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UN deplores rights abuses by Turkish military in southeast

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman reacts while walking among the rubble of damaged buildings following a heavy operation by government troops against Kurdish fighters in the Kurdish town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey, on March 2, 2016. (AFP photo)

The United Nations has deplored widespread rights abuses in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of Turkey, where army, police and security forces claim to be cracking down on suspected militants.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement on Tuesday that information emerging from “a variety of credible sources” proves that the Turkish military and security forces have committed acts that violate human rights at an "alarming" level.

“The picture that is emerging, although still sketchy, is extremely alarming,” he said of the situation in Turkey’s southeast, especially in the town of Cizre where governments imposed curfews from mid-December to early March in a bid to root out militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).

He said reports suggest that the military has deliberately shot dead many unarmed civilians, including women and children, by snipers, or by gunfire from tanks and other military vehicles.

Zaid pointed to “allegations of arbitrary arrests and of torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” adding, “There also appears to have been massive, and seemingly highly disproportionate, destruction of property and key communal infrastructure.”

He said a huge number of people have been displaced as a result of the curfews, fighting, killings and arrests across the southeast.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein (AFP photo)

The UN rights chief, however, said the most disturbing of all cases of human rights violations by the Turkish military was an alleged permission to burn to death more than 100 people in Cizre. He said witnesses and relatives have said that the victims were sheltering in three different basements that had been surrounded by security forces.

Zaid also regretted Ankara’s unwillingness to launch a probe into the case and other incidents, adding that a request by his office to access the areas affected has been rejected. He slammed what he called Ankara’s blackout on what is happening in those areas, adding that more information had come out of Cizre than many other towns in the region that had been sealed off for weeks and remained virtually inaccessible due to the heavy security presence.

“This blackout simply fuels suspicions about what has been going on,” he stressed, adding, “In 2016, to have such a lack of information about what is happening in such a large and geographically accessible area is both extraordinary and deeply worrying.”

Zaid said the UN condemns “unlawful acts” committed by agents allegedly affiliated with the PKK in Cizre and other areas, but said “it is essential that authorities respect human rights at all times while undertaking security or counter-terrorism operations, and international law prohibiting torture, extrajudicial killings, disproportionate use of lethal force and arbitrary detention must be observed."

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