Syria-Turkey: end operation “Peace Spring” and ensure the protection of civilians

Today, ICJ called on Turkey to comply with its obligations under the UN Charter, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, immediately end its military operations in Syria, and protect and ensure the protection of the Syrian civilian population.

The ICJ also reiterated its call on all parties to the Syrian conflict to respect and comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

On October 9, Turkey initiated operation “Peace Spring” in Rojava, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-held territory in north-east Syria, with the stated aim of securing Turkey’s border, “fighting terrorism” and facilitating the return of refugees to Syria. Turkey claimed to be acting pursuant to its right to self-defence under article 51 of the UN Charter, as well as UN Security Council resolutions on the fight against terrorism.

The ICJ recalled that none of these UN Security Council resolutions authorizes the use of armed force in violation of international law, and that the UN Charter prohibits the use of armed force by States, save when authorized by the UN Security Council or in self-defence.

Use of force in self-defence is lawful only when necessary to repel an armed attack and when proportionate to such attack. Military operations failing to abide by such requirements are in breach of the UN Charter.

“Turkey’s military operations violate the UN Charter and exemplify how the banalization of the illegal use of armed force continues to erode and dismantle the very fabric of the international legal order,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ MENA Programme Director.

He added, “Instead of standing by while international law is being violated, the UN Security Council must take swift, appropriate measures to address the situation and to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

While UN Security Council member States have failed to find an agreement on even a statement on Turkey’s military operations in Syria, Turkish military operations continue to have a devastating impact on the general population, including multiple civilian casualties, attacks against civilian objects, including medical facilities and water supplies and infrastructure, and the displacement of more than 150,000 people, mainly civilians.

Turkish forces and the Turkish-backed armed groups have allegedly been responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Members of one of these groups, the Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, have been accused of the extrajudicial execution of at least nine civilians, among whom is Kurdish politician and women’s rights activist Harvin Khalaf; torture and other ill-treatment; kidnapping; and looting and seizure of private property.

Turkey’s Defence Ministry said 595 “terrorists” were “neutralized” since the start of “Peace Spring.”

Under international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict must respect and protect the civilian population, and refrain from any direct, indiscriminate or disproportionate attack against civilians and civilian objects. International human rights law also continues to apply during the conflict.

“Turkish authorities must investigate and prosecute unlawful killings committed in the context of operation “Peace Spring,” including extrajudicial executions amounting to war crimes,” Benarbia said.

He added, “If no action is taken by these authorities, States must act, collectively and individually, to hold to account all those responsible for such crimes.”


Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41-22-979-3817; e: said.benarbia(a)

Syria-Turkey operations-News-Press releases-2019-ARA (Arabic version, in PDF)

Syria-Turkey operations-News-Press releases-2019-TUR (Turkish version, in PDF)

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