Kongra Star writes open letter to UNICEF

Kongra Star called upon UNICEF to take a stance for the children of North and East Syria, saying that those who have targeted children must be denounced and held accountable.

The women’s movement in North-East Syria, Kongra Star wrote an open letter addressing to  all UNICEF directors and representatives on the massacre of children in the Turkish state’s genocidal campaign seeking to invade North and East Syria.

The letter reads as follows:

“We, the women of Kongra Star, write to you about the huge violations of the rights of the child which are taking place daily in North and East Syria, which reached another level with the massacre of children committed on the 2nd of December. Kongra Star is the coordination of women’s groups and organisations in the area of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. As women of North and East Syria we have been heavily affected by the ongoing conflict, in particular the Turkish state’s invasion and occupation of our land. This invasion is impacting our children in the most horrific ways, and we grieve their loss and suffering.

Yesterday, 2nd of December at about 1.30 pm, 8 children were killed when forces of the Turkish occupation shelled a market in the city of Til Rifaat, Shehba region. Two adults were also killed, and 12 people, including 8 more children, are hospitalised and remain in critical condition. The names and ages of the children killed were: Aref Jafar Mohammed, 6; Mohammed Omer Heme, 7; Imad Ahmed Kefo, 9, Mustafa Mohammed Majeed, 10; Hamodah Mohammed Ali, 11; Sameer Abdul Rahman Hesso, 12; Mohammed Abdul Rahman Hesso, 15.

They were playing in a courtyard not long after the school day finished. Two local elders, Mr Ali Mahmoud Osman, 54, and Mr Hussein Abdullah Kuleda, 74, were also killed in the attack.

We condemn this brutal attack in the strongest possible terms. There is never any justification for the murder of children, and this was committed in cold blood. The shells were fired on a residential area.

In a statement regarding the massacre of the 2nd December, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa Ted Chaiban said “UNICEF reminds all parties to the conflict in Syria that children must always be protected, they are not a target and those who kill children deliberately will be held accountable.” We call on Mr Chaiban and his organisation to formally recognise that the Turkish state, and the forces it arms, trains, and deploys, are the culprits of these violations. There is already extensive evidence as to who it is who needs to be held accountable.

This attack is part of a systematic occupation and genocide being committed by the Turkish state and by the jihadist gangs that it deploys, as well as one of a series of attacks on the Shehba region. A huge proportion of the residents of Shehba region are the already displaced population of Afrin. Since the Turkish army and its allied gangs occupied the city and region of Afrin in 2018, 300,000 people have been displaced, many of them living in camps. Multiple reports have found serious problems for the children of Afrin in terms of education, health, safety, and stability. They are not experiencing that which UNICEF calls a right for every child: a childhood. And now as part of the most recent invasion, the same forces feel they can kill the same children en masse with impunity.

On the 9th of October the Turkish state extended its occupation of Afrin with a coordinated attack along the length of much of its border with Syria. This was accompanied by a ground assault from its army and affiliated jihadist forces and has resulted in the occupation of another significant area of Syrian soil, achieved through ethnic cleansing, war crimes, systemic femicide and genocide. Children have suffered grievously from this invasion, with news reports giving the total number of children killed between 9th October and 2nd December as 159. Many more have been injured, and well over 100,000 children are among those displaced. In addition, in the early weeks of the invasion the Commission for Education of the Administration found over 75,000 children to be left without an education due to school closures. The story of the children of Afrin is repeating itself and intensifying.

Children remaining in Turkish occupied areas are also living an extreme and unthinkable risk: for any ethnic minority they are exposed to the threat of massacre; girls face underage marriage or rape, education has been stopped and towns and villages are not safe.

UNICEF’s mission statement is to uphold the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child; to “demand that leaders from government, business and communities fulfill their commitments and take action” to give “every child every right.” Right now, one of the largest NATO armies is violating the rights of hundreds of thousands of the children of North and East Syria. We have produced a dossier on the effects of the invasion on women and children, which we would draw your attention to. It can be found on the campaign website www.womendefendrojava.net - if not attached with this letter.

Kongra Star calls upon UNICEF to take a stance for the children of North and East Syria. Those who have targeted children must be denounced and held accountable. Immediate action must be taken to bring aid to those desperately in need. We also call on UNICEF to support Kongra Star’s demands to bring an end to the Turkish invasion, as this is the only way to stop the grievous violations of children’s rights which are ongoing. Kongra Star calls for:

• A No Fly Zone over Northern Syria to stop a level of indiscriminate violence and allow self defence forces to protect their people and children from massacre

• End of occupation, practices of genocide and femicide, and violations of the rights of the child

• Immediate withdrawal of occupying Turkish army and all related armed groups from the territory of Syria

• The introduction of a Peacekeeping Force from the international community at the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent further aggression of the Turkish army

• Immediate intervention for humanitarian support to the region of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.”