Turkey has agreed to allow the European Court of Human Rights for Syrian victims, who have scant opportunities for justice. The development happened after Russia vetoed a French-led effort to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Turkey is a party to the European Convention for Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).
ECHR asserted Turkey was obliged to adhere to the standards of the Convention not only in Turkey, but also in areas under its effective military and administrative control such as Cyprus. Turkey controls the northern Syria, with the sustained presence of its military, imposition of Turkish law, and administration of schools and other public functions. This level of territorial control by Turkey may have pried open jurisdiction for Syrians at the ECHR to seek redress for human rights abuses by Turkish forces (and militias) in Syria.
Turkey and its proxy militias have found to have committed numerous human rights abuses and war crimes in Syria. With the invasion and looting of Azaz and Jarablus in Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016, Turkey started it on premise of fight against terrorism.
The violations by Turkey — including suppression of freedom of expression, property expropriation, and forced demographic change — continued within Afrin in 2018. Last year, Turkey took President Donald Trump’s announcement of U.S. military withdrawal from Syria as an invitation to invade a broad swath of northeast Syria, with reports of summary executions and the use of white phosphorous, a prohibited means of warfare, against the local population.
Turkey has effective control over parts of northern Syria, establishing administrative offices and maintaining a contingent of troops and proxies. The administration of these regions answers to and survives only thanks to the backing of the Turkish government and military. Turkey’s presence in northern Syria seems to have of the trappings of an occupation as it retains effective control over these areas.
Thus, Turkey must respect the mandates of the ECHR, and Syrians have a right to bring claims for violations of their human rights by Turkey before the ECtHR.