The UN Human Rights Council has received a formal complaint regarding Turkish airstrikes in Iraq, allegedly targeting a civilian hospital and resulting in the death of eight people, The Guardian reported on Monday.
The attack, which occurred on Aug. 17, 2021, destroyed the Sikeniye medical clinic in Sinjar and left more than 20 people injured.
This is the first case concerning Turkish airstrikes against the Yazidi people to be brought before the council.
The four claimants, comprising survivors and witnesses to the airstrikes, argue that the attack violated their right to life under international law, as guaranteed by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The complaint alleges that Turkey failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of civilians caused by the airstrikes and also failed to provide the victims with effective remedies, thus violating their rights to a prompt, independent and effective investigation under the same covenant.
The submission of the complaint was delayed by two years and was officially filed late last week.
Turkey had claimed at the time of the airstrikes that their target was the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Yazidi self-defense force, the Sinjar Resistance (YBS). However, the YBS denies any connection to the PKK.
The claimants contest Turkey’s assertion that the hospital was in proximity to a YBS checkpoint, but they emphasize that no armed units directly protected the medical facility, which was constructed within a civilian area. The claimants also state that all eight individuals killed were hospital staff members.
The legal claim affirms that Sikeniye was solely a civilian hospital managed by the Sinjar council, with a capacity of 10 beds and approximately 20 occupants. One of the complainants, identified as C1, gave an eyewitness account of the attack, describing ongoing mental and physical trauma. Another witness, a relative of a victim, asserted that there were no PKK members present at the site.
It is alleged that since 2017, approximately 80 Yazidis have fallen victim to “collateral damage” from Turkish airstrikes against PKK targets in Iraq, where many PKK fighters have sought refuge.
The case has been brought before the UN on behalf of four Yazidis by the Accountability Unit, a human rights NGO, and Women for Justice, a Yazidi NGO based in Germany, with the support of human rights lawyers in the UK.
Aarif Abraham, director of the Accountability Unit, emphasized the significance of this case in addressing violations against Yazidi citizens by the Turkish state. He stated that Turkey should be held accountable for the hospital’s targeting with successive airstrikes, resulting in the deaths of civilians and injuries to many others. Abraham stressed that the Human Rights Council is the most viable avenue for ensuring accountability and providing meaningful redress for the victims.
Dr. Leyla Ferman, the chief executive of Women for Justice, highlighted the grave security risk posed by Turkish airstrikes in the aftermath of the Yazidis’ victory over the Islamic State in Sinjar. She expressed hope that the UN would prioritize the security concerns of the Yazidis.
The ongoing security tensions have impeded the return of Yazidis in exile following the genocide perpetrated against them by the Islamic State in 2014. The absence of a clear governing authority in Sinjar and refugee camps in northern Iraq has hindered efforts to ensure their safety and reinstate public services in the province.
The complaints procedure against a state party primarily involves written submissions and may require the state party to provide compensation and guarantees of non-repetition.