouta to flee and thus become IDPs or refugees, a prospect that is scarcely enviable. A ceasefire is only of true long-term value if it enables progress on the evacuation of the opposition fighters.
The Next Century Foundation also wishes to beg for the compassionate care of the citizens of Afrin, who suffer much the same torment as the citizens of East Ghouta. We wish to express our concern with regard to Turkey’s incursion across the Northern border of the Syrian Arab Republic. It is profoundly saddening to see the world turn its back on the YPG militia group (or People’s Protection Units) which served the world so loyally in the attack to liberate much of northern Syria from ISIS.
Turkey has been engaged in the bombardment of the Afrin region in the northwest of Syria to vanquish the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters. As a consequence, there have inevitably been civilian casualties. Around one million people are trapped in Afrin. Some 250 of the surrounding villages have been stripped of their population as people flee the advancing troops and take refuge in the town. The homes they abandon are often looted. And meanwhile, the hospitals cannot cope with the wounded.
We appeal to Turkey to recognise the territorial integrity of Syria. In a reference to its intention to channel Syrian refugees in Turkey back into Syria, Yasin Aktay, a senior member of Turkey’s Parliament and a chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Turkey will try to enhance the infrastructure and resources in Afrin after it is secured for them to return.”
Turkey’s previous cross-border operation – dubbed Euphrates Shield – ended in March 2017 after seven months. During that offensive to dislodge ISIS, Turkey captured the border town of Jarablus by the Euphrates River.
Turkish troops are currently still in control of a substantial area of Syria as a consequence of that offensive. Turkey’s actions are part of a pattern of territorial encroachment in Iraq and Syria which is doubtless well-meaning but is cause for concern.
Those in Afrin with whom the Next Century Foundation is in contact beg the UN to send in a peacekeeping force. They acknowledge Turkish concerns about the presence of the YPG and YPJ (the YPJ are the female fighting units that comprise around 35% of these Syrian peshmerga) in Afrin. They assure the Next Century Foundation that they would ask the forces of the YPG and YPJ to withdraw from Afrin to positions East of the Euphrates, in the context of the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force. This the YPG / YPJ would, they believe, agree to do. This would, they believe, ameliorate Turkey’s concern and enable Turkish forces to cease their advance on Afrin.