The Turkish government’s offensive against Kurdish militants “amounts to collective punishment” and is putting “tens of thousands of lives at risk,” according to Amnesty International, the latest rights group to criticize the crackdown.
Turkish forces in July launched a new campaign of airstrikes and ground operations in Kurdish neighborhoods in southeast Turkey, ending a two-year-old cease-fire between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the assault is aimed at killing every “last terrorist” within the PKK, it has taken an increasing toll on the region’s civilian population.
Since July, more than 150 residents have reportedly been killed, including women, children and the elderly, according to a statement released Thursday by Amnesty.
The London-based group said military operations in residential areas “have been characterized by the use of heavy weaponry and sniper fire, endangering the lives of ordinary residents posing no threat.”
It also slammed other security measures as “harsh” and “arbitrary.”
“In some areas, crippling curfews that don’t allow people to leave their houses at all have been in place for more than a month, effectively laying siege to entire neighborhoods,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director.
“It is imperative that the Turkish authorities ensure that affected residents are able to access food and essential services,” he said, warning the humanitarian situation there could deteriorate quickly otherwise.
Amnesty says some in the international community have appeared reluctant to criticize the Turkish crackdown, presumably because they do not want to upset a critical ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
But those strategic considerations “must not overshadow allegations of gross human rights violations,” Dalhuisen said. “The international community must not look the other way,” he said.
‘Abusive … use of force’
Last month, Human Rights Watch also called on Turkey to stop its “abusive and disproportionate use of force” in Kurdish areas and to investigate the deaths of civilians killed during the clashes.
Turkey has prevented outside observers from entering areas under curfew, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the crisis. It has also cracked down on domestic criticism of the operation.
Earlier this month, Turkey detained at least 18 academics who were accused of “supporting terror propaganda” after signing a petition calling for the government to end the crackdown.
President Erdogan has since hinted that the academics could face criminal charges, and prosecutors have opened an investigation to see if the petition has violated the country’s anti-terror laws.
The petition has been signed by 1,200 academics, including some notable foreign figures, such as renowned U.S. leftist political analyst Noam Chomsky.
Turkey, the United States and European Union all consider the PKK to be a terror group. The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has left 40,000 people dead since 1984.