Geneva - Euro-Med Monitor strongly condemns the continued international support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls large areas of north-eastern Syria despite its involvement in grave human rights violations.
The SDF continues to receive generous political, military, and financial support from countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement. These countries lack respect for the rights of people residing in the areas which the SDF controls, especially as the latter holds thousands of prisoners in inhumane conditions, over allegations that have not been independently verified.
For years, the SDF has held more than 4000 people—including about 750 children—in extremely poor humanitarian conditions, and without trial or proper legal procedures. They claim that the prisoners or their parents are connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which the SDF declared military victory over in March 2019, with air and logistical support from the international coalition led by the United States.
In August 2021, the United Kingdom approved plans worth $20 million to support SDF prisons and improve their conditions. In doing so, the UK ignored the alarming violations practised inside the prisons, which caused the death of several prisoners as well as the spread of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases amidst the near-total absence of medical care.
Thousands are currently detained in SDF prisons, but the harsh conditions present a particular danger to children, who face horrific violations that seriously threaten their physical and mental health. Prisoners endure conditions similar to victims of enforced disappearance, as they are deprived of visits, health care, and daylight. On the pretext of maintaining security, the SDF refuses to release injured or sick prisoners.
The ISIL attack on Al-Sina'a Prison in the Al-Hasakah Governorate in January 2022 resulted in the killing of about 500 people, revealing gross negligence in the treatment of prisoners there; there was no attempt by the SDF to clearly announce the number of dead or injured prisoners during the attack. Some detainees reported the killing and wounding of several other detainees, including children, during the bombing and clashes. They said the wounded did not receive care, adding that one child prisoner was witnessed bleeding to death without any medical attention.
Bo Viktor Nylund, UNICEF Representative in Syria, visited the prison following the ISIL attack and asserted the humanitarian difficulties of the detainees’ situation. Nylund was told by some of the children that they were hungry, and in need of water and medical care.
In June 2022, the family of the arbitrarily detained Australian boy Youssef Dahab announced his death, without their knowing its specific cause. Dahab’s family said he had contracted tuberculosis earlier in prison, and been wounded during the attack on Al-Sina'a Prison. The family also said they had appealed to the Australian government for years to bring their child home, but the government did nothing about it.
For years now, the United States has supported the SDF with hundreds of millions of dollars and substantial amounts of weaponry as part of its war against ISIL. The US also constantly pledges to maintain its partnership with the SDF, with disregard for its disgraceful human rights record: the US Department of Defense has allocated $450 million of its 2023 budget to a program designed to train and equip the SDF, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
In March 2022, Euro-Med Monitor documented the death of two detainees in SDF prisons in less than one month, due to what are believed to be cruel torture practices. Recurring cases of torture inside SDF prisons have exposed a systematic policy aimed at inflicting physical and psychological harm on detainees, intended to intimidate activists and political opponents.
Anas Jerjawi, Euro-Med Monitor's Chief Operations Officer, said: “The countries supporting the SDF must realize that the money they provide directly contributes to the implementation of horrific human rights violations, and is used to strengthen the system of persecution practised by the SDF in the areas it controls in north-eastern Syria”.
The countries supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), especially the United States, must stop their unconditional support for the armed militia, pressure them to immediately release the hundreds of children detained in their custody without trial or valid legal reasons, and improve the humanitarian situation in all detention centres to ensure the provision of the basic needs of detainees, especially medical care.
All countries should work to return their citizens detained in SDF prisons, grant them a fair and legal assessment to determine their fate, and address the inhumane conditions they experience in the prisons.